When Worms Kill

Posted on: 9 November 2015


You know that when you bring your new puppy home, there's a good chance he or she will have worms. That's what you've heard, anyway. You're not that concerned. The worms will just give him diarrhea and a bloated tummy, and you'll go to the pet store for worm medicine. Right? Wrong. What you don't know can hurt your new pup. In fact, it can kill. Here's what you need to know now, to prevent possible heartache later.

Canine Roundworms

There are four main types of intestinal worms that can infect your furry friend: roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. Of those, roundworms, also known as ascarids, are by far the most common. In fact, your new pup will likely be infected when you bring it home.

Dogs become infected when they ingest the roundworm eggs that have been passed in the feces of an infected dog. The eggs hatch and the larva travel throughout the body, eventually ending up in the lungs. The dog then coughs up the young worms and swallows them. The worms enter the digestive tract, where they mature and begin laying eggs, completing the lifecycle. A pregnant dog can also pass roundworms to her offspring during gestation, which is why they are so common in puppies.

Symptoms of a Roundworm Infestation

Roundworms will cause gastric disturbances that cause a great deal of gas and a distended tummy. Pups will often have diarrhea, a dull coat and may itch at his hind end. As time passes and the worms feed on the nutrients in the digestive track, puppies may show weight loss and a general "failure to thrive." Puppies may cough up or vomit up a mass of adult worms that look like thin curved pieces of spaghetti. If left untreated, a large infestation can cause a partial or complete blockage of the intestines.

An intestinal blockage is a life-threatening condition. If it is partial, some food can pass, and your pup will show signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and a swollen and painful belly. It can progress to a complete blockage that allows no food through the intestines. It will cause bloat and often death of a section of the intestines. If immediate action is not taken, your pup will die.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your veterinarian will ask about the onset of symptoms and perform a physical exam, including abdominal palpation. Further tests may include radiographs, sonography and endoscopy. In most cases surgery to remove the blockage will be necessary. If any part of the intestines have died, that section will need to be removed as well.


Although a roundworm infestation that results in such an extreme outcome is not common, it is a possibility. But the good news is, it's easily preventable. Although it's difficult to control your pup's environment and prevent him or her from becoming infected, discovering and eliminating the infestation is easy. Simply bring a fresh stool sample when you bring your new pup for his or her first veterinary exam and vaccinations. Your vet, one like West Lake Animal Hospital, can determine the presence of worms and what kind, and provide the appropriate treatment. Then your furry friend can be placed on preventative medication to prevent further infections.