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Treating Parasites & Diseases in Dogs

Owning a dog is almost a way of life in Australia.  They become part of the family providing companionship, exercise and plenty of love and affection.  We all care for our dogs by choosing good quality food, providing a loving home and offering plenty of exercise but protecting our pets from internal and external parasites can be confusing.  

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Dogs need protection from viral diseases, worms and fleas throughout their whole life.  Puppies begin this protection whilst still with the breeder but it is the responsibility of the dog owner to continue with vaccinations and treatments to protect both the pet and the family.

Often the first place a new dog owner will head for is their veterinarian so that the puppy’s health can be assessed.  This is the best time to seek advice on the best regime to control both internal and external parasites.

After the first visit, most veterinarians will send out vaccination reminders so if moving house, be sure to inform them of your new postal address.

Puppies have not yet built up immunity to viruses and are highly susceptible to infection and should not be allowed out in public areas until a week after they have received their final puppy vaccinations and only if their worm treatment is up to date.


If your dog appears unwell, consult a veterinarian immediately.

Dogs commonly carry intestinal worms and can pick them up from their environment or in the case of puppies, worms can be transferred from their mothers.  Worm infestations often occur without obvious signs but can also infect humans with children being most at risk as they’re often in closest contact with pets and the outside environment that can be contaminated with worm eggs from the poo of infected animals. This is why controlling worms in dogs is extremely important. An intestinal worm infestation can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of appetite, anaemia, or in some cases, a pet can be an asymptomatic carrier (if a patient is a carrier for a disease or infection but experiences no symptoms) of worms and a source of infection to other animals and humans.  This is why controlling worms in dogs is extremely important.

Not all treatments that are available cover all internal parasites and choosing a regime that provides total protection can be confusing.  Puppies have different requirements than adults and treatment should begin as young as two weeks to protect your pet and family from the threat of intestinal worms.  Even the region in which a dog lives affects the treatment required and the frequency of its application.

For advice, bring your dog into any Better Pets and Gardens store.  Our team will weigh your pet and help you develop the most suitable regime to protect your pet against internal and external parasites.

Hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin but more commonly, dogs become infected with hookworm by eating or licking material contaminated with eggs and pups can also become infected through milk from an infected mother.  Symptoms include dark smelly diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, anaemia, weight loss, weakness and skin inflammation.  It can be severe in puppies and veterinary advice should be sought immediately.  People can be infected by hookworm causing skin problems and intestinal pain.

The most common form is the flea tapeworm caused by the larvae of the flea eating the tapeworm eggs and, if dogs ingest the flea, they become infected.  Tapeworm infection results in poor coat and body condition and is obvious by the dog dragging its bottom along the ground due to itching.  Humans can become infected if they ingest a flea.  Control of fleas in the dog’s environment is essential to limiting infection of tapeworm.

Hydatid Tapeworm
Hydatid tapeworm is a smaller tapeworm which isn’t a problem until the infection is heavy.  It can cause diarrhoea, weight loss and poor condition in dogs but it can also be transmitted to humans in which it can be very serious and medical treatment must be sought.  Dogs become infected by eating raw offal of infected sheep or kangaroos.

Roundworm is most common in puppies as they become infected via their mother before they are even born although older dogs can be infected by eating infected animals.  Roundworm infection is usually obvious from a dog displaying poor condition, pot belly, coughing, diarrhoea and vomiting and in puppies, this can result in death.  Children can become infected with roundworm from handling their pets or infected faeces and then putting their hands in their mouth.

Children should be taught to wash their hands after playing with their pets and to keep their face away when cuddling them.

The eggs of the whipworm are very resilient and can last in the environment for years.  They hatch after being eaten by a dog and then move into the large intestine and then the lower portion of the bowel.  Symptoms of whipworm are abdominal pain and bloody, smelly diarrhoea.

Heartworm infection can make our beloved pets very sick and could even be fatal! Mosquitoes transmit the dreaded heartworm parasite so even indoor animals are at risk of heartworm disease. These worms are up to 30cm long and living in the heart and surrounding blood vessels, damaging these tissues and interfere with the normal functioning of the heart and lungs.  It is more prevalent in warmer parts of Australia where mosquito numbers are higher and signs of infection can take up to 18 months to become obvious.  Symptoms include loss of exercise tolerance, difficulty breathing and a persistent cough but by the time these begin to show, the disease is well advanced.  Treatment for heartworm disease is difficult, risky and expensive and may not actually reverse some of the damage already caused which is why heartworm so prevention is absolutely essential.

