What has six razor sharp teeth and sucks your pup’s blood? No, it is not a Halloween nightmare! It is a hookworm. We are continuing to talk about pesky intestinal worms (see last week’s blog about roundworms). This week we are going to finish up with hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and an essential behavior that all pups should know to avoid intestinal parasites.
Hookworms and whipworms are similar to roundworms in their transmission, availability of treatments, and susceptibility to the agents in many heartworm preventives. Like roundworms, hookworm and whipworm eggs are passed in the feces of an infected pup. Once the larvae develop in the egg while in the environment, the pup can pick the infection up through the skin in some cases, through grooming, or by eating an infected animal.
Hookworms are nasty little creatures that set themselves apart from the rest by causing blood loss. Hookworms can cause life threatening illness. Like roundworms, hookworms have a zoonotic potential (the likelihood of making you sick) so it is important to stick with deworming at two week intervals until the infection is cleared. Prevention includes cleaning up the environment (eggs can last a long time in the soil), cleaning up housetraining accidents immediately, and avoiding areas where unknown dogs defecate.
Whipworms have to be different. Unlike the other worms that we have discussed, whipworms hang out for about three months in a part of the large intestine called the cecum. They cause terrible damage to the mucosa of the gut and lead to hemorrhagic enteritis (bloody diarrhea), poor appetite and abdominal pain. The diarrhea can be intermittent, making you think that the worms have been cleared and that your pet no longer requires treatment. Because the adult worms don’t produce eggs daily, it is very common for whipworm infections to be missed on fecal examinations.
Whipworm infections have to be treated with a specific regiminen and dewormer. Depending on the dewormer chosen by your veterinarian, your pup may have to be treated once, or on three consecutive days initially, with follow-up treatments at three weeks and three months. Whipworm eggs are hardy. They can survive for years in the environment, making reinfestation common. If your pup is continually being reinfected by her environment, you can either fill your yard with concrete or walk her somewhere else.
Tapeworms are often first noticed as little pieces of wiggly rice hanging from a pup’s rear end. Certain tapeworms can cause serious disease, so it is important to see your veterinarian if you see any "wigglies" in your pup’s poop.
The most common type of tapeworm breaks from the parasite norm due to the alternate route of infection: ingestion of a flea. Prevention is pretty simple if you have good flea control. Like whipworms, tapeworms may not show up on a fecal examination.
It is doggy nature to investigate the world with the nose and the mouth. To deny a pup that basic freedom seems unfair and cruel. Yet, for some pups it is the nose and mouth that continually get them in trouble, reinfecting them with intestinal parasites. To keep this behavior at bay, your pup should know how to "leave it." Over the past decade, I have come to love this behavior. I use it for dogs who lick themselves, growl at other dogs, investigate the environment too closely, and who bark too much. To the pup, it simply means "stop what you are doing with your face."
Start with your pup sitting or lying down facing you. Place a treat in your hand and make a fist. Offer your fist, palm side up, to your pup with at least 12 inches of space between her muzzle and your fist. Do not move your hand toward your pup or say anything. Your pup will sniff, lick and paw at your hand. Be patient. As soon as she takes her nose away from your hand, even for a nanosecond, immediately open your hand, praise her and let her eat the treat. Repeat this procedure until your pup no longer moves toward your fist. Now you are ready to start to pair the words "leave it" with the presentation of your fist. If your pup does not move toward your fist, backs away or turns away, immediately open your hand, praise her, and let her eat the treat. When your pup consistently and correctly responds to "leave it" when you say it, you are ready for the next step. At this point, your pup should see your closed fist, hear the "leave it" cue and back away or look away.
At this point, you are ready to slowly make the exercise more difficult by opening your hand with a treat in it, going through the same process. Then you will move to putting the treat on the floor. When she can wait for your cue in this situation, you are ready to play the game with toys. Start with low value toys (the toys she likes) and then move up to higher value ones (the toys she loves). When your pup can back away from a favorite toy when told to "leave it," you are ready to take it on the road.
Practice with every sort of thing so that she really gets used to walking away from interesting things. Remember to reward hundreds or thousands of times before you even think about varying up the reinforcement. You are asking your pup to do something that is completely unnatural for her — walk away from something stinky (stinky = good!). Pay her big for her good behavior!
P.S. I would like to know what your veterinarian does that baffles you. For example, why does your veterinarian test your pup for heartworm disease even though you faithfully give heartworm prevention? Post your questions here to be answered in a future blog.
Dr. Lisa Radosta