Parasites In Dogs: Diagnosis, Holistic Prevention, and Natural Treatments

Apr 26, 2024

Gastrointestinal parasites are a common and serious health concern for dogs. These parasites, including worms like roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms, live in the digestive tract and can cause a range of health issues, from mild pain and GI issues to severe illness. Recognizing the signs of these parasites and treating them is important for keeping your dog healthy and preventing the spread of infections to other pets and sometimes even humans.

What’s The Difference Between Parasites In Dogs and Worms In Dogs?

When it comes to dogs, the terms “parasites” and “worms” describe different groups within the bigger category of organisms that can cause health issues.

Parasites comprise a broad category that includes any organisms that live on or in another organism (the host) and benefit at the host’s expense. In dogs, this includes a wide range of organisms such as:

  • Ectoparasites like fleas and ticks, live on the body of the dog.
  • Endoparasites, which live inside the dog’s body. This group includes both worms and protozoa (like Giardia).

Worms are a specific type of parasite that falls under the category of endoparasites. They are typically elongated, cylindrical, and multicellular organisms that live inside the body, often in the gastrointestinal tract. Common types of worms that infect dogs include:

  • Roundworms (e.g., Toxocara canis)
  • Hookworms (e.g., Ancylostoma caninum)
  • Whipworms (e.g., Trichuris vulpis)
  • Tapeworms (e.g., Dipylidium caninum)

While all worms are parasites, not all parasites are worms. This is actually pretty important for diagnosis and treatment, as the methods for managing and eliminating fleas and ticks (ectoparasites) are obviously very different from those used for internal worms. Each type of parasite requires specific treatments and preventative measures tailored to their unique life cycles and the harm they can cause to your dog.

Most Common Types of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Dogs

There are several types of parasites in dogs, but there are a few that typically present as the most commonly found in dogs. They include:

Roundworms: These are one of the most common parasites in dogs. Roundworms look like spaghetti and can grow several inches long. They live in a dog’s intestines and feed on partially digested food. Puppies can contract them from their mothers, and adult dogs can pick them up from infected soil or fecal matter. Heavy infestations can lead to malnutrition, poor growth, and a pot-bellied appearance, which is a holistic diagnostic criterion.

Tapeworms: Contracted primarily through fleas or by eating infected rodents, tapeworms attach themselves to the walls of your dog’s intestines using their hook-like mouthparts. Parts of the tapeworm break off and pass through the dog’s stool, looking like grains of rice. While tapeworms generally cause mild symptoms, they can lead to weight loss and irritation around their rear end.

Hookworms: These are small, thin worms that fasten to the lining of the intestinal wall and feed on blood, leading to anemia, especially in puppies. Symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, and a dull coat. Hookworms are highly dangerous in young dogs and can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Whipworms: Identified because of their whip-like shape, whipworms live in the colon and cecum, where they can cause severe irritation and inflammation. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, weight loss, and general debilitation. They are diagnosed through stool tests and can be challenging to get rid of completely.

Giardia: Giardia is a protozoan parasite that infects the intestinal tract. Dogs can contract Giardia by drinking fecally contaminated water or even eating contaminated poop (rabbit and deer poop, for example). It often leads to diarrhea, which may smell horribly and look sort of greasy. Giardia is unique because it forms cysts that are excreted in poop and can survive in the environment for long periods, which means there’s often a high risk of reinfection for dogs.

Common Symptoms of Parasitic Infections

So how would you know if your dog had parasites? Several physical and behavioral signs are helpful to know about.

Physical Signs Of Possible Parasitic Worms Infection

  • Weight Loss: Even if your dog seems to be eating well, unexplained weight loss can often be a sign of a parasitic infection, as the parasites may be absorbing a significant portion of the nutrition from your dog’s diet. Dogs getting appropriate nutrition should not lose weight without other explanations.
  • Visible Worms in Stool: One of the clearest indicators of worms is the presence of visible worms or worm segments in your dog’s poop. These may look like small grains of rice or long spaghetti-like strings.
  • Diarrhea: Frequent loose or watery stools can indicate an infection, particularly if accompanied by mucus or blood, which suggests irritation or damage to the intestines.

Behavioral Changes:

  • Increased Lethargy: If your dog seems unusually tired and less interested in activities they normally enjoy, it could be a sign that their body is fighting off an infection.
  • Changes in Appetite: A sudden increase or decrease in appetite is another sign that something may be off with your dog’s health. Parasites can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, leading to the appetite changes.

When to Seek Help: While it’s practical to monitor your dog for signs of improvement with minor symptoms, if you see any of the following, contacting your vet may be warranted:

  • Persistent symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting over 24 hours.
  • Dramatic weight loss or dehydration.
  • Severe lethargy or unresponsiveness.

Veterinary care may be necessary, but recognizing early signs and providing appropriate intervention can often prevent conditions from getting worse.

Common Diagnostic Tests For Parasites In Dogs

Holistically identifying gastrointestinal parasites in dogs can be done through several non-invasive diagnostic methods, and you can even do many at home.

