How Often Should I Worm My Dog?
As a new puppy owner, you want to ensure your furry friend grows up healthy and happy. One common concern is internal parasites, which can cause a variety of health issues in puppies, as well as adult dogs. You might be wondering, "How often should I worm my puppy?"
Not only are intestinal worms pretty gross, they can also cause serious health problems for your pet and even human family members. It's crucial to understand the importance of regular deworming to keep your puppy safe and how their age, lifestyle, and the specific worming product you are using can impact a puppy's worming schedule.
The good news is that with the right preventative strategy, you can be confident in the knowledge your number one canine companion is covered! Read on to find out more.
In this article, we'll discuss:
• What worms dogs carry
• Why early stage worming is critical
• Recommended worming schedules for different situations
• Recommended worming treatments
Broadly speaking, there are four kinds of worms that dogs commonly carry. Some of these worms can be transmitted to puppies from their mother's milk, so it is important to get started with your worming regime early.
Hookworm is a very common and nasty parasite of dogs in Australia. These small worms live in the intestine and use their hook-like mouthparts to feed from intestinal blood vessels. Especially in young puppies, hookworm infestations can result in a life threatening anaemia which may require hospitalisation and blood transfusion for treatment of severe cases. When the hookworms lay their eggs, they are passed into the faeces into the environment. The eggs then hatch into larvae which can penetrate human skin (for example people walking barefoot in the backyard) causing itching and a rash.
Another common intestinal worm of dogs is Roundworm. Roundworms are long spaghetti-like worms that also live in the intestine. They differ to hookworms in that they feed off partially digested food rather than blood. Roundworms mainly pose a threat to puppies as high worm burdens may result in reduced growth rates. If a person accidentally ingests soil contaminated with roundworm eggs they may also become infected. When the eggs hatch, the larvae can migrate through the organs in the body, including the eye which can cause blindness.
Whipworms are small worms that live in the large intestine of dogs, like hookworms they attach to the intestinal wall and feed from the blood vessels. In large numbers that can cause inflammation resulting in bloody diarrhoea for your dog.
Tapeworm are long flat worms that live in the intestines. The two major species of tapeworms to worry about in pet dogs are the flea tapeworm (Diplylidium caninum) and hydatid tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus).
The flea tapeworm is contracted by dogs who ingest infected fleas while grooming. Once infected with the tapeworm, the dog will pass tapeworm segments in his faeces. Sometimes these segments may stick to the hair around his rear end causing him to bite and lick or scoot his bottom along the ground.
Dogs become infected by hydatid tapeworm by consuming cysts present in uncooked offal or meat. Once the tapeworm reaches maturity in the intestines, it lays eggs that are passed with the dog's faeces. This tapeworm is of particular significance because if a human ingests one of these eggs, they can go on to develop potentially life-threatening hydatid cysts in their brain and other vital organs.
Certain factors make parasite infestation in puppies more severe, meaning that worming puppies early and regularly is imperative.
Route of infection
Roundworm larvae can be passed via the placenta from the mum to her pups while the pups are still in utero, so pups can be born with existing roundworm infestations.
Hookworm larvae can be secreted in the milk, meaning puppies can be infected simply by feeding from their mum.
The smaller size of puppies make them particularly sensitive to parasite infestations. As mentioned above, hookworm infestations can result in a life threatening anaemia which may require hospitalisation and blood transfusion for treatment of severe cases. Severe roundworm burdens in puppies can result in reduced growth rate and failure to thrive.
Immature immune systems
A puppy has an 'novel' immune system, which simply means that it has not been exposed to parasites, bacteria and viruses like adult dogs, and therefore has not had a chance to build up an immunity to fight off these invaders. So, they are often affected by higher numbers of parasites, and these parasites affect them more severely.
Risks of Not Worming Puppies Early
Failing to de-worm puppies early poses severe implications to their health, including anaemia (sometimes requiring hospitalisation and blood transfusion) and failure to thrive and grow appropriately.
Puppies that survive severe hookworm infections may continue to be "poor doers" with chronic anaemia. Infection with hookworms can also progress to respiratory disease and pneumonia when puppies are infected with large numbers of worms. Puppies can also often harbour migrating parasite larvae that later mature and commence laying eggs.
Pups with heavy infestations of roundworms may also vomit up a large number of (often live) roundworms at 4-6 months of age (ewww!!)
Since puppies often carry heavy burdens of worms, they act as a source of reinfestation in the environment to other dogs. In the case of whipworm, infective eggs can persist in the environment for several years!
