Diagnosing Dog Parasites

Dog parasites are a major concern for most pet owners. Depending on where you live and the age and breed of your dog, he may have a good chance of encountering parasites of one type or another during his lifetime. Generally, canine parasites can be classified into two categories: the first group of parasites lives on the surface of your pet's skin, while the second lives inside of his body. Diagnosing a parasite infection may be relatively easy or very difficult, depending entirely upon your pet's condition and symptoms.

Diagnosing External Parasites

External parasites include fleas, mites and lice. These animals are generally easier to diagnose than the parasites that infect your pet internally. In some cases, it may be possible to see the parasites themselves upon close examination of your pet's hair and skin. In other cases, you may have to rely upon his outward symptoms in order to properly diagnose the parasitic infestation. Some of the most common symptoms related to external canine parasites include the following:

  • Itchiness
  • Red or inflamed skin
  • Dry or flaky skin
  • Patchy hair loss or hair thinning
  • Open sores or lesions

There are a large number of different external parasites, some of which may survive on human hosts as well. It may be difficult to determine which species specifically has attacked your dog, but a broad diagnosis of external parasite infestation is usually adequate in order to properly treat the condition.

Veterinarians typically rely upon external symptoms to begin their diagnostic process. If your pet displays any of the symptoms listed above, your veterinarian will likely conduct a physical examination. He may also take a small skin scraping for analysis. In some cases, the parasites themselves may be invisible to the naked eye. A skin sample will allow the vet to closely examine your pet's skin under a microscope so that he may check for signs of parasitic infestation.

Diagnosing Internal Parasites

Internal parasites are typically more difficult to diagnose than external ones. The reason for this is that the symptoms are oftentimes less obvious, and it is generally impossible to see the parasites themselves. A variety of worms, including hookworms, heartworms and roundworms comprise this group. Additionally, while external parasites are generally not a threat to your pet's life, internal parasites may cause severe organ damage and other dangerous effects.

The following symptoms will aid in a diagnosis of internal parasites:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Loss of weight
  • Increased appetite
  • Anemia
  • Blood or mucous in the stool

Occasionally, visible signs of worms may be apparent in your dog's stool. Otherwise, your veterinarian will need to conduct a thorough stool sample in order to fully diagnose your pet's condition. As with external parasites, a physical exam and medical history check are also important tools that your veterinarian has at his disposal for diagnosing parasites that live inside of your pet's body.

The symptoms of both internal and external parasites may mimic those of serious conditions. It is best to take your dog in for a veterinary examination and diagnosis as soon as you see any signs of parasitic infestation.