  • Fecal Exams: Regular home monitoring of your dog’s poop is really important. Observing changes in the consistency, color, or presence of visible segments or grains that resemble rice (which could indicate worms) could lead you to some natural interventions that can make a difference. Home fecal floatation kits are also available to help identify worm eggs using really simple tools and solutions. This can also be done, and commonly is, at your vet’s office.
  • Blood Tests: Simple at-home testing kits can sometimes detect heartworms or check for signs of anemia, which may indicate a severe parasitic infection. These kits involve taking a small blood sample from your dog and can provide quick results. Again, this can also be done at your vet’s office.
  • Imaging Techniques: Recognizing signs that might mean your dog needs an imaging test at the vet is important. Even if you’re looking to avoid some conventional vet methods, it’s never a bad idea to be safer than sorry. Still, some devices use sound or vibrations to visualize internal organs that can be used at home or in holistic health clinics to check for abnormalities that might indicate severe blockages or organ issues due to parasites.

Regular monitoring is essential for catching and managing parasitic infections early:

  • Conducting periodic home health checks can show early signs of parasites, which could allow you to bring in herbal treatments or change their diet.
  • Implementing preventive measures, like maintaining a clean environment, practicing proper hygiene, and using natural preventatives like diatomaceous earth or fermented vegetables to support gut health, can significantly reduce the risk of infection for your dog and others they may be around.

Of course, regular check-ups can play a vital role in the early detection and prevention of parasitic infections. Those visits also allow vets to catch signs of parasites before they become severe, which is particularly important for puppies and older dogs who might be more vulnerable to infections. Your vet may likely suggest preventatives as well.

Whether you do more holistically, or go to your vet’s for monitoring, diagnosis and prevention, you can help maintain your dog’s health and manage parasite-related issues through holistic and natural care. This may minimize the need for invasive treatments and support your dog’s health more naturally and with less stress.

Holistic Treatment Options For Parasites In Dogs

Managing gastrointestinal parasites in dogs holistically involves integrating natural remedies and lifestyle changes to strengthen your dog’s overall health and resistance to parasites. Here are some things to look at when considering holistic options.

Natural Remedies and Treatments:

  • Herbal Dewormers: Many herbs are known for their antiparasitic properties. For example, wormwood, black walnut, and clove are commonly used as natural dewormers. These herbs can help eliminate worms without the harsh side effects sometimes associated with chemical dewormers.
  • Dietary Additions: Incorporating anti-parasitic foods into your dog’s diet can help naturally clear parasites. Pumpkin seeds, grated carrots, and fermented vegetables boost your dog’s immune system and create an inhospitable environment for parasites.
  • Essential Oils and Garlic: Small amounts of garlic can act as a natural repellent for parasites. Essential oils like oregano oil can be diluted and applied topically to help fight external parasites.

Natural treatments sometimes require consistent application over a longer period than when compared to conventional medications. Maintaining the regimen for the full duration recommended by holistic health sources to ensure effectiveness is important.

You’ll also want to monitor your dog’s response to natural treatments closely. Look for improvements in their energy levels, appetite, and overall vitality, which indicate success. If symptoms persist or your dog reacts negatively to any natural remedy, be prepared to adjust the treatment plan. Sometimes, combining different natural approaches or tweaking dosages can make a significant difference.

A holistic approach may eliminate parasites and enhance your dog’s overall well-being, reducing the likelihood of future infestations and building a stronger, more resilient system. Some of the most common natural remedies for parasites in dogs include the following:

  1. Pumpkin Seeds: Known for their cucurbitacin content, pumpkin seeds have shown potential as a natural dewormer. The compound cucurbitacin may paralyze parasites such as tapeworms, facilitating their expulsion from the body. Although specific trials in dogs are limited, the deworming properties are noted in research.
  2. Garlic: Often mentioned for its anti-parasitic properties, garlic should be used with caution due to its potential toxicity in high doses. Some studies suggest that in small, controlled amounts, garlic can disrupt the life cycle of parasites and may be used as a preventative measure.
  3. Diatomaceous Earth: Food-grade diatomaceous earth is sometimes recommended as a natural dewormer. It acts mechanically, not chemically, because it basically dehydrates the parasites due to its abrasive properties. Consider using food-grade for your dog.
  4. Herbal Blends: Various herbal blends that include ingredients like black walnut, wormwood, and cloves have been investigated for their potential to combat parasitic infections in animals. These herbs are known in traditional medicine for their vermifugal properties.
  5. Neem: Known for its antiparasitic properties, it has been studied for its effectiveness against animal parasites. It can be used both internally and externally to help manage parasites.
  6. Papaya Seeds: Containing an enzyme called papain, papaya seeds have been noted for their anthelmintic (worm-expelling) properties. They can be ground and mixed into the dog’s food.
  7. Turmeric: With its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, turmeric is another natural remedy that has been used to help reduce inflammation and manage parasites.
  8. Chamomile: Often used for its soothing properties, chamomile can help alleviate intestinal upset caused by parasites.
  9. Oregon Grape Root: Oregon grape root has been shown to have antimicrobial and anti-parasitic effects as it contains berberine, making it useful in treating infections and parasites.
  10. Black Walnut: Black walnut is often used in herbal remedies for its effectiveness against intestinal worms, particularly heartworms.
  11. Wormwood: Traditional use of wormwood includes its role as a potent anti-parasitic, especially effective against roundworms and pinworms.
  12. Clove: Clove oil can be used to treat infections and worms due to its eugenol content. It is effective as an antimicrobial and anti-parasitic.
  13. Fennel: Fennel seeds are often used in traditional medicine to help repel internal parasites and improve overall digestive health.
  14. Thyme: Thyme is known for its antiparasitic properties, particularly against hookworms, due to its high thymol content.
  15. Goldenseal: Goldenseal also contains berberine, which is effective against a variety of pathogens and potentially helpful against intestinal parasites.
  16. Oregano Oil: Oregano oil can be a powerful remedy for eliminating parasites, as it’s well-known for its antiparasitic and antimicrobial effects.
  17. Cinnamon: Beyond its culinary uses, cinnamon has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can help in treating mild parasitic infections.
  18. Apple Cider Vinegar: Adding a small amount of apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water can help create an acidic environment in the gut that is unfriendly to parasites.

