What you NEED to know about worms and dogs, wildlife and even HUMANS

February 9, 2021

By Dr. Kristin Williams

I want to address a couple of issues in this Newsletter. First, I would like to comment on the effects that COVID is having on veterinary medicine and the services that people are able to get for their pets. Then, I will discuss a relatively simple issue to make sure that everyone is aware of it!

As we all know, many people are working or “stuck” at home because of the pandemic, whether it is a college student doing online courses or an executive with an office that has closed. This has led to a run on many commodities and resulted in significant problems, such as the big toilet paper shortage that still persists in some stores. Who would have ever thought that we would be dealing with toilet paper problems in the year 2021?

At any rate, one of the things that has been exceedingly popular is dogs! I have spoken to SO many new owners that have either never had a dog, or haven’t had a dog in many years but have chosen to add to their family once again now because “it’s a good time to do so.” Dogs make people happy and encourage them to go out and exercise.  Our canine companions offer consistent love and devotion and help relieve stress during an unprecedented time.

This has led to a HUGE demand for veterinary services. In addition to people adding new dogs to their households, it seems that everyone is home spending time with their dog and noticing things that are concerning, and they would like their pet to be seen by a vet ASAP if there is a problem. People are angry when they call a clinic and are being told “I’m sorry, we can’t do a dental procedure for your animal for at least 3 months.”  Many clinics are scheduling routine appointments 4-5 weeks out or are unable to schedule routine services because they are inundated with sick animals.

The result of these trends has been a tremendous overflow into local emergency clinics as owners want their animals seen urgently and are told by their regular veterinarian that “we can’t fit you in.” At least two of the local emergency clinics in the area where I practice have been forced to send notices out stating that they are unable to see new cases. If a pet can’t be seen in the ER, where CAN they go for veterinary care? Sometimes you might just have to keep on driving.

This trend has been caused by not only a huge increase in demand for veterinary care, but also a shortage of veterinary clinic staff members as many are forced to quarantine due to exposure to a person infected with COVID. Or, employees are sick themselves and are terrified to go to work for fear of being infected and causing a clinic to shut down because of exposure. You probably know this story.

Then, when you do FINALLY get to your vet appointment, everything is being done “curb-side.” Please don’t be angry with your veterinarian for requiring this right now – they are just trying to keep themselves and their staff members safe so that they can stay open to serve you and your dog! Trust me, this is very stressful for veterinarians and pet owners alike. It is difficult to remember to discuss everything with you by telephone, and sometimes details may be overlooked.

This leads me to an issue I have recently seen at QK that is SO preventable. I have had to treat otherwise healthy dogs that are very well cared-for by devoted owners for a simple thing: the internal parasite referred to as ROUNDWORMS! These are a type of parasite that are very common in the environment, and just about all puppies are infected before routine deworming. How do dogs get roundworms? There are a few different possibilities:

  • Consuming infective worm eggs from soil in the environment (generally through normal grooming/self-licking).
  • Consuming a prey animal (usually rodent) that is carrying developing worms.
  • During embryonic development when an infected mother dog is pregnant (most puppies are infected this way).
  • Nursing from an infected mother dog.

Why are these parasites bad? As the Veterinary Information Network suggests, “Roundworm infection can have numerous negative effects. It is a common cause of diarrhea in young animals and can cause vomiting as well. Sometimes the worms themselves are vomited up which can be alarming as they can be quite large with females reaching lengths of up to seven inches. The worms consume the host’s food and can lead to unthriftiness and a classical ‘pot-bellied’ appearance. Very heavy infections can lead to pneumonia as the worms migrate and, if there are enough worms, the intestine can actually become obstructed.

“It should also be noted that human infection by this parasite is especially serious. It is important to minimize the contamination of environmental soil with the feces of infected animals so as to reduce the exposure hazard to humans and other animals. In other words, dog feces should be removed and discarded promptly before worm eggs permanently contaminate the local dirt.”

This latter point above discusses the “zoonotic” potential of roundworms, meaning transmission from dog to owner. I especially worry about this in households with small children running around in the yard and potentially eating dirt or feces infected with this nasty parasite!

SO, my point is that the owners of the dogs I have seen with roundworms did not have their dogs on any type of monthly heartworm prevention. I can’t help but imagine that these owners simply didn’t know any better, and perhaps their veterinarian forgot to mention it, or the point was lost in a telephone conversation instead of a face-to-face discussion. Thank you COVID protocols!

But wait – heartworms aren’t the same as roundworms, so why would a person use heartworm prevention to address a roundworm issue? Heartworms are transmitted to dogs through the bite of an infected mosquito, so why is this relevant? The ANSWER: most oral monthly heartworm preventatives ALSO deworm your dog on a regular basis for a lot more than just heartworm.

Heartgard Plus or other Ivermectin/Pyrantel combination products are effective against heartworm, roundworm and hookworm. And things like Interceptor Plus (Milbemycin/Praziquantel) are even more broad-spectrum, covering heartworm, roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworm.

Therefore, I strongly recommend that you maintain your dog on a monthly heartworm preventative, and give it to them YEAR-ROUND… unless you can guarantee that your dog won’t eat gross things in the yard in the middle of winter. That would be pretty unlikely with many/most dogs, who enjoy exploring the environment to find the most disgusting dead thing to eat or roll in so that they smell just like it!

Veterinary care for your dog is a bit tough right now, but having your dog on monthly year-round heartworm prevention is just one thing you can do to keep your dog healthy so you can enjoy being at home together during these unusual times.

For questions or to schedule an in person visit with our QK vet Dr K please email kwilliamsdvm@qkdogs.com