Preventing parasites: worms

Worms can be very unpleasant for you and your pet but, luckily, they’re preventable. Regular worming treatment should be part of your pet’s healthcare routine.

Speak to your vet about the best worming treatment for your pet.

The problem with worms

Worms are parasites that live inside the body. There are many different types of worm that can affect pets, but the most common are roundworms and tapeworms, which affect dogs and cats:

  • Roundworms: roundworms live in the small intestine. In puppies and kittens, a mild infestation of roundworms can cause a pot-belly, poor growth and occasional diarrhoea. A more severe infestation can cause a nutrient deficiency or a life-threatening blockage of the intestines. In adult dogs and cats, roundworms can cause poor coat condition, vomiting and diarrhoea. Sometimes, you might notice entire live worms in your pet’s sick or poo.
  • Tapeworms: adult tapeworms also live in the small intestine. They shed segments which are passed in poo. These look a bit like grains of rice and can sometimes be seen around the tail and the area around your pet’s bottom. Pets with tapeworms might excessively lick or groom their rear end. Tapeworms can be passed on to your pet by fleas, so good flea control is an important part of preventing these worms.
  • Lungworms: lungworm is a potentially fatal parasite carried by slugs and snails. Dogs can become infected through eating grass, drinking from puddles and picking up toys that slugs and snails have been on. Lungworm can make dogs seriously unwell and, although they can recover from with the right treatment, it's best to try and prevent them getting infected. Lungworm is more common in certain parts of the UK so speak to your vet about whether your dog needs to take preventive treatments to protect them.

Why are worms a problem for pets?

It’s not just a pet’s health that can be affected by worms; they can pose a real health risk to humans too. Some worms and other parasites can be passed onto humans from cats and dogs. They can prove particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women, causing blindness and birth defects.

The dog roundworm, Toxocara canis, can be especially dangerous for humans. Their eggs are found in dog poo and can contaminate objects and surfaces. For example, flies that feed on dog poo can spread the eggs. If a person gets the eggs on their hands and then touches their mouth, the roundworm can get into their gut. Children are most at risk from dog roundworm, especially if they have a family dog or play in parks where dogs have been. The larvae, which develops inside the person, can cause blindness. Toxocara eggs can remain infectious in the ground for many years. This is why it’s so important to worm your dog regularly and always clean up their poo.

Cat owners should carefully dispose of cat litter every day and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.

Stopping your pet getting worms

Both cats and dogs should be regularly wormed throughout their life to prevent worm infestations. How often they're wormed will depend on their lifestyle and where they live. Your local vet or vet nurse will be able to advise what is best for your pets.

Puppies and kittens should be wormed more often as they are often born with worms and can become infected through their mother’s milk.

Signs your pet has worms and how to treat them

Signs that your pet has tapeworms or roundworm include:

  • Passing worm segments in poo
  • Pot-bellied appearance

Signs of Lungworm are:

  • Changes in behaviour such as lethargy, depression and also seizures.
  • Breathing problems/coughing and tiring easily.
  • General sickness including weight loss, diarrhoea, vomiting and not wanting to eat.
  • Poor blood clotting which causes bleeding into the eye or nose bleeds and pale gums.

Rather than waiting for signs of worms, it is better to use a regular worming treatment. Your vet will be able to advise you which product is best for your pet and how often it needs to be used.

Treatments for worms

There are many different treatments for worms. Some are tablets and others are spot on treatments. Your vet will be able to advise which wormer is the best for your pet and when to give it. You can also choose the type of product that makes it easier for you to give!