Prescriptive Medicines Vets Often Use For Parasites In Dogs

There are several types of medications vets use to both prevent and treat parasitic infections, including broad-spectrum dewormers that target multiple types of worms (e.g., fenbendazole, pyrantel pamoate) and more specific treatments tailored to certain parasites like tapeworms or Giardia (e.g., praziquantel, metronidazole).

These medications are usually administered orally and can come in the form of pills, chewables, or liquids. The exact dosage and duration of the treatment depend on the parasite type, the infection’s severity, and the dog’s size and age.

Most deworming medications can eliminate parasites within a few days. However, re-infection can occur, especially in environments where parasites are common, making preventive measures equally important. Additionally, some of the pharmaceutical interventions may cause gastric distress as well. Some dogs may experience vomiting, diarrhea, or a lack of appetite. More serious reactions can include skin rashes or hypersensitivity reactions.

Prevention and Control Of Intestinal Parasites

Preventing gastrointestinal parasites is key to maintaining your dog’s health and avoiding the complications that come with these infections. Regular deworming is often recommended, especially for puppies who are often born with worms. Flea and tick medicines are often prescribed as fleas can transmit tapeworms and ticks, though not intestinal parasites, can bring about tick-borne diseases like Lyme and Ehrlichiosis. Here are the best practices for prevention and control:

Keep your dog away from areas known to be high-risk for parasites, such as parks or yards where other infected animals have been present.

Additionally, regularly clean your dog’s living area, including their bedding, kennels, and any frequently used indoor and outdoor spaces. It’s important to pick up and get rid of your dog’s poop pretty quickly, especially in shared spaces like dog parks, to prevent the spread of parasites to other animals.

Always make sure your dog has access to clean, fresh water. Avoid letting them drink from stagnant water sources, where parasites like Giardia can thrive.

The Role of Diet and Nutrition in Managing Parasites

A strong focus on diet and nutrition can play a huge role in both preventing and managing parasitic infections in dogs. Here’s how you can use diet to bolster your dog’s defense against parasites and what foods to avoid to minimize risks.

Nutritional Tips to Strengthen a Dog’s Immune System Against Parasites

  1. Probiotics and Fermented Foods: Incorporating probiotics or fermented foods like kefir or fermented vegetables can help maintain a healthy gut flora, which is crucial in fighting off parasites. Serving Bernie’s Perfect Poop with each meal is an incredible way to offer prebiotics and probiotics that can help your dog’s microbiome thrive.
  2. High-Quality Protein: Make sure your dog’s diet includes high-quality, easily digestible protein sources to support immune function.
  3. Pumpkin and Carrots: Both are high in fiber and beta-carotene, which can help scrub the intestines and promote a healthy digestive tract.
  4. Coconut Oil: Adding a small amount of coconut oil to your dog’s diet can provide antimicrobial benefits due to its lauric acid content, potentially helping to expel or prevent parasites.

It’s also important to regulate some things in your dog’s diet to help prevent and manage parasitic infections.

  1. Sugars and Simple Carbohydrates: These can feed parasites and should be minimized in your dog’s diet to help reduce the parasitic load. Not to mention, they often add excess and empty calories your dog just doesn’t need.
  2. Dairy Products: Some dogs may be lactose intolerant, and dairy can lead to gastrointestinal upset, creating a more hospitable environment for parasites. It can make a bad situation worse.

When it comes to intestinal parasites in dogs, there are many things you can do to both prevent and manage the situation. Most importantly is keeping your dog’s gut the healthiest it can be. A healthy dog gut is one that can stand up to invaders threatening to damage the body, and help them recover in the healthiest and most efficient way. 


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