What are worms?
The two types of worms that commonly affect your dog and cat are roundworms (Toxocara) and tapeworms.
The most common type of tapeworm is Dipylidium caninum. However there are other types of worms called lungworms, hookworms and whipworms that can also infect our pets and so treatment and prevention of these is also important.
As their name implies, these are worms which have round bodies. They are the most common intestinal worm in dogs and cats and they are present in most puppies and kittens.
The worms consume partially digested food in the intestines of our pets and produce microscopic eggs which are then passed in our pet’s faeces. Puppies and kittens with roundworms may expel whole worms as well as eggs into their faeces when young.
How does my pet get roundworms?
Infected animals pass roundworms eggs into the environment from their faeces. Even after the faeces has disappeared the eggs can survive in the environment for up to 3 years. Dogs and cats snuffling in the grass will swallow these eggs and become infected. They will also become infected from eating infected rodents. Once the eggs have been ingested they develop into adult worms inside your pet which then shed more eggs into the environment and the cycle continues. Puppies and kittens may already be infected before birth from their mother or via their mother’s milk during nursing.
What problems do roundworms cause?
Large numbers can cause weight loss and a pot-bellied appearance to puppies and kittens and weakness or general ill health in adults. Decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea may be seen. If there are too many worms in the bowel of a puppy or kitten, they can cause a blockage and consequently death. Roundworms are harmful to people and children are at particular risk if infected. A variety of organs may be affected but the main danger is if the larvae migrate to the eye where they can cause blindness.
How do you treat and prevent roundworms?
Regular worming stops your pet from shedding eggs into the environment, helping to reduce the risks of other people and pets becoming infected. It is very important to implement a strict worming program for your pet even if there are no signs of infestation. We advise worming every two weeks until they are twelve weeks of age and then once every three months on a regular basis for life with a multiwormer. The wormers we use at the veterinary surgery are broad spectrum and will generally treat all types of worms. Often supermarket or pet shop wormers will only cover one or two types of worms and therefore if your pet is infected with a different type of worm then the treatment will not be effective.
Other ways you can protect your pets are:
Making sure as a responsible pet owner that you clear up your pet’s faeces and discourage dogs from toileting in areas normally used by children. The eggs are often highly resistant to most common disinfectants and to harsh environmental conditions so removal of faeces is the most effective means of preventing reinfection.
Good hygiene routines are very important for example washing your pet’s bedding and feeding bowls regularly. It is also important to wash our hands and educate children to wash theirs after playing with animals and not to let dogs lick faces.
Pregnant dogs should be wormed in late pregnancy. This will help to reduce potential contamination of the environment for the puppies. All new puppies should be treated by 2 –3 weeks of age and then as mentioned previously.
These worms live in the small intestine of our pets attaching themselves to the wall by hook-like mouthparts. They can reach up to 20cm in length and are made up of many small segments carrying eggs. As the worm matures these break off and pass into your pet’s faeces. Sometimes these rice-like segments can be seen crawling near your pet’s anus or on the surface of their faeces.
How does my pet get tapeworms?
Infected animals pass tapeworm eggs into the environment from their faeces, where they survive for up to a year. Tapeworm eggs can also be eaten by fleas where the eggs continue development. The fleas are then ingested when your pet grooms themselves and the flea is swallowed. As the flea is digested in their intestines, the tapeworm hatches and anchors itself to their intestinal lining. Tapeworm eggs can also be swallowed by sheep, cattle or rabbits as they graze and if pets are allowed to feed on their carcasses they may become infected.
What problems do tapeworms cause?
Segments from the worm can cause irritation around your pet’s anal area and this can lead to ‘scooting’ along the ground. In large numbers they may cause debilitation and general ill health. Occasionally if a tapeworm loses its attachment in their intestines it may move into your pet’s stomach and can then be vomited up. Tapeworms are infectious to people although it is quite rare. A flea must be ingested for humans to become infected with the most common type of tapeworm.
Therefore flea control is the best way to prevent human infection. One less common group of tapeworms called Echinococcus (hydatids) is a particular threat to human health and can cause serious disease when humans are infected. Sheep and humans are the final host. This disease only occurs in particular areas of the UK, mainly large rural farming areas such as Wales.
How do you treat and prevent tapeworm?
Treatment is often the same preparation that is also effective against roundworms. Hygiene and other precautions as explained before with roundworms are also required. In particular effective control of fleas is important in the management and prevention of tapeworms. Flea control involves treatment of your pets, the indoor environment and any outdoor environment where your pets may reside.
If your pet lives in a flea-infested environment, reinfection may occur in as little as two weeks. As veterinary supplied medication is very effective, return of the tapeworms is almost always due to reinfection of the environment not failure of the product.