Like whipworms, tapeworms, and hookworms, roundworms are a fairly common intestinal parasite that can infect your service dog. Roundworms take their name from their rounded tubular shape, and these whitish to light brown worms resemble strands of spaghetti and can reach several inches long. They’re also known as ascarids.
It’s important to remain vigilant about monitoring your assistance dog for signs of parasitic infections like roundworms. They pose various health threats and cause your dog to suffer. Not only is this no good for her, it interferes with her ability to focus on the tasks you need her to perform, and may also deprive her of the energy to carry them out.
How Dogs Contract Roundworms
Dogs become infected with eggs or larvae in a number of ways. Often, puppies contract them from their mother, either prior to birth or through their mother’s milk. Dogs can also acquire them through sniffing, licking, or ingesting contaminated feces (either their own or another animal’s), food, soil, or intermittent hosts such as rodents, birds, cockroaches, or other small creatures.
The larvae are capable of migrating through bodily tissue. They can make their way into the windpipe, where they are coughed up into the mouth and swallowed. This delivers them to the intestines, where they mature, feed, and complete their life cycle by laying many thousands of eggs.
Symptoms and Complications of Roundworm Infections
Many dogs don’t show symptoms of a roundworm infection. The most telling sign is spotting the worms in your service dog’s stool or vomit; vomiting and diarrhea are two of the more common symptoms. Other signs of infection include upset stomach, changes in appetite, weight loss, weakness, lethargy, coughing, dulled coat, and a potbelly appearance.
Roundworms eat partially digested food in their host’s intestines. This deprives the dog of essential nutrients, making nutritional deficiencies the primary concern. It’s most dangerous in young puppies who may fail to grow and develop properly, but even a full-grown assistance dog can suffer effects of inadequate nutrition if the worm population becomes significant. Also, diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration if your dog isn’t drinking enough water to replenish lost fluids.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Roundworms
The visual evidence of roundworms in your dog’s feces or vomit is telling. However, a number of different types of worms can appear there, so don’t make the diagnosis yourself. Have your veterinarian examine a fecal swab or stool sample under a microscope to confirm the presence of roundworm eggs.
Treatment for roundworm infections is simple and highly effective. Various antiparasitic agents, including fenbendazole, milbemycin, moxidectin, nitroscanate, piperazine, and pyrantel, kill adult roundworms. However, multiple doses strategically spaced are necessary to kill subsequent roundworms that grow from unaffected eggs and immature larvae. Your vet will provide a product recommendation and appropriate dosing schedule.
Preventing Roundworm Infections in Your Assistance Dog
Preventing infections is always preferable to having to treat them. Also, roundworms are one type of intestinal parasites that can be transmitted to humans who ingest eggs or larvae. It’s not all that common, but roundworm infection can cause some pretty serious complications affecting the eyes, heart, lungs, or brain in people. This is another reason to be proactive about keeping them out of your service dog and your environment.
It’s generally recommended that dogs take a regular preventive medication for heartworm infections, and most of the drugs administered for this purpose also prevent roundworm infections. Again, consult your vet for product and schedule suggestions.
Also, invest in pest control in your home to keep it free of mice, roaches, and other potential carriers of roundworm larvae. Similarly, keep your service dog away from small wild animals. Don’t let her approach feces, and make sure her own stool is promptly picked up and properly disposed of. Your dog should have a fecal exam once or twice per year as part of her routine veterinary care.