Roundworms are round-bodied parasitic worms that infest a dog's intestines and digestive system. According to Pawprints & Purrs, these worms average about three to five inches in length. Roundworms consume partially digested food inside the intestines, and can deprive a dog of the nutrients it needs to be healthy. These worms can be passed from mother to puppy, or may be contracted by a dog which has swallowed roundworm eggs. Learning the symptoms of roundworm infestation can help pet owners respond to the problem effectively.
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Dogs with roundworms may suffer from a decreased appetite and diarrhoea due to the worms' consumption of nutrients. Worm infestations may cause dogs to feel nauseated or to vomit. Some dogs may also become constipated. In serious cases, roundworms may lead to excessive weight loss and malnutrition, and can even grow so numerous they obstruct the intestines. Puppies and weaker adults may display a pot-bellied appearance, but have reduced muscle mass and fat elsewhere on their bodies. It's easy to mistake this pot-belly for a sign that the dog is fat, but it actually indicates a need for immediate treatment.
Malnutrition from roundworm infestations can cause changes in the appearance of a dog's skin and fur. Lack of nutrients causes dull or thinning hair in animals suffering from serious cases of roundworms. These problems disappear after treatment, once the animal is receiving proper nutrition again.
Some dogs suffer from respiratory problems related to roundworms. These worms sometimes migrate from the intestines and into the lungs and bronchial tubes, causing a cough and difficulty breathing. According to Doctors Foster and Smith, when this occurs in young puppies, it may cause pneumonia.
Dogs with a roundworm infestation often excrete the worms and their eggs. Adult worms may appear in the vomit or faeces, and resemble spaghetti. Dogs may also pass worms in their stools while being treated for the problem. This occurs because the medication causes the adults to lose their grip on the intestinal wall. Most dewormers are not capable of killing eggs or migrating larvae, so multiple treatments may be required, even if worms are no longer visible in the stool.
Roundworm treatment in dogs usually involves a dewormer based on fenbendazole, though over-the-counter products based on diethylcarbamazine and piperazine salts are also available. Ivermectin-based heartworm medications may also kill roundworms. According to Pawprints & Purrs, fenbendazole works by temporarily paralysing the worms, causing them to pass out of the intestines. Since these drugs are not effective against eggs or larvae not in the intestines, several treatments at two- to three-week intervals may be required. Deworming medication is usually given by mouth, and may need to be hidden in food.
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