There are many different intestinal worms that can infect our pet dogs and cats. They are all parasites, and they cause a variety of problems from mild ill-thift to serious illness and potentially death, depending on which worm is involved, how bad the infestation is, and the general health of the individual.
Some worms can also affect people. Most puppies and kittens have worms when they are born or become infested soon after birth from their mother’s milk. Older pets are at risk of infection from soil contaminated with worm eggs/larvae where other animals have defaecated, and from eating infected prey. Slugs and snails can also transmit a particularly nasty worm to dogs. Since most pets are regularly at risk of infection, and the consequences of infection can be serious, a programme of regular preventive treatment is appropriate for most pets. This page gives some general advice about worms and worm treatment, but you should ask us to help you find the best worm control regime for your pet.
Types Of Worms:
- Roundworms – These look like strings of spaghetti or elastic bands in the faeces of infected animals. Eggs may be picked up from the environment where dogs and cats have defaecated. Puppies can be infected from their mother even before birth, and both kittens and puppies can be infected from their mother’s milk. Certain roundworms can also be passed on to humans, where a rare, but serious, complication can be blindness in young children. The commonest way for children to become infected is from eggs stuck to the dog’s fur, spread there when he is cleaning himself. Symptoms of infection, aside from seeing worms in the faeces or vomit, may include poor growth and pot-bellied appearance in young animals, diarrhoea, weight loss and general failure to thrive.
- Tapeworms – You may find segments of these worms excreted in the animal’s faeces – they look like flattened grains of rice. Tapeworms cannot be passed directly from one animal to another as they rely on an intermediate host such as a flea, rodent, rabbit or sheep. The commonest is the flea tapeworm, so if you see tapeworm segments from your pet, you should treat for fleas also. To catch the other sorts of tapeworm, the pet has to eat the infected part of the host animal (usually the liver). Symptoms of disease are rarely seen but a heavy infestation could cause anaemia, lethargy, loss of appetite and a dull lifeless coat.
- Lungworms – Lungworm, otherwise known as “French heartworm” is an emerging problem for dogs in the UK, and there have been confirmed cases in Cardiff. This is a very serious disease, as the worms live in the heart and arteries to the lungs, and can be fatal. It is transmitted by slugs and snails and dogs become infected by accidentally or deliberately eating one while foraging, eating grass, drinking from puddles, playing with toys outside, etc. Symptoms include coughing, breathlessness, coughed up blood, bleeding disorders and anaemia. You will not see any evidence of the worm in the faeces of affected animals as only the eggs are passed out. Cats have their own type of lungworm which fortunately is rare in the South Wales area and causes a less serious illness.
- Hookworms – These are a type of roundworm, but they often enter the host’s body through the skin of the feet, and can therefore also cause sore feet, especially in dogs from crowded kennel environments where infection levels can build up. They are much less common than ordinary roundworms, but when they are present in large numbers can cause severe anaemia as well as skin sores.
It’s especially important to treat kittens and puppies for roundworms regularly during their first six months as they may have been infected at birth or by their mother’s milk. We will recommend a suitable treatment schedule, which will depend on a number of factors assessed by the vet. For dogs, the most convenient treatment is a monthly tablet, taken with a meal, which provides protection against fleas as well. If you don’t want to use the combined flea/worm treatment, you should give a worming dose every three months. Lungworms in dogs are more difficult to treat than most worms, and need a prescription wormer from the surgery to deal with them. We generally recommend worming cats every three months. For them, we have a very effective tablet, or alternatively a drug which is applied as a spot-on liquid and absorbed through the skin – useful for those cats who hate taking tablets.
There are other effective medicines available in the surgery too, and our trained staff will be able to advise you on the most suitable one for your pets. However, no worming treatment will prevent re-infestation which is why it is so important to treat your pet regularly, especially if they hunt or scavenge.
Pregnancy and lactation pose a particular risk as the mother’s immune system is less robust at this time, and many worms become more numerous, posing an increased threat to their puppies and kittens. Worming with a suitable drug should be done every 2 weeks throughout pregnancy and while feeding the young.
Because of the potential risk to children from some roundworms (very small risk but still significant), we recommend all cats and dogs in contact with children should have a roundworm treatment every month.