Many ‘allwormer’ treatments DO NOT treat or prevent heartworm infection. But protection against heartworm is no longer difficult with tasty chewable treats, tablets and spot on products now available that are provided every month starting from as young as 12 weeks.  An annual injection from the vet is also available for dogs over six months.  Adult dogs that have never received heartworm prevention or where it has lapsed will need to be assessed by a vet before treatment is started and may require a blood test prior to starting preventative treatment.

Fleas on puppies and dogs are almost inevitable but can be easily controlled.  Adult fleas penetrate the skin of their hosts with their sucking mouthparts and take a blood meal from the animal in order to grow, develop and reproduce. A flea can bite up to 400 times a day, causing aggravation and discomfort to pets, hot spots, and flea allergy dermatitis in pets that are sensitive to flea saliva. Fleas carry tapeworm, with pets becoming infected by eating a tapeworm-infected flea, for example during grooming. Humans can also become infected by eating a flea! Tapeworms live in the intestines and absorb your pet’s nutrients. Fleas can also transmit diseases during feeding including bartonellosis (cat-scratch disease) and rickettsiosis.   Adult fleas live on animals and reproduce there but their eggs fall all over the backyard, park or your home to hatch and develop later.  About 95% of the flea life cycle does not occur on the pet, but in the environment where the pet lives and sleeps.  That’s why the environment has to be treated as well as the pet.

Drop into any Better Pets and Gardens to find out how to treat both your dog and your environment for fleas and at the same time reduce the possibility of infection from flea tapeworms.

Some canine diseases are very serious and can be fatal even with treatment.  Prevention of the disease through a schedule of vaccinations is the most effective way to protect your pet and fortunately these all have a very low rate of side effects.  A veterinarian will help to develop the required schedule based on the dog’s age as well as the treatments on offer and well send out regular reminders making it is easy to stay up to date with the vaccinations.

Canine Distemper
This is a highly contagious disease showing symptoms such as conjunctivitis, vomiting, nasal discharge, convulsive seizures and spinal cord damage.  Canine Distemper is more common in puppies 3 to 9 months of age however it can affect dogs of any age.  The disease is spread through discharge from the nose and the eyes and treatment is often ineffective.  Vaccination for canine distemper is mandatory.

Canine Hepatitis
Canine Hepatitis is a highly infectious viral disease spread through bodily secretions, saliva, urine and faeces.  Infected adult dogs can experience high fever, weakness, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, bleeding and pain in the abdomen and in young dogs and puppies, this disease can cause sudden death.  Vaccination against canine hepatitis is essential.

Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral gastroenteritis and protection against it is essential.  Dogs that are affected suffer severe and sudden sickness with vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea containing blood and dehydration.  Intensive hospital treatment is required to save the dog but death can occur very quickly.  The virus persists for over twelve months in the environment and spreads easily from infected dogs and their faeces as well as dog bowls, equipment and their handler.  Fortunately undertaking the recommended vaccination schedule is very effective at preventing Parvovirus.

Canine Cough
Sometimes referred to as kennel cough, this is an acute bronchitis very much like the human flu and is obvious by a harsh hacking cough which persists for weeks.  As the bacteria lingers for many weeks in parks, kennels, and grooming parlours, it is highly contagious and many boarding kennels and obedience trainers request proof of a current canine cough vaccination before accepting a dog.  In puppies and old dogs, canine cough can be devastating although vaccination may not completely prevent infection it certainly helps minimise the symptoms.

Introducing puppies to other people, pets, sounds and experiences is an essential part of socialising.  It makes puppies more confident to be in new situations and helps to reduce the risk of them becoming aggressive around other pets.  Socialising should begin as young as six weeks since the opportunity is often lost when they are over 16 weeks old.

However, puppies have a very poorly developed immune system at that young age so until they have received their final puppy vaccination, it is not recommended that they venture out in public.

Socialisation training can still begin at home by inviting over friends and also visiting other homes or even puppy preschools where you can be sure that the dogs have been vaccinated.

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