Along with the health implications to the pups themselves, there are also important risks that worms passed from puppies and dogs pose to humans. Both hookworms and roundworms can infect people. Hookworm larvae can penetrate and migrate in the skin (called Cutaneous Larval Migrans), producing intensely itchy lesions on the skin. The larvae can also migrate to the intestines and cause enteritis, resulting in abdominal pain and blood changes. Roundworm larvae, if ingested via contaminated soil, can migrate through the body (called Visceral Larval Migrans) and cause systemic disease including neurological, hepatic, pulmonary and ocular disease, depending on the final destination of the larvae.
So, it's clear that early, and regular, deworming of puppies and dogs is crucial, not only for their own health, but also that of your family.
Puppy Worming Schedule
As puppies are particularly vulnerable to worms due to their route of infection, smaller size and novel immune systems, they need to be dewormed much more frequently than adult dogs. Worming is an imperative part of your puppy's health regimen.
As a general rule, puppies should be wormed at 2 weeks of age, then every 2 weeks until they are 12 weeks old, then once per month after that, ongoing. Always consult with your vet to determine the best worming schedule for your puppy. Worming should be a part of a comprehensive preventative health plan that also includes vaccinations and flea and tick prevention.
Adult Dog Worming Schedule
Regular worming for adult dogs is also crucial. Not only do adult dogs act as a source of reinfestation for the environment, other dogs and humans, worm burdens in adult dogs can progress to systemic disease, and cause chronic, lifelong issues. Lung disease and enteritis are common consequences of heavy worm burdens and migration of larvae through the tissues.
Deworming schedule recommendations do vary depending on who you speak to, and the risk factors in your dog's specific location and lifestyle.
Our Vet Squad recommends monthly intestinal deworming against roundworms, hookworms and whipworms for dogs from 12 weeks of age - this is the current gold standard of care for deworming protocols 1,2,3.
Deworming at least every 3 months against tapeworm is recommended for all dogs from 12 weeks of age onwards (see further information below).
More frequent deworming may be recommended by your vet in cases of heavy worm burdens, or where treatments only effective against adult worms are used.
Worming For Dogs in Rural Areas
While treating for tapeworms at least every 3 months is recommended for all dogs, those in rural areas who are more likely to be exposed to hydatid tapeworm in animal carcasses should be treated for tapeworms every 6 weeks. It's also important to take other steps to reduce the risk of transmission by:
• Avoid feeding raw offal to dogs
•Take steps to limit dog access to animal carcasses
•Wash hands thoroughly after touching dogs
Tapeworm Treatment for Dogs
There are several types of tapeworms in dogs, with the flea tapeworm being the most common. By controlling fleas with regular flea preventatives, in theory we control the flea tapeworm, though it only takes the ingestion of one infected flea for your dog to acquire the flea tapeworm.
The main tapeworm of concern in dogs is the hydatid tapeworm, as it poses significant human health risks.
If your monthly product doesn't contain a tapeworm treatment, you should give a worming chew or tablet containing praziquantel like Drontal or Cazitel once every 6 weeks for dogs who consume raw meats, offal or have access to animal carcasses (to control hydatid tapeworm), or once every 3 months for all other dogs (to cover for other types of tapeworm). Alternatively, most vets stock tapeworm only tablets which also contain praziquantel.
While there is no true 'all-in-one' product available (yet) that controls all parasites for dogs (fleas, ticks, heartworm, intestinal worms AND tapeworms), there a range of broad treatments as well as specific intestinal worming treatments for dogs available.
Broad parasite treatments
Nexgard Spectra provides protection against roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, fleas, ticks and heartworm.
Credelio Plus provides protection against roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, fleas, ticks and heartworm.
Advocate provides protection against roundworm, hookworm and whipworm, as well as fleas and heartworm.
Sentinel protects against fleas, heartworm, roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworms.
Drontal protects against all intestinal worms - roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworms.
Milbemax controls all intestinal worms - roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworms, as well as heartworm when given monthly.
Cazitel protects against all intestinal worms - roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworms.
Paragard protects against all intestinal worms - roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworms.
While it can be a little confusing at first, it's important for both your pet's and your family's health that your dog is on a regular worming. If you're still not sure which product to give or how often, ask your vet or Check with a Pet Circle Vet.
1Tropical Council for Companion Animal Parasites Guidelines for the Diagnosis, Treatment and Control of Canine Endoparasites in the Tropics https://www.troccap.com/2017press/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TroCCAP_Canine_Endo_Guidelines_English_Ver2.pdf (2019) (accessed October 5, 2023)
2Luca Massetti, Rebecca J. Traub, Louise Rae, Vito Colella, Lara Marwedel, Phillip McDonagh, Anke Wiethoelter. One Health Volume 17, December 2023, 100587: Canine gastrointestinal parasites perceptions, practices, and behaviours: A survey of dog owners in Australia. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352771423001076#bb0100 (accessed October 5,2023).
3Companion Animal Parasite Council, General Guidelines for Dogs and Cats (2023), https://capcvet.org/ (accessed October 5, 2023).