A Guide to Dog Parasites

Dog parasites pose mild to life-threatening health hazards for your dog. The common denominator in preventing parasitic infection is reducing exposure. Treatments vary with each parasite. In all cases, the sooner your dog is diagnosed with a parasitic infection, the greater chances treatments prescribed by your vet will be successful. The following is a guide to common canine parasitic infections:

Coccidia Colonizes a Dog's Intestines

Coccidia, a single-celled parasite, colonizes your dog's intestinal wall. Your dog contracts this parasite by ingesting soil contaminated by infected excrement. Symptoms include diarrhea, which in severe cases may be bloody. Coccidia may be fatal in puppies. The condition is treatable if caught early.

Demodex Mites May Signal Immune Deficiency

Demodex mites cause mange, otherwise known as canine demodicosis. Demodex mites live in hair follicles and oil glands of the skin. Susceptibility to demodex infestation may signal an inadequate immune system. Symptoms include hair loss that spreads over the body. Confined cases of demodex mange are easier to treat than whole-body infestations.

Ear Mites Infest the Ear Canal

Ear mites infest the ear canal, signaled by small black spots. Your dog contracts this parasite through exposure to other infected animals. Symptoms include itching, redness, inflammation and skin infection.

Fleas Feed on Your Dog's Blood

Fleas proliferate indoors or outside, jumping on your dog's body to feed. You may or may not see telltale dark flecks scurrying over your dog's coat. Symptoms include itching, hair loss and red, inflamed skin and allergic reactions. To inspect your dog's coat for fleas, shake specks that look like dirt onto white paper, which may be "flea dirt," a combination of flea excrement and digested blood.

Giardia Infests a Dog's Intestines

Giardia, a single-celled parasite, infests your dog's intestines. Your dog may contract giardia by drinking water contaminated with excrement. Symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss and poor health resulting in death in some cases. The condition is treatable, if detected early.

Heartworms Are Common and Deadly

Heartworms are a common and deadly canine parasite, with up to 250 heartworms measuring up to 16-inches-long invading your dog's vital organs. Symptoms include fatigue and shortness of breath. The condition is difficult to treat. Prevention is of paramount importance. Your vet will prescribe appropriate medications if your dog already has heartworms.

Hookworms Attach to a Dog's Intestines

Hookworms invade your dog's digestive system, attaching to intestinal membranes to feed on blood. Your dog may contract hookworms by ingesting infected feces or licking infected areas of the body. Symptoms include severe internal blood loss, which may be fatal to puppies, and chronic diarrhea and weight loss in adult dogs.

Sarcoptes Scabiei Mites, or "Scabies," Cause Highly Contagious Mange

The scabies mite digs into your dog's skin, causing sarcoptic mange, a highly contagious skin condition affecting primarily the elbows, hocks, abdomen and chest areas. Your dog may contract scabies from other animals. Symptoms of scabies include severe itching, scabbing and hair loss. Scabies is difficult to diagnose due to the unreliability of skin scrapings.

Tapeworm Segments Signal Infestation

Tapeworms are long, flat, segmented parasites that colonize your dog's intestines. Your dog contracts tapeworms by ingesting an intermediate host, like fleas and rodents. The main symptom of tapeworm infestation is the presence of segments in the feces or on the body.

Whipworms Infest Intestinal Juncture

Whipworms are a common canine parasite that infests the area where the small intestine joins the large intestine, called the "cecum." Your dog contracts whipworms by ingesting contaminated soil or other items. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, with some cases resulting in death. The condition is difficult to diagnose.

Ticks Suck a Dog's Blood through the Skin

Ticks infest your dog by sinking their jaws into the skin, cementing the attachment by secreting a glue-like film and then feeding on blood. Symptoms include a red, inflamed bite site, anemia and paralysis. Ticks may spread Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever to your dog, which cause long-term, debilitating health problems.