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We’ll admit it: talking about worms isn’t our favourite pastime. But knowing the basics of these parasites, like how to prevent and treat them, should be a must for every pet owner. We know today’s topic is a bit yucky, but we promise you’ll feel more prepared after reading our article.

Are worms infecting my pet?

There are a number of intestinal worms infecting cats and dogs in the UK. If left untreated, some worms can cause serious health problems, so it’s important to worm your pet regularly.

Roundworms are white, long, and look like tiny, wiggly spaghetti. Roundworm infection is common and begins when your pet ingests infective eggs. These eggs then develop into worms in your pet’s gut. The eggs can be found on contaminated surfaces such as parks, gardens and sandpits, or through infected hosts such as mice or birds.

It’s common for puppies to be born with roundworms. These can be transmitted via their mother before birth and via the mother’s milk during nursing, which makes regular worming in pregnant bitches and puppies from 2 weeks of age essential.

Tapeworms are long and flat. When excreted, the worm segments will appear like moving grains of rice. The most common tapeworm is transmitted to pets via fleas – one of the many reasons why using flea prevention all year-round is key. Tapeworms can also be transmitted when your pet has eaten a paratenic host, like a mouse or other small mammals.

Pets with tapeworms may nibble and lick their bottom excessively.

Hookworms are short and curved at the end, with teeth which hook onto the intestinal wall. Like roundworms, your pet may be exposed to the larvae through contaminated soil. Once they’ve developed in the gut, the worms feed on tissue and blood. Hookworms can be a serious threat to kittens and puppies as they can cause severe loss of blood and fluid.

Whipworms look like tiny pieces of thread with a thicker end. They can affect dogs, but rarely cats. They’re often found in low numbers, so your pet may not show symptoms. However, a whipworm infection could cause damage to the intestines and lead to bloody diarrhoea.

Lungworms can affect dogs, especially one particular type of lungworm called Angiostrongylus vasorum, which can be fatal if not treated. This is transmitted to dogs via snails and slugs, which carry the infective larvae. If you suspect your dog may have contracted lungworm, or may require a preventative treatment, then please consult with your veterinary surgeon.

Typically, puppies are at the highest risk of infection since they are usually curious.

Symptoms of lungworm infection include breathing problems, coughing, tiring easily, poor blood clotting, excessive bleeding (even from minor wounds or cuts) and nose bleeds.

Some signs your pet may be infected with worms

  • Worms in your pet’s faeces
  • Diarrhoea
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting worms
  • A swollen tummy (pot belly)
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss
  • Anaemia
  • Poor coat condition

Always check with your vet if you notice any of the above. Some of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions.

Can I get worms from my pet?

Roundworms can infect pets and humans – especially young children, the elderly and people who may have a compromised immune system. Therefore it’s important to worm pets regularly (at least four times a year).

Some tapeworms and hookworms can also be transmitted to humans, although this is quite rare.

How can I prevent and treat worms?

  • Eggs can remain infectious for years. And with poo being a major source of infection, we must all clean up after our pets.

  • Always wash your hands after handling pets – especially before eating or preparing food.

  • Intestinal parasites can be lurking in fruit and vegetables, too. Wash these thoroughly before you eat them.

  • Worm your pet regularly. We recommend worming puppies from 2 weeks of age and kittens from around 6 weeks of age (for roundworms) every 2-3 weeks until they’re weaned, then monthly until they’re 6 months of age. Adult cats and dogs will need worming at least once every 3 months – or more frequently if they are hunters or living with young children / older members of the family.

Please consult your vet before treating pregnant bitches for worms.

Which products can I use?

Drontal tablets: A single-dose, broad-spectrum wormer for cats and dogs. The Drontal puppy wormer needs to be administered from 2 weeks of age, every two weeks until weaning.

Dronspot: A spot-on roundworm and tapeworm solution for cats. Use one pipette onto the skin on the back of your cat’s neck, at least once every three months.

Panacur: This broad-spectrum wormer comes in granules (for cats and dogs) or liquid (also for puppies and kittens). Mix it in with food to treat worms.

Cazitel: A single-dose, broad-spectrum wormer for dogs and cats, 6 weeks or older.

Cestem: A single-dose, broad-spectrum wormer for dogs over 3 kg of body weight.

Have any questions? Contact one of our Animal Health Advisors for further advice.