Updated: Apr 26
No one likes to hear that their pet could—and probably will—get a parasite at some point during his/her life. Most pet owners would rather avoid the topic, but knowing the basic facts is essential because intestinal parasites can be easily diagnosed with a stool sample and when caught early, typically respond well to treatment and have no long-term consequences. Parasites are nothing to fear, but they are something that requires management. That is why at your first vet appointment (scheduled within 5 days of taking your puppy home) you will also plan to battle other common parasites which includes administering monthly flea/tick prevention, heartworm medication, etc. All of these parasites are seeking your dog as a host, and pet parents plan to prevent them.
You will be the one to introduce your puppy to the great outdoors for the very first time (we don’t allow them to touch grass/soil at our home due to the risks) and it is comparable to sending a child to preschool for the first time and then being shocked when they bring sicknesses (parasites) home. They have little to no immunity yet because they haven’t been exposed to many of parasites that live in this environment. In hot climates, there are usually more parasites present because freezing temperatures slow their growth cycles, so that is something to be aware of and a reason to be more vigilant.
The goal is not to avoid parasites altogether (which is impossible), it is helping your puppy combat parasites by strengthening their immune system, so they are able to go into any environment and fight off parasites themselves. Probiotics, decreasing stress, and giving small, age-appropriate exposures help build their immunity so that they can become resilient adult dogs. You can also add Apple Cider Vinegar to their water, to help create an environment where parasites can't thrive. You can also give your puppy a spoonful of canned pumpkin puree to help with digestion and to firm up stools.
A day or two of loose stools are nothing to worry about and can be due to stress or an upset stomach and you can use natural pro-pectin & probiotic supplements (also over the counter and can be purchased on Amazon) for short-term relief. You can also switch to a homemade bland diet of 50% rice and 50% ground beef. If the issue is pervasive, lasts more than 3 days, or if your dog stops eating/drinking, is running a fever, or starts acting unusually lethargic it is best to visit your vet ASAP. Before you go to your vet, you should make sure you remembered to activate the free Trupanion insurance in your take home folder. This insurance covers parasites, parvovirus, ingested toys and much more and will last your puppy until they are beyond 12 weeks of age and much less likely to battle these common issues.
ALL puppies are actually born with parasites and every breeder fights to manage them because some medications have been overused and parasites are developing a resistance to them, which makes them more challenging to treat. Parasites are transmitted to all puppies through their mother’s milk and can be picked up from anywhere outside (where all parent adult dogs visit), so all puppies should be dewormed every 2 weeks until they are old enough for their immune system to fight them off themselves (which typically happens around 3 months of age). Puppies are much more susceptible to getting parasites due to having weaker immune systems and any additional stressors can make this worse (i.e. the big transition on go-home week, changing their food, going out of town and leaving with a pet sitter, etc.).
Dogs of all ages actually carry dormant parasites (not actively affecting them) and when they are under stress or their immune system is compromised, these dormant parasites can become active and can affect the puppy. This means your puppy can have a completely clear fecal done prior to going home, had a perfect deworming schedule, and can test positive for a parasite not previously able to have been detected. This is not something to fear, just something to be aware of and take care of in a timely manner.
Signs of parasite infection include loose, possibly bloody stool, lethargy, and a possible pot-bellied appearance. The type of parasite can be diagnosed via stool sample at the vet for a relatively low cost. Fecal tests done at your vet can have to be repeated due the the lifecycle of parasites and they can miss parasites that are present. Fecal testing following deworming treatment is most accurate if using a zinc sulfate flotation or direct smear, because antigen and PCR tests can remain positive months after the infection is resolved. If your pet is asymptomatic (does not have diarrhea) but tests positive for a parasite, some vets recommend treatment, while others do not because the dog has built up immunity and they do not want to risk parasite drug resistance and potential drug side effects if the dog is asymptomatic.
The best way to manage parasites is simply deworming your puppy at home routinely for prevention and actively when you suspect an infection . Dewormers are administered orally and the most common over-the-counter dewormers are pyrantel pamoate (treats pinworms, roundworms, and hookworms) and fenbendazole (treats roundworms, hookworms, lungworms, whipworms, and certain types of tapeworms). Click here to view the Pyrantel Pamoate dosage chart (given every 2 weeks until 3 months of age) and click here to view the Fenbendazole dosage chart which is given daily for 5-7 days upon suspected infection and for 4 days as a monthly preventative. These medications will be carried at local Tractor Supply stores and can be ordered on Amazon. If you are following this deworming schedule and your puppy still has diarrhea there are other parasites will require a prescription medication that only the vet can give after confirming their presence in a stool sample. However, incorporating a preventative deworming plan and deworming upon suspected infection will take care of most common parasites will be affected by and most vets use this as a first line of treatment before bringing out the heavier medications that have more side effects.
If your puppy has a parasite, you will definitely want to clean the puppy play area with ammonia or a steam cleaner and give your puppy frequent butt baths/wipe after defecation, give a sanitary trim (haircut to the anus area) to very well to prevent re-infection if your puppy has a parasite. If your puppy has gone to the bathroom outside, you will want to sanitize that area because parasites (posing the risk of re-infection) can survive for over a year.
If your puppy is under 12 weeks old and is struggling with battling parasites, you may want to consider limiting its exposure to the outdoors. If you are planning on taking your puppy to potty outside, you can sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth on the grass where you plan to take them to cut down (not eliminate) the exposure. Or, the safest route would be to use a litter box (like this) for potty training until their immune system is more developed (typically after 12 weeks of age). Taking off shoes in the house or sanitizing shoe soles prior to walking in the home will also help limit exposure. These safety measures will also help protect your puppy from harmful things like parvovirus, leptospirosis, etc. If you are going to incorporate using a litterbox into your potty training routine, we usually give them a playpen, and on the first day, we give a small space (just enough for them to sit and stand up and turn around next to their litter box, then as they are actually using it successfully, you can increase the play area given to them. An expandable playpen works well for this method.
Do I need to worry about getting parasites from my puppy? Although transmission is possible with some rare types, it is not likely and typically is species-specific. Of course, you should be intentional in cleaning and washing your hands and sanitizing your puppy and his/her play area but you do not need to be afraid of getting parasites from your puppy. If you and your family members play outside, enjoy gardening, or come into contact with outdoor grass/soil you have likely been exposed many times without your knowledge. I have raised hundreds of puppies and have never contracted any parasites, although every dog has the potential to test positive for parasites at anytime even if they are asymptomatic.
Again, the goal in managing parasites is to increase your puppy's immune system and to help them fight off the parasites that they'll come into contact with in their everyday adult life.
Dr. Bob and Dr. Jan at Hamby Road Animal Hospital
JP, Lindsay DS, Lappin MR. Toxoplasmosis and other intestinal coccidial infections in cats and dogs. 2009. 39: 1009-1034
Tams, TR. Giardiasis, Clostridium perfringens enterotoxicosis, Tritrichomonas foetus and Cryptosporidiosis. Proceedings of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners meeting, 2007