What Are Gastrointestinal or GI Parasites in Dogs?
Gastrointestinal, or GI Parasites in dogs can be a problem. It can lead to digestive upset, weight loss and poor body condition. However, identifying them and treating them can help provide relief!
GI Parasites are one of the most commonly seen and treated illness in dogs at veterinary clinics. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes from the large (macroscopic) to the tiny (microscopic). GI parasites live by feeding on either blood through attachment to the intestines, or by stealing nutrients from the foods your dog eats. This can cause a whole slew of symptoms, leading to stress for both dog and owner.
The most commonly seen GI Parasite are the roundworm and the tapeworm. Roundworms are most common in puppies, but can be seen at any time. They appear as large, long, spaghetti-like strands that can appear in either the stool, or vomit in large infections. These worms are also what gives some puppies their “potbellied” appearance. Tapeworms are a worm usually transmitted by the flea. They appear as small rice-grain like segments in your dog’s stool, around their anus/rectum and sometimes in the environment. Dogs with large infections may also have an adult worm appear dangling from the rectum- a series of the small segments attached together.
Microscopic parasites such as Giardia or hookworm eggs are usually only found during a routine fecal exam at the vet. These microscopic parasites work in a similar fashion to their larger cousins, and can be picked up from the environment by drinking affected water or walking in areas of contaminated grass. Symptoms of these parasites include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight-loss.
How can I prevent Gastrointestinal (GI) Parasites in my dog?
Annual treatment for parasites as well as good external parasite treatment can help prevent GI parasites from taking hold. If you are in an area where fleas are a problem, a monthly topical treatment can prevent fleas as well as the tapeworms they transmit. Dogs that are outdoors often or in areas where other dogs frequent may also benefit from an annual fecal or preventive dose of a de-worming medication.
Litters of puppies are also usually preventively de-wormed as they can more quickly spread worms due to their close proximity and curious nature for new things (including stool). Many breeders will give several rounds of a dewormer to each puppy to ensure that any potential parasites do not spread around. Many humane societies will also do the same for all pets that enter the shelter, to prevent the spread of parasites.
What should I Do If I Suspect Gastrointestinal (GI) Parasites?
If you suspect a GI Parasite, several things can be done. If you are relatively sure of the type of worm present, there are many over the counter treatments available. These include liquids such as Pyrantel or ivermectin, as well as pills such as praziquantel. Pyrantel and Ivermectin treat most worms except tapeworms, while Praziquantel will treat tapeworms. WARNING! NEVER GIVE IVERMECTIN TO DOGS OF COLLIE HERITAGE (Including Collies, Border Collies and related dog breeds). These breeds have a genetic mutation that makes ivermectin toxic to them and can cause severe illness or death!
If you are unsure of the type of parasite present, or your dog has more vague symptoms, bringing in a sample of your dog’s stool to your local veterinarian is recommend. Your vet can perform a fecal exam in several ways, looking for both large worms and microscopic ones. Your vet can then tell you if any parasites are present, and can provide an appropriate dewormer right there in the clinic, or can help you pick out an over the counter product instead.
In some cases of severe infections, multiple de-wormings may be needed. Pets may continue to have parasites present after a single treatment, and may become re-infected. It may also be normal to see dead or dying worms in the stool after a de-worming treatment due to large infections. However, if symptoms continue or worms still appear after a few days, additional treatment may be needed.
Preventing external parasites can also help prevent internal parasites! Many external parasites can transmit GI parasites. Stopping fleas, ticks and others before they are allowed to jump onto your dog or bite them will help keep them parasite free!
Natural Remedies For Treating Gastrointestinal (GI) Parasites
One of the best ways of preventing parasites naturally is through diet. A good diet plan can help boost the immune system and help keep parasites from taking hold. Whole foods, natural foods or other healthy diets are all beneficial. Garlic, Tansy and Wormwood can also be given as a supplement to help expel worms from the body. Chamomile may also be beneficial as a natural cleaner and soother of the digestive tract. Hyssop and Parsley have also been used as a natural treatment in livestock for worms, however its efficacy in dogs is unknown.
Preventing external parasites naturally can also indirectly help with GI parasites. Garlic and Echinacea can help boost the immune system while many mint and menthol-type herbs such as Peppermint and Eucalyptus can be used to deter fleas. Food grade diatomaceous earth can also be used both externally and internally to treat certain parasites naturally.