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Dog Health 101: Identifying Intestinal Worms & Heartworm

If your dog has suddenly lost interest in eating, seems mopey, or doesn’t want to go for a walk or play, it’s difficult to know what’s up. Wouldn’t it be great if our four-legged friends could communicate with us and say, “I’m angry that you left for the day” or “My gut aches”?
Unfortunately, their non-verbal communication can keep us guessing, and the best way to find out is by going to the vet and getting answers. Many dog owners are hesitant to go to the vet right away because the cost of an office visit can be overwhelming, particularly when a pup is just having a bad day.
There are certain symptoms like loss of appetite, decreased energy, changes in stool, and a cough, that should always warrant a visit or at least a phone call. If these particular symptoms last more than a few days, they could indicate a serious and potentially life-threatening issue like intestinal worms or heartworm.
Read about the ways to identifying intestinal worms and heartworm and some simple ways to prevent your dog from getting the pesky parasites.

What is an Intestinal Worm?

Intestinal worms, also known as intestinal parasites, are commonly found in puppies but may be found in older dogs as well. Unlike other parasites that invade a dog externally, like ticks or fleas, intestinal worms are harder to detect and may only be detected once the problem has become bigger.
Some of the most common intestinal worms, found in dogs, include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. When puppies have an intestinal parasite, they most likely got it from their mother via nursing or in utero. Older dogs can pick up the larvae of an intestinal worm in a variety of ways from sniffing around in the dirt or coming across and snacking on a carcass.

Identifying an Intestinal Worm

Typically, intestinal parasites cannot be detected by the human eye. In fact, the only time you will see an intestinal parasite is if has become a worm and you notice it exiting your dog’s or it’s present in his or her feces. Doctors can detect an intestinal parasite during the early stages, so it’s important to pay attention to any changes in your dog’s health and always bring a stool sample to the vet when they request one.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

Does your dog scoot his or her bottom across the floor or on the grass? Has he or she developed a cough or intestinal issues like loose stools or vomiting? All of these are often telltale signs and symptoms of an intestinal worm, but it’s also important to remember that your dog may not exhibit any of the common signs.
Keeping up with regular checkups, calling your vet whenever your dog seems unwell and giving your dog a parasite preventive are some of the best things you can do, as you can’t keep your dog from being a dog (and sometimes that means doing gross things).

What is Heartworm?

Like intestinal worms, heartworm disease is a result of an internal parasite and rather than taking over and living in the intestinal tract of a dog; worms live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels. Heartworm disease can often be life-threatening for dogs because of where the worms reside and multiply, resulting in permanent damage and serious heart and lung conditions.
Although dogs are a natural host for heartworms the initial host is a mosquito. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, the life cycle of a heartworm begins and can live up to five years in a dog. Typically, the longer that heartworms are left undetected and untreated, the more serious the health conditions.

Identifying Heartworm Disease

Heartworms, like intestinal parasites, can’t be detected just by looking at your dog. The only way that heartworm disease is accurately detected is through a blood test. If heartworms are detected, your vet may order further tests or an ultrasound to get a closer look to see how your dog’s vital organs have been affected.
Heartworm disease has little to no early detections; therefore, it’s important to have your dog tested annually (or when recommended by your vet).

Signs and Symptoms of Heartworm Disease

Has your dog stopped looking forward to his daily walks or has a persistent cough? When your dog exhibits signs and symptoms of heartworm disease, it’s important to get your pup to the vet right away as he or she may have an advanced case of heartworm disease.
Once diagnosed, heartworm disease can be overwhelming and scary. Treatments can be expensive and sometimes ineffective, depending on the existing damage and the overall health of your dog. Since the disease can be so destructive, it’s important, easy, and relatively inexpensive to keep up with preventative measures like monthly pills and yearly testing.

Prevention and Maintaining Health

Parasites are very problematic, but with proper prevention they can be something you only hear about rather than have to experience with your dog. In addition to keeping up with preventative medications, it’s important to maintain your dog’s good health. A healthier dog is less likely to fall ill, and if he or she does have a minor setback, he or she will most likely bounce back more quickly.
Good nutrition, regular exercise, and supplements are all good ways to keep your dog healthy. Wapiti Labs’ Mobility and Strength products contain Elk Velvet Antler and natural herb extracts to help keep your dog’s entire body and maintain good health.
Although intestinal worms and heartworm disease are prevalent in dogs of all ages, you can keep your dog healthier and safer by simply knowing how to identify the parasites and any signs or symptoms that may indicate a health problem that needs a vet’s immediate attention. Keeping a close eye on your dog’s health will not only keep him or her healthier overall, but he or she is more likely to be happier and live a nice long life with you.

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