Dogs can easily become a host to a variety of internal and external parasites including worms, coccidia, giardia and cryptosporidium. With early treatment, most parasitic infections aren’t life-threatening. Here’s how to identify and treat parasitic infections in your dog:

Common internal dog parasites:

  • Hookworms, tapeworms, whipworm: All kinds of worms can invade your pet’s intestinal tract and can cause diarrhea, vomiting or weight loss, but they can also be present in your pet’s body without any symptoms. Heartworms can inhabit your pet’s blood stream and heart and may eventually affect many different organs but your pet may initially be asymptomatic.

    For intestinal parasites, your veterinarian can perform a physical exam and test a fecal sample. If your dog has one of these parasites, he may prescribe a dewormer solution as treatment. For heartworm, prevention is key. Heartworm infection is almost always preventable with medication. However, if a blood test confirms that your pet has heartworm, your veterinarian can advise you about treatment options.

  • Coccidia: The more common form affects the intestines and can cause weight loss, watery or mucous-like diarrhea and dehydration–or your dog may not show any signs of infection. One rare form of coccidia affects the liver and can cause appetite loss, diarrhea, liver failure or in severe cases, death.

  • Cryptosporidium: This intestinal parasite is usually ingested through contaminated food, water or feces. Symptoms include fever and diarrhea and, possibly, lethargy.

  • Giardia: Dogs, cats and even humans can contract giardia by coming into contact with infected feces or contaminated water. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting. Giardia can also be present with no obvious symptoms.

Common external dog parasites:

  • Fleas: Symptoms of a flea infestation includes itching, scratching, biting, chewing, hair loss or skin irritation. Anemia, tapeworms, and flea allergy dermatitis are all conditions that can stem from flea infestations. The best protection against fleas is using a combination of flea and tick preventative products year-round for your pet, home and yard.

  • Ticks: Ticks can be found anywhere on your dog, but are more likely to be found on the ears, face, legs or belly. They can be carriers of serious diseases including Lyme disease, so it’s important to check your dog regularly, and if one is found, remove it right away. To safely remove a tick, use a pair of pointed tweezers, hemostats or a tick removal tool to firmly grasp the tick at the head, which is closest to your dog’s skin. Pull the tick straight out using steady pressure, and place it in rubbing alcohol to kill it.

  • Mites: These parasites frequently hide in the dark recesses of your pet’s ear canals or beneath her fur. If your dog is infested, you might notice thick scabs near the ears and face, scaly dandruff or a thinning coat. You may also notice your dog itching, scratching or shaking her head.

Prevention is key

When it comes to internal and external parasites, prevention and early detection are vital. Anytime you add a new pet to the family, schedule an appointment right away with your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination, as well as any necessary vaccinations. Observe your dog regularly and make note of any changes in her skin and coat, her grooming behavior (such as increased itching or scratching) or her appetite.

In some cases, symptoms are not always visible, which is another reason annual check-ups are so important. Talk to your veterinarian about the most effective steps to keep parasites at bay. If treatment is needed, follow your veterinarian’s recommendations thoroughly. Other steps may need to be taken to protect everyone in your house, including other pets.

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