Worm infestation is very common in dogs and cats and can cause distress and ill health. The two types of worms that trouble our pets are roundworms and tapeworms. Roundworms are spread from animal to animal and are very similar looking to earthworms but much thinner. They can vary from half to several inches in length are usually vomited up or passed through in the motion. Puppies and kittens are particularly susceptible to roundworms and are often infected from birth.
Roundworms can be passed on to humans if the eggs are accidentally ingested. Often this is from the fingers or from plates that pets have licked or from the soil. Care must be particularly advised when there are young children in the environment.
Tapeworms consist of segments with a head that attaches itself to the intestine. Mature segments break away and can be seen in the motions or around the base of the tail. They appear to show signs of life and resemble flattened grains of rice. Tapeworms are not usually a problem in puppies and kittens but once they are over 6 months of age then treatment should be considered. The symptoms are poor coat and condition and anal irritation is also a sign of infestation.
Fleas are carriers of tapeworm eggs and are a common cause of infestation sometimes picked up from other animals such as birds and rodents therefore it is a good idea to treat your pets with a suitable insecticide as well use insecticide for the environment. Constant scratching and twitching is a sign of flea infestation and tiny black droppings can often be seen when the coat is combed out.
Roundworms (or Ascarids) look like short lengths of spaghetti, curled up into a coil. The adult worms live in the dog or cat’s intestines, feeding on the contents. They grow to around 4 inches in length, and there may be dozens of them in the intestines of a heavily infected animal. In this situation, the dog or cat may be undernourished, with a dull coat, and lacking energy. Other symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting and weight loss. However, many infestations are symptom-less. In the adult dog, the worm larvae migrate into the body and form cysts in the muscles. There they may lay dormant for years, only to be activated in times of stress. The commonest situation that results in their awakening is pregnancy, when large numbers of worm larvae migrate into the puppy in the uterus (womb), infecting it before it is even born.
The most common roundworm in UK dogs, Toxocara canis, can also infect people, and children are particularly vulnerable.
The two commonest roundworms, that can infect UK cats, are Toxocara cati (the Cat Roundworm) and Toxascaris leonina.
Not only are cats and dogs affected by worms, but people may be too. Children are particularly vulnerable as they may pick up the worm eggs from contaminated soil during play (infected sandpits are a common source). The worm larvae migrate (move) through the child’s body, and can sometimes end up behind the retina where they can cause permanent damage to the child’s eyesight. Worms have also been implicated in epilepsy. So remember, worming your pets protects them and as well as your children! Regular worming of your pet is an essential part of responsible pet ownership. Many wormers on the market are effective against roundworms, e.g. Drontal, Panacur, Advocate or Stronghold spot-on.
Tapeworms resemble long, flat ribbons, divided up into segments. The mature tapeworm segments are filled with eggs, and individual segments break off, to pass via the cat or dog’s anus into the environment. Tapeworms, unlike roundworms, need an intermediate host (e.g. flea or mouse – both have different species of tapeworm for different intermediate hosts) that is eaten by the cat or dog.
The most common tapeworm to affect cats and dogs in the UK is the flea tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum), so named because it uses the flea as an intermediate host in its life cycle.
Swallowing fleas while grooming infects cats and dogs, and once in the gut, the worm larva carried by the flea begins to develop into an adult worm, which can quickly grow to a length of nearly 2 feet!
The other common tapeworm often found in UK cats (especially cats which go hunting) is the mouse tapeworm (Taenia taeniaeformis), which uses mice, rats and other small rodents as its intermediate hosts.
Adult tapeworms anchor themselves to the gut wall and feed on the animal’s blood. Unsurprisingly, a heavy infestation can cause anaemia (low red blood cells), lethargy, loss of appetite and a dull lifeless coat. Unlike roundworms, tapeworms are generally a problem of adult animals.
Tapeworms can also damage human health. The common ones such as the mouse and flea tapeworms are thankfully relatively harmless, but Echinococcus granulosus is rare tapeworm that can cause serious problems. Its eggs can remain dormant but viable in the soil for up to a year, and may infect vegetable and salads intended for human consumption. If they are swallowed, they can cause larval cysts in the liver, lungs or brain, which can be extremely serious – so always wash your salads carefully!
There are two wormers effective against tapeworms, both containing praziquantel (Drontal, Droncit).
Whipworms and Hookworms
Whipworms and Hookworms are less common that the roundworms and tapeworms. Ancylostoma caninum is the most important hookworm of dogs. The eggs hatch into larvae on the ground and have the ability to penetrate skin on contact. Dogs in kennelled environments often develop painful sores around their pads from these migrating larvae. They can affect both cats and dogs, and feed on the animal’s blood. The range of symptoms can be wide, from mild diarrhoea through to emaciation, blood loss, diarrhoea, dehydration and death. These worms are not very big (around 3 inches and ½ inch respectively) but they can cause a lot of damage, particularly in young animals, where they can cause diarrhoea (often with blood), anaemia, weight loss and lethargy.
