Worming Your Pet

  • Worms are parasites that can live in your dog or cat’s bowel, they can cause problems for your pet
  • The two main types of worm are roundworms and tapeworms, their eggs can sometimes be seen in your pets motions
  • There are effective treatments for worms to keep your pet healthy and avoid contaminating the environment
  • The treatments at the surgery are not available in supermarkets, they are safer and more effective
  • You should worm your pet every 3 months to be sure they are worm free
  • Don’t assume your pet is worm free just because they are not itchy, roundworms and tapeworms won’t cause itching

What are worms and how do they cause trouble?
Both dogs and cats can suffer with worms. These worms are parasites which usually live in the intestine and may cause disease, or may produce no ill effects. It is important to keep pets as free of worms as possible for two reasons:

  1. To keep them healthy.
  2. To minimise risk to people and particularly children, who may (rarely) become infected with the larval form of Toxocara canis from environmental contamination with Toxocara eggs (eg in parks and gardens).

What are the different types of worms?
There are two main groups – the roundworms and tapeworms.

Roundworms are more common in dogs, and this group includes Toxocara canis as well as other less common worms. They lay eggs which are passed directly from dog to dog via the faeces. All puppies are born with roundworm infestation from their mother, and treatment must kill both adult worms in the intestine and the larval worms which migrate around the body. The eggs cannot be seen in the dog’s motions, so it is difficult to tell if a dog is infected, but occasionally adult worms may be seen which look like thin spaghetti and are creamy-white in colour.

At any one time, 1 in 6 to 1 in 10 dogs will be passing Toxocara eggs at a rate of millions per day. The eggs are very resistant and stay infective on the ground for many months.

Tapeworms have a more complex life cycle involving an intermediate host – usually the flea, or a small animal that the cat or dog eats. Tapeworms can become very long, and shed egg carrying segments which may appear in the pet’s motions or around the anus. These segments look like grains of rice and may move about.

Other worms, eg Hookworms and Whipworms occasionally cause problems, particularly in kennelled and rescue dogs.

What do I do to keep my pet worm free?
Regular worming with the right preparation will give you the best chance of keeping your pet worm-free, and reducing the chances of contaminating the environment. A selection of worming preparations are stocked at the surgery, but most are not available for general sale, eg in supermarkets and pet shops. As well as working better, they can also be safer too. Worming recommendations vary according to the age of your pet, and his or her weight.

No starvation or special feeding is required, but do follow the dosage instructions carefully and keep all medicines out of children’s reach. Always spray regularly for fleas, to reduce tapeworm infestation.

How long does my wormer last?
We recommend that you worm your pet every three months, but this is NOT because the worming dose lasts for this time in the pet. When a wormer is given to a cat or dog it should remove any worms that are present in the digestive tract (stomach, small and large intestine). Once the wormer has passed out of the body, usually within a few days, your pet is open to reinfection. If you take an aspirin for a headache today, it is not much use for the headache you get next week.

Why worm every three months?
You could worm your pet weekly, fortnightly, monthly or once in a lifetime. Every three months is a practical and cost effective way of controlling worms in your pet. Certain individual cats who hunt and eat wildlife regularly would certainly benefit from worming more frequently than every three months. There are now a number of wormers available as tablets or spot-on preparations which are conveniently given monthly.

Most adult cats and dogs develop a degree of immunity against roundworm infection and may harbour a few worms. These will produce thousands of eggs which can pose a threat to other cats and dogs, and children. In most cases you will not know that your pet has worms. An odd roundworm or two in the intestine is unlikely to cause any clinical signs.

You do not, contrary to most texts on pet health, see pets with itchy bottoms due to worms. The common worm infection in children, the Pin worm, does cause itching around the anus (bottom). The female pin worm lays eggs on the skin surrounding the anus and causes intense itching. Dogs and cats do not get pin worm. The common round worm in cats and dogs lays eggs well up inside the intestine and the eggs pass out into the motions without causing any itching. Even the ‘rice grain’-like tapeworm segment which is sometimes seen on cats or dogs bottoms doesn’t seem to cause irritation. It is assumed because children have itchy bottoms so should cats and dogs – not so.

If you