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Ask a Vet: How Often Should You Deworm a Puppy?

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How often should you deworm a puppy? Young puppies are fragile little creatures. They are prone to many inherited and acquired diseases. One of the most frequently seen and serious problem in puppies is the presence of intestinal worms. Intestinal worms cause sickness, lack of energy and decreased absorption of nutrients and vitamins. In order to grow big and strong, puppies need a lot of nutrients and vitamins.

If worms are present, puppies cannot fully digest, absorb and use the nutrients they ingest. As a result, their growing and development stops and start losing weight. Severe infestations may even lead to blood loss and anemia. During the puppies’ early life stages, both impaired growth and anemia can be serious and even fatal. From the above stated, it is only logical to assume that importance of having your puppy de-wormed as soon as possible – usually starting at the age of two weeks.

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How Do Puppies Get Worms?

It goes without saying that due to their undeveloped immune systems, young puppies are more susceptible to worms than adult dogs.

When it comes to puppies, there are many different worm sources. Usually worms are spread through poop. More precisely, when an infested dog poops, it passes worm eggs or larvae too. The eggs and larvae can survive on the soil or plants for a particularly long time. Since puppies tend to be curious and voracious eaters they often eat dead birds or other animals. If the dead bird or animal was infested with worms, the puppy’s meal will provide more than just nutrients – it will also provide worms.

Adult female dogs with strong immune systems may carry dormant larvae. Later on, if pregnant, they can transmit those larvae to their babies. The transmission can occur through the mother’s bloodstream and infect the unborn babies. After birth, the puppies can also get infected through suckling from their mothers.

Having fleas is another source or infestation because fleas carry certain types of worms. Mosquito bites are also an infestation source.

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 Types of Worms in Puppies 

  • Roundworms – usually contracted through poop or dirt. These thin, spaghetti-like parasites are the most common intestinal worms in puppies. Roundworms cause a variety of symptoms such as: a pot-bellied appearance, weight loss, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, mucus in the stool and stunted growth.
  • Hookworms – transmitted from mothers to puppies, these are the most dangerous intestinal parasites. Hookworms cause lethargy, anemia, poor appetite, black tarry stool.
  • Tapeworms – transmitted through hosts (fleas, rodents). Tapeworm infestations can go without any clinical signs. Sometimes infested puppies may have increased appetite but with no obvious weight gain.
  • Whipworms – these worms live in the large intestines and can burrow deep into the intestinal tissue. Whipworms cause chronic intestinal inflammation followed by: mucus in the stool, diarrhea, weight loss.

How Often Should You Deworm a Puppy?

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Since puppies are either born with worms or acquire worms from their mother’s milk, it is important to have them regularly treated against worms. The first de-worming takes place when the puppies are two weeks old. Then they need to be treated every two weeks until they reach 12 weeks of age.

Puppies between three and six months of age need monthly de-worming treatments. After the age of six months they need to be treated at least once every three months or more preferably around five or six times per year.

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To prevent or reduce worm infestations in puppies it is recommended to de-worm pregnant bitches (during the last third of the pregnancy) and nursing bitches (at the same times as the puppies).

Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that based on their lifestyles (farm vs. home) and eating habits (raw vs. cooked) some puppies and dogs need more frequent de-worming than others.

What to expect after deworming? The answer depends on the de-worming product you used – different products act differently. Some products break down the worms so it is very unlikely to see whole worms in your puppy’s poop. Other products work by paralyzing and killing the worms and consequently the dead worms are often seen in the poop.

Adult roundworms and hookworms are spaghetti-like parasites with off-white to tan color and variable size. Tapeworms are also off-white to tan in color but they are segmented. While fresh segments are white and capable of expanding and contracting, dry segments are darker in color and often resemble rice grains.

What's the best deworming product? Unfortunately, there is no ideal one-size-kills-all de-worming product. Different products kill different types of worms and usually over-the-counter available de-wormer products are not as effective as the ones that are prescribed by vets.

What is more, in some areas, the worms have become resistant to a particular medication. Ultimately, some dog breeds are genetically sensitive to certain de-worming treatments. Therefore it is best advised to have your puppy examined by a vet and use the de-worming treatment the vet prescribes.

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 Immune Benefits of Worms?

Recent evidence suggests that contact with parasites early in life may be beneficial. Researchers at Cambridge University, England, noted that most African people show evidence of past or present parasitic infestations but suffer only low levels of autoimmune disorders such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. In Europe, Japan, and North America, the incidence of parasites is low but the incidence of autoimmune disease is significant and increasing.

These relationships could be explained by simple coincidence but for an intriguing discovery. Animal studies have shown that diabetes, an autoimmune disease, is usually triggered by special immune system cells called TH1 cells. Parasitic infestations stimulate a similar but slightly different cell called TH2. High TH2 levels seem to inhibit TH1 manufacture and activity, and the lower the TH1 activity the lower the risk of autoimmune disease.

The increase in the incidence of autoimmune disease in dogs has coincided with more effective worming of young pups. At present there is no evidence to prove a link between these two seemingly unrelated facts, but the possibility that there is a real causal link is being actively investigated by veterinary immunologists.

About the Author 

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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