Worms can be very unpleasant for you and your pet but, luckily, they’re preventable. Regular worming treatment will help to protect your pet from worms.
There are three main types of worm that can affect pets. Speak to your vet about the best worming treatment for your pet.
Worming treatment during the pandemic
If your veterinary practice isn’t able to dispense your pet’s usual prescription worming treatment you could try contacting another veterinary practice. If this isn’t possible, you may need to consider using a non-prescription product (from a pet shop, or online) until your vet is operating a full service again.
If your pet has a condition that requires a specific worming treatment or you are concerned about them, it's important to contact your vet to discuss your options.
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 (and people!). Lungworm is also a growing problem for pets around the UK:
- Roundworms: roundworms live in the small intestine. Young animals get them from their parents and adults can pick them up out and about. 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, severe roundworms can cause poor coat condition, vomiting and diarrhoea. Sometimes, you might notice entire live worms in your pet’s sick or poo (see image).
- 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 also excessively lick or groom their rear end. Some 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 slugs or snails, or by eating contaminated grass from snail trails, which can get on toys too. Lungworm can make dogs seriously unwell and, although they can recover from them with the right treatment, it's best to try and prevent them from getting infected. Cats can also get lungworm through ingesting infected birds, frogs, rodents or by drinking contaminated water. Lungworm is more common in certain parts of the UK so speak to your bet about whether your dog or cat 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 develop 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. Outdoor cats might need to be wormed more regularly too, as you can't clean up their poo if they go while out and about.
How to stop your pet getting worms
You can’t stop your pet picking up worms completely, but you can prevent them causing problems by worming them regularly. How often they're wormed will depend on their lifestyle and where they live. Your vet or vet nurse will be able to advise what is best for your pets.
Puppies and kittens need to 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 include:
- Changes in behaviour such as low energy (lethargy).
- Breathing problems, coughing, tiring easily or fainting.
- General sickness including weight loss, diarrhoea, vomiting and not wanting to eat.
- Bleeding problems such as bruising easily, blood blisters on the gums, pale gums or nose bleeds.
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. You can also request the type of product that is easiest to give your pet!
Different treatments also may cover different types of worms – some may only cover one type and some cover many. Your vet will be able to advise which wormers are best for your pet and how often to give them based on their risks.
Fleas can cause real problems for your pets but, luckily, they’re easy to prevent. Find out how you can make flea prevention part of your pet's healthcare regime.
These little critters aren’t just unpleasant – they can also be potentially dangerous. Read about the steps you can take to protect your pet.