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Wriggle your way out of this one!
It may not be a pleasant thought, but unfortunately our pets are constantly at risk of acquiring worms. Until recently, our main concerns regarding worms have been to ensure dogs and cats are protected against roundworms and tapeworms both of which live in the intestines. In addition, an increasing problem in dogs (but not cats) is lungworm infestation with Angiostrongylus vasorum.
Roundworms can grow up to 20cm in length and live in the intestines of dogs and cats. They shed thousands of tiny eggs which pass out in the faeces and contaminate the environment, where the eggs can survive for years. Dogs and cats are re-infected by inadvertently eating the eggs. The eggs also pose some risk to children if they are swallowed.
Tapeworms also live in the intestines and can grow up to 5m in length. They shed small segments containing eggs which pass out in the faeces, or which may be found around the tail area. As the segments break down, the eggs may be eaten by an intermediate host; these include small rodents (eg mice) and fleas. Cats commonly catch and eat small rodents and both cats and dogs swallow fleas as they groom themselves, thus re-infecting themselves with tapeworms.
The good news is that worms can be prevented by following a few simple rules: worm regularly, ensure continuous flea control, try to avoid dogs eating snails, slugs and frogs and try to keep your garden free of faeces.
Lungworm in dogs is caused by the parasite Angiostrongylus vasorum. Severe symptoms include coughing, lethargy, fits and blood clotting problems; although some dogs show no obvious signs of problems.
Lungworms live in the pulmonary arteries and right ventricle of the heart. Here they lay eggs, which hatch into larvae and in turn migrate into the airways of the lung. Larvae are then coughed up, swallowed and passed in the dog’s faeces.
Slugs, snails and frogs act as intermediate hosts, ingesting the larvae. The intermediate hosts are in turn eaten by dogs (often unwittingly) and the larvae then migrate to the heart and develop into adult worms.
Check with your vet that your pet’s worm and flea control are up-to-date!
Chris Devlin is a vet and Partner at Hillside Veterinary Centre in Corfe Mullen. For more information visit www.hillsidevets.co.uk.