Creepy Crawlies

Parasites not only make your dog (and other pets) miserable, they can cause him serious harm. This chapter is about the various types of bugs, worms and parasites that can threaten your dog.


Fleas thrive in all climates. Don’t think that just because you live in a colder, or drier climate that you are safe from fleas. Like vampires, fleas are horrible, blood sucking monsters. Unlike vampires, they are very difficult to get rid of. Fleas carry both tapeworm and the bubonic plague. Bubonic plague is deadly and zoonotic.If you suspect that your dog has fleas (an itchy dog is not always indicative of fleas), use a flea comb to search his fur for any of the little insects. Look around his belly and groin, look at the base of his tail and around his neck and ears. If you see fleas or flea dirt (flea feces and bits of your dog’s own dried blood), then you’ve got a problem. Talk to your vet about how to combat the little buggers.

Flea collars don’t work. They protect the dog’s neck and leave the rest of the body up for grabs. Systemic treatments (topical solutions that enter the dog’s body and provide complete protection) or prescribed pills from your vet are going to be the most effective. Be very wary of OTC flea control, many use a higher amount of pesticides and it is not unheard of for a dog to end up at the emergency vet after application of some of these brands.

If fleas are in your house, you will need to vacuum all carpets and furniture (tip: put a flea collar in the vacuum bag, then after vacuuming, throw the bag away.) There are bug bombs and yard and kennel sprays that you can use if you have a severe infestation. Call your vet for recommendations that are safe to use and mix together. Not all brands can be used in conjunction with one another. Some medications react negatively with certain pesticides. Your vet should know which would be safest with any medication your dog may or may nor be on as well as which will be safest for his age and current health.

Note: Let us not fool ourselves. Any flea control that uses pesticides has the potential to react negatively with your own personal dog. Fleas, ticks and mosquitos are the bigger threat, in my opinion. While the preventative that you get from your vet will be the safest alternative, monitor your dog any time you apply treatment. If problems arise, immediately contact your vet or local poison control.


Ticks are nasty little arachnids. They can be as large as a button or as small as the head of a pin. They have a small head, bulbous body and eight legs. Ticks can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease and Ehrlichiosis. Some of the systemic treatments used for fleas scan treat ticks as well. If you see a tick, treat the area with a dog safe insecticide, wait a few minutes, and (while wearing latex gloves) firmly grasp the tick with a pair of tweezers and gently pull. If the tick resists, wait for it to drop off and dispose of it.

Your vet can test for tick-borne diseases through blood tests and can provide the necessary treatment.

Babesiosis: Signs of this include fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Your vet should prescribe Imitocarb diproponate.

Canine Ehrlichiosis: If you notice any fever, runny nose, ocular discharge, or edema (swollen limbs), loss of appetite fatigue, or swelling of the lymph nodes, your dog may have Canine Ehrlichiosis. Most vets will treat this with tetracycline or doxicycline.

Lyme Disease: A dog with Lyme disease may lack his appetite, be lethargic, and have swollen lymph nodes. Your dog may exhibit bouts of unexplained lameness and have a fever. Early prognosis greatly increases survival. Most vets will choose to treat lyme disease with tetracycline, penicillin and/or erythromycin.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Affected dogs may suffer from high fever, coughing, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, lethargy, swelling of limbs, depression, facial swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, or muscle and joint pain. Your vet should prescribe tetracycline.


Mites are arachnids that are microscopic. There are several types of mites, but the most common are ear mites and those that cause mange.

Ear Mites: If your dog scratches or shakes his head frequently, he may have ear mites, especially if he has a red-brown buildup of ear wax. Keeping his ears clean (especially for flop eared dogs) can help prevent mites. Your vet will clean out the wax and then prescribe drops to kill the mites and heal any infections they may have caused.

Mange: There are two types of mange mites, Demodectic and Sarcoptic.

Demodectic mites feed off of the cells of little Fluffy’s hair follicles. You will see it as dry, scaly, red skin accompanied by baldness, primarily around the face. Demodectic mange mites are found on all dogs, but they are triggered by a weak immune system. Sometimes it will clear up on its own. Other times it must be treated by a vet.

Sarcoptic mites are very contagious. Your dog will be very itchy, have a rash, and lose hair. He may give himself sores from the scratching. You can treat sarcoptic mange with a veterinarian prescribed topical solution or medicated baths and dips.


Coccidia are microscopic parasites, caused by the coccidium. Its most common symptom is watery, mucoid, diarrhea. With treatment, prognosis is good, sans treatment, over time it can damage the dogs intestinal tract (more specifically, the lining therein). Coccidia can be caused by stress or infection by affected dogs. Puppy mill puppies are most commonly affected, but any dog can get infected. The parasite is spread through fecal matter. Young puppies are at a greater risk since their immune systems are not quite as developed as adults. Your vet will provide a fecal exam and treat accordingly. Treatment is usually outpatient, with medication to kill the parasite.


Giardia is a microscopic organism that can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting.It is caused by the protozoan parasite giardia, a common intestinal parasite found in humans. Dogs can get infected after ingesting the offspring (called cysts) that are expelled in feces. The parasite prefers cool, moist environments. Because of this, it is often transmitted when a dog drinks from a contaminated lake or stream. Dogs kept in puppy mills and overcrowded kennels will develop Giardia due to the exposure from closely shared quarters. It can be chronic and possibly reoccurring. Your vet will provide prescription drugs and bathe the dog to remove the parasite and reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence. Your vet will continue fecal exams and provide further treatment if necessary.


