Three small puppies in the street
© Pixabay

Puppy worms: Signs and symptoms

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

Puppies are especially prone to a worm infestation. Know what to look out for, how worms grow and what best treatments there are for puppy worms.

At some time in their lives every dog will carry worms in their gut due to their love of scavenging scraps of food and digging in soil.

It’s often hard to spot a worm infestation. Some worms are too small to spot with the human eye, and you would have to look very closely at your puppy’s faeces to see others; something most of us would choose to avoid.

So too are the physical symptoms of a worm infestation sometimes unnoticeable. ESCCAP guidelines on parasitic control states that, 'infections are extremely unlikely to be associated with clinical signs.'

But here is where the danger lurks, because if you are not aware that your puppy has worms you can't prevent a growing infestation from damaging her health. Massive infestations can cause, for instance, the rupture of the bowel.

You should have already been told by a reputable breeder or vet of the necessity for regular worming, and as a responsible dog owner you will have acted on their advice.

If you are worried that your puppy may be infested despite your best efforts you should try to ‘gather’ some evidence: wrap a sample of your dog’s motion in an air tight bag and take it and your dog to the vet.

Common worms in puppies (with signs of infestation)

Let us have a look at some of the most common worms that infect the bowels of dogs in the UK. We have added here some vermiform signs of the infestation as well, in order that you can better identify the culprit of the outbreak.

  • Roundworm larvae are ingested by contact with contaminated faeces or dirt. The adult roundworm is about seven inches long and looks like a thin piece of coiled spaghetti. The sign of a puppy’s roundworm infestation is obvious: the full adult is expelled in bowel contents.
  • Hookworm larvae are similarly ingested. But the adult hookworm is about ¾ of an inch long and is not as easily visible to the naked eye. However, you may be able to surmise a hookworm infestation of your puppy, should you notice signs of anaemia or blood in her faeces.
  • Tapeworm larvae can be transmitted to your dog by her ingesting a flea or the body part of a creature that was infested. Adult tapeworms are about six inches long and flat-bodied. However, you may not notice the whole adult tapeworm in your dog’s motion because the tapeworm is often expelled in chunks which have an appearance of grains of rice.
  • The whipworm adult is hard to see in faeces despite being two inches long. That is because it is often not expelled. Instead it latches onto your dog’s bowel and causes, 'diarrhoeic, bloody, mucus-filled faeces accompanied by weight loss,' according to the ESCCAP report.
  • Lungworm larvae are found in slugs, snails and their slime trails. Should your dog ingest the larvae she may not show any symptoms for a few months, except perhaps some coughing or breathlessness (lungworm is not expelled in the dog’s faeces).

The symptoms of a progressively worsening infestation of lungworm include the following, and if left untreated the parasite will cause the dog’s death.

  • Stomach and back pain
  • Anorexia (complete loss of appetite)
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting, and diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Unusual bleeding
An infected mother can give her puppies worms ©Pixabay

How do puppies get worms?

Puppies can pick up a worm infestation in various ways. Some worm larvae are transmitted from an infected mother through the placenta and into the body of the unborn dog, and in cases such as this the fluctuation of her hormones can stimulate the worms to grow and multiply.

A worm may also pass through the mammary glands of an infected mother to her suckling puppy.

Puppies also have a tendency to explore the world through taste. Anything remotely interesting to a puppy is worth investigating with her mouth and this includes other types of faeces, decaying food and dead animals.

However, unlike an adult dog, the puppy does not have the physical resilience to survive some of the milder physical attacks by worms. Their health can deteriorate far more quickly if, for instance, they are infested with hookworm, which draws blood from the intestine.

What are the physical symptoms of worms?

Sometimes there are no symptoms of a worm infestation. An owner may not be able to tell that something is eating away at their puppy until the animal is beset by ill health. Here are some physical and behavioural symptoms observed of dogs with some kind of worm infestation:

Scratching or rubbing of rear (scooting)

Although this behaviour may indicate that your puppy is suffering an irritation of her anal glands it could stem from a worm infestation. Tapeworms especially are known to travel near to the anus and cause her to scoot in an effort to soothe the itch.

Bloating, vomiting and diarrhoea

A prolonged infestation of worms can lead to abdominal swelling (distension) and, if severe enough, may even increase the risk of intestinal rupture. Haemic diarrhoea indicates an advanced infestation and potentially other problems brought on by the worms. You may also see the worms in your puppy's vomit.

Know the signs of puppy worms and act accordingly ©Pixabay

Heightened appetite accompanied by weight loss

Especially of puppies this symptom should give a rise of concern. A worm infestation leaches nutrients and minerals from the dog’s system which if left untreated causes malnutrition.

Summary of treatments

Many puppies are born with worms but all puppies should be wormed every fortnight for three months and then every three months after that. Some owners may consider their steering a dog around unsavoury temptations to be an adequate measure to take against the infestation of a worm, but vaccination is still the safest route to take to ensure any outbreaks are kept to a minimum.

Remember, some worms are more dangerous to a puppy’s health than others.
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