There are few things in life more thrilling than bringing home a new puppy. We plan. We buy toys, treats, the perfect food and a crate. We charge the battery on our phone to take endless photos.
But we don’t think about the parasites this little ball of fur might have feasting on it when it comes into our home. We assume our new baby is perfect in every way… and healthy.
But more often than not a puppy will come home with a parasite.
A 2013 study of 56 healthy puppies done by Husse showed just how common parasites are. Two-thirds of the puppies tested positive for coccidiosis, half were positive for roundworm, and a third were positive for giardia.
These precious babies have undeveloped immune systems. Their bodies can’t fight off a parasite like an adult dog can. In fact, a recent puppy of mine came home with two parasites; giardia and fleas.
“What is a parasite?” you may be wondering. It’s an organism that lives in or on another organism (the host), getting its nutrients from the host. They can make your dog’s life miserable and some can even be deadly. Not to mention contagious to people.
The best way to curtail your puppy’s suffering, and yours, is to be proactive in tackling these parasites. Get your puppy checked out by your vet—be sure to line one of those up before puppy comes home—the first week they’re home.
Some parasites will cause symptoms right away. Some will not. Your vet will know what to test for even if your pup is showing no symptoms.
Here are the ones most likely to affect a puppy. I won’t delve into great detail about the ones I’ve already written posts on but I’ll link to those posts for more info.
These are common in puppies. Most professional breeders will de-worm the litter before they go home, as will rescue organizations.
Roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm and whipworm are the most common intestinal worms affecting puppies. Mom’s pass the worms to their babies in utero or when nursing.
You can get these worms too. And in the case of roundworm, they can be dangerous. Especially in children who can go blind if infected by them. Be sure you and your children wash your hands after playing with the puppy.
In dogs, intestinal worms may cause diarrhea, vomiting, pale gums, a swollen belly or a dry coat.
If your vet suspects worms, they’ll ask for a fecal sample. Your vet will prescribe de-worming medications if the test comes back positive.
This is one of the most dangerous parasites your dog can contract. Heartworm is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito with heartworm larvae in its blood.
Heartworm settles in the heart as opposed to the digestive tract. This worm can cause heart failure and death.
The problem is that it takes 6 months from the time of infection for symptoms to show, at which point it’s usually too late to treat the condition.
Because heartworm is a silent killer initially, you want to prevent this parasite from the getgo. Prevention should start when your pup is 8 weeks old. Talk to your vet about the alternatives.
When symptoms begin to show, they’re serious. Your dog may be lethargic, have a cough, difficulty breathing, a swollen belly, and changes in heart rhythm. These may lead to collapse or death.
In mild-to-moderate cases, there is medication to kill heartworm but it can take 6 months or longer to be certain your puppy no longer has worms.
Last week’s post covered one of these nasty parasites, giardia.
Another common single-cell protozoa is coccidia. It’s extremely contagious to other dogs and can cause severe illness.
A puppy will get coccidia from exposure to mom’s poop if she’s shedding infective cysts. These cysts are like the cysts formed by giardia.
This parasite is one that primarily affects puppies 6 months or younger because the immune system of an older dog is able to fight off the effects. As a puppy ages, it develops an immunity to coccidia.
An older dog may carry the parasite but won’t likely get sick.
A puppy with coccidiosis, the condition caused by coccidia, may have mild to severe bloody or mucousy diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and dehydration. If not treated, a young pup can die.
The treatment for coccidiosis is 1 to 3 weeks on a sulfa drug, depending on the severity. The meds don’t kill the organisms. They inhibit their reproduction. As a result, the treatment can take a while to get rid of this parasite. Over time, the puppy’s immune system develops which ultimately removes the organisms from the body.
Your vet may also suggest a highly digestible low residue food like Husse Valp to help manage symptoms.
To prevent coccidiosis, insect and rodent control on your property is critical. Cockroaches and flies can carry coccidia from one place to another on their bodies.
Mice and other rodents can ingest coccidia. If your dog kills and eats one of these critters with coccidia, they’ll get infected.
Fleas and ticks
Unlike the other parasites, these show on your dog’s skin. Fleas live in their fur. They bite their host and live off their blood. This can be very uncomfortable for your puppy.
Many pups are allergic to flea saliva making the itching even more intense. Excessive scratching can lead to raw, scabby and swollen skin. And if the scratching continues too long… skin infections. Fleas can also transmit tapeworm.
Ticks feed off the blood of dogs too, and depending how many ticks are on your dog, the blood loss can be severe. Even resulting in anemia. A severe tick infestation can make your puppy very sick.
Ticks also carry serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
If you see your puppy scratching a lot, pay attention. You may see the fleas on their belly. And you may feel a tick if you move your hands over your puppy’s body. They often latch on between toes, on the ears, or in the armpits.
Many flea and tick treatments exist, from topical oils to chewable tablets. Talk to your vet about the best treatment for your puppy. And remember, you may need to treat your home too.
These too are external parasites that burrow into the skin. But they aren’t visible to the naked eye. They often occur in the ears.
Mites can cause skin irritation, rashes, red scaliness, hair loss, and what looks like dandruff.
The sarcoptes scabiei mite causes mange also known as canine scabies. And mange is very contagious to other dogs and to humans. In humans, you know this parasite as scabies.
Topical gels, benzoyl peroxide shampoo, and anti-parasitic applications are used in combination to treat mites.
Tell your vet if you notice anything unusual about your puppy. A good vet will talk to you about these puppy parasites and check for any appearance of them at your first visit.
Parasites are not only unpleasant for your dog, they are often contagious to humans. And a case of scabies sure isn’t the way you want to remember those early days with your puppy. So be proactive. Treat a problem. And enjoy that fleeting puppyhood.
Have you had a puppy with a parasite? Share your experience in the comment section above.