Heartworm is a deadly internal parasite. Almost every state in the continental United States has hear worm, although it is less common in the West. No matter where you live, your dog should be tested once a year and maintain heartworm preventative. In the Northern States, dogs need to be on heartworm prevention 6 months out of the year. In the south, dogs need to be on heartworm prevention the entire year. Before prescribing a preventative, your vet will administer a blood test to screen for heartworm larvae (microfilariae).

Heartworm is transferred when a mosquito feeds on an infected dog. The microfilariae from the infected dog incubate inside the mosquito for a few days. When the mosquito bites another dog it injects the microfilariae into that dog which then becomes infected.

It is far safer and cheaper to prevent heartworm then it is to treat it. There are many different types of heartworm preventatives available, some even help to control other worms and some will also help control fleas. Ask your vet about which type is right for you.

If your dog has heartworms, only your vet can treat it. In the old days, treatment consisted of an arsenic IV solution. Not all dogs survived the process. Luckily, there have been great advances in medical science and heartworm treatment is now much easier on the dogs. Nonetheless, the old cliche most definitely applies. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The more severe the infection, the greater risk of mortality during treatment. Refrain from exercising your dog during heartworm treatment.


Hookworms feed off your dogs blood in the small intestine. This can lead to severe blood loss and malnutrition. These worms can be transmitted through their mothers milk, or through penetration of the skin. If left untreated it can cause anemia and be fatal. Hookworms are small, thin and less than an inch long.

Dark or black diarrhea, weight loss, and lethargy are all indicative of a hookworm infestation. Serious infestations usually affect very young puppies and without treatment, it will spread rapidly. Without intensive veterinary intervention, your puppy will die.

Adult dogs, often get infected from either ingesting larvae or the larvae entering through the skin. Once inside, the larvae mature into adults. After a couple of weeks the dog will pass eggs in her feces. They will incubate in the soil and hatch in a couple of days, from their the larvae will infect other dogs. Many dogs who recover from hookworms will become carriers. When the dog becomes sick or stressed, the larvae will be released for a new round of bloody diarrhea as the worms once again appear in the intestines.

There are many dewormers that are very effective against hookworms. Ask your vet which is right for you. Repeat treatment after two weeks to prevent adult hookworms from cropping up. Some heartworm preventatives can also protect agains hookworms.


These are the most common types of worms. Puppies often contract it through their mothers. This is known as prenatal infection. This is not a reflection of the breeders care, though the breeder should deworm the puppies prior to sale. Roundworms lie dormant in the female dog and transfer to the puppies when the female becomes pregnant. She can further infect her puppies through lactation.

Both puppies and adults can become infected by ingesting eggs in the soil. Should a dog eat an infected rodent he can also contract roundworms.

Roundworm infestation can become serious in very young puppies and older dogs. Symptoms include a potbelly, or loss of weight, excessive vomiting, diarrhea, and foul breath.

In rare instances, roundworms can pass to humans through contact with feces or contaminated dirt. This can be avoided with proper hand washing, especially before eating. Roundworms have been known to cause blindness in children.

Dogs older than 6 months develop a resistant to roundworms. Larvae do not become adults, rather they encyst in body tissues. There they are protected against the dogs natural antibodies and dewormers. During pregnancy, they migrate to the placenta and mammary glands. In adult dogs, roundworms rarely cause problems.

Treat puppies with Nemex or Strongid at 2 weeks (before they begin to pass the eggs) and repeat treatment at 4,6, and 8 weeks old. Repeat the treatment if eggs or worms are in the stool. Roundworms look like moving spagetti.


Tapeworms have the appearance of grains of rice. Most often they are transmitted when your dog swallows fleas and lice. Your dog may also get them from eating raw meat or rodents. Tapeworms do not cause any obvious symptoms but if you see what looks like grains of rice around your dogs anus or in his fecal matter, or if he experiences anal itching, you should have him checked out by a vet.

Tapeworms live in the small intestines, the head of the worm attaches to the intestinal wall where it is fastened by hooks and suckers. The body is made of segments that contain the eggs. To cure the infection, you must destroy the head.

You can prevent tapeworm by eliminating fleas and lice. Dogs should be in fenced enclosures or kept on lead to prevent them from eating dead animals. Avoid feeding your dog raw game and thoroughly cook and meat you give him.

Your vet may prescribe Telmintic, Droncit, Cestex, Drontal Plus, or Vercom Paste.

Humans can contract Echinococcus tapeworms from eating contaminated and undercooked or raw meat. Humans are not the preferred host for tapeworms, so adult worms do not develop. This can lead to the development of cysts in the liver, lungs and brain. This can cause illness or death.


Whipworms do not always produce eggs in the stool, as such it can be difficult to determine whether or not your dog has whipworm. Whipworms feed on the blood in the large intestine with the first part of their body, while the last part of their body lives in the small intestine. They can cause severe anemia in your dog, intermittent or chronic diarrhea, and bloody stool.

Whipworm is threadlike, with a thick end resembling a whip. Your vet may prescribe Panacur, Drontal Plus, Vercom Paste or Telmintic. Deworm them again in three wells and a third time three months later as whipworms can be difficult to eradicate.

Eggs can remain in the soil in backyards, dog parks or public parks for up to five years after heavy contamination. Reinfection is a very common problem. Always be sure to pick up your dogs waste on walks and in the yard. It may be necessary to change the gravel in gravel runs. Runs that are paved can be cleaned with a 1:32 bleach mix to disinfect.