Hookworms are becoming more of a problem, mainly because the fox population is heavily infected. Studies have shown infection levels of almost 70% in foxes, and with an ever-growing urban fox population, even town and city-dwelling cats and dogs are potentially at risk. Treat with praziquantel/pyrantel combination (Drontal)
The lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is a parasite that can cause serious health problems in dogs and can even be fatal if not diagnosed and treated. Slugs and snails carry the lungworm larvae, and dogs can become infected when they accidentally (or purposefully) eat these common garden pests whilst rummaging through undergrowth, eating grass, drinking from puddles or outdoor water bowls, or pick them up from their toys. The poo of a dog infected with lungworm will help spread the parasite to other slugs and snails, where it will develop. If two or more dogs share the same environment and one is found to be infected, the others may be at high risk due to exposure to the same surroundings. Foxes can also become infected with lungworm, and their increasing numbers have been implicated in the spread. Toys left in the garden overnight are exposed to slugs and snails, which are most active when the sun goes down. Smaller snails can reside in the crevices of toys or burrow underneath them and can be accidentally swallowed by dogs when playing with the toy. Be sure to pick up your dog’s toys at the end of each day and store them in a snail tight container. Treatment is available and can result in full recovery, but as this parasite can be fatal it is important to consider prevention. Preventative products are available and with regular use prevention is easy to achieve. We can recommend a parasite control programme for your dog. Always speak to your vet because not all worming products are effective against this parasite. Many people aren’t aware of the risks that lungworm presents and how easy prevention is.
What are the signs if my cat or dog has worms?
It’s not easy to know if a cat or dog is infected with worms, particularly in the early stages. However, if severely infected, your dog or cat may suffer from vomiting or diarrhoea, and will probably lose weight and condition. In practice, roundworm infections are often symptom-less in the adult dog or cat, but cause severe problems in young animals. Heavy roundworm infections may cause a distended stomach and ‘pot-bellied’ appearance – particularly noticeable in puppies and kittens. As the larvae migrate through the puppy, pneumonia and coughing may be seen. Animals may fail to put on weight and severe infestations may be fatal.
A cat with tapeworms may spend more time than usual cleaning its bottom, since the egg-filled worm segments cause irritation. In dogs, dragging of the bottom along the ground is a sign that is sometimes seen (though this sign may commonly be caused by other conditions e.g. anal gland problems). You may even find segments in your dog or cat’s bedding – they are pale in colour, and about the size of a grain of rice. And, like roundworms, severe infections can cause vomiting or diarrhoea.
It’s worth remembering though, that by the time symptoms are visible, the worms have reached maturity, and are already damaging your cat or dog’s health.
Many infestations are symptom-less, and so if you don’t treat your pet regularly, it’s fairly likely your dog or cat will have worms, even if there are no signs.
How do I treat worms?
Worms are, unfortunately, impossible to prevent. There is no preventative treatment that will stop your cat or dog becoming infected. However, there are thankfully a number of very effective products that will kill worms. By killing the worms, this will also stop them from producing eggs, or segments, that will infect the environment. Remember however, that most oral worming products are effective at the time of use – they do not have a prolonged action.
Research suggests that up to 70% of puppies are infected at the time of birth by Toxocara Canis worms, direct from their mothers’ womb. This infection is reinforced by worm larvae being present in the mothers’ milk and faeces. As this worm is a zoonosis (can infect humans) active worming is essential. In young puppies and kittens, worming is essential from 2 weeks of age. Panacur (granules or paste) or Drontal Puppy Suspension are suitable products to use at this age.
In pregnant bitches, worming is essential. It will not completely eradicate transfer of worms to the puppy, but will drastically reduce it. Pregnant bitches should be treated from day 40 of pregnancy to 2 days post-birth with Panacur. Panacur contains fenbendazole. Note that not all products are suitable for use in pregnancy – consult your veterinary surgeon.
Do not forget to regularly treat your pet for fleas, as the flea is the intermediate host of the very common tapeworm Dipylidium. If you do not eliminate fleas, your cat or dog will soon be re-infected after your worming treatment ends!
We recommend the following worming regime:
Pups and kittens
o every 2 weeks from the age of 2 weeks till 12 weeks of age
o every 4 weeks from the age of 12 weeks till 6 months of age
Adults and pups/kittens > 6 months of age
o every 3 months
DRONTAL PLUS tablets (praziquantel+pyrantel) for dogs and cats is effective treatment of roundworms and tapeworms, including Toxocara cati, Toxocara canis, Toxascaris leonina, Uncinaria stenocephala, Ancylostoma caninum, Trichuris vulpis, Echinococcus species, Dipylidium caninum, Taenia taeniaeformis
PANACUR (paste or granules) (fenbendazole) is wormer for cats, dogs, kittens and puppies, which is effective against gastro-intestinal round worms including Toxocara canis,Toxocara cati, Toxascaris Leoninia, Ancylostoma spp., Trichurisspp., Unicinaria spp. and Taenia spp.
STRONGHOLD spot on (selamectin) is effective against fleas, lice (Trichodectes canis and Felicola subrostratus), ear mites (Otodectes cynotis), heartworm disease (Dirofilaria immitis), gastrointestinal round worms including Toxocara cati and Toxocara canis, and adult intestinal hookworms (Ancylostoma tubaeforme)
DRONCIT (praziquantel) is a wormer effective against all intestinal stages of the tapeworms (Echinococcus granulosus, Taenia pisiformis, Taenia taeniaeformis and Dipylidium caninum)
PRINOVOX is an alternative imidacloprid and moxidectin spot on for the treatment and prevention of fleas and worms in dogs and cats, including protection against lungworm for dogs
MILPRO a broad spectrum wormer for protection against most types of intestinal worms commonly found in dogs and cats. Milpro has two active ingredients (milbemycin and praziquantel) with proven efficacy, perfect for treatment of mixed infections by nematodes and cestodes. Milpro is also licensed for the prevention and treatment of lungworm in dogs.