There are an array of worms which can affect dogs (and cats), but for simplicity these can be split into two basic groups roundworms and tapeworms. A heavy worm infestation can cause a range of symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and weight loss. In addition, a new threat to dogs comes in the form of lungworm Angiostrongylus vasorum this can be very serious, but is very post code specific and fortunately so far has rarely been seen in our area.
Roundworms are spaghetti like in appearance and live in the small intestines. Here they shed thousands of tiny eggs per day, which pass out in the faeces and contaminate the environment, where they can survive for several years (long after the faeces have broken down). Dogs and cats are then re-infected by inadvertently eating the eggs. The eggs also pose some risk to children if they are unwittingly swallowed. Puppies and kittens are often heavily infested with roundworms, ingesting roundworm larvae via their mother’s milk.
Tapeworms also live in the small intestines and consist of a head and a long flat segmented body. 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 then be eaten by an intermediate host; these include small rodents and fleas. Cats commonly catch and eat small rodents and both cats and dogs swallow fleas as they groom, thus re-infecting themselves with tapeworms.
It is important to note that just because you don’t see any evidence of worms in your pet’s faeces doesn’t mean they are necessarily worm free, since roundworm eggs are microscopic and tapeworm segments can be hard to spot. The good news is that worms can be prevented by following a few simple rules: worm your pets regularly, use regular flea control, keep gardens clear of faeces and when out and about, clear up mess and use appropriate bins. Additionally, encourage children to wash their hands properly after playing with pets, or in the garden. Regular worm and flea control is essential to ensure your pet stays healthy.
Book an appointment with your vet for the best advice on preventative care on these nasty pests.
Chris Devlin BVSc MRCVS is a Vet and Partner at Hillside Veterinary Centre in
Corfe Mullen. w: www.hillsidevets.co.uk. Follow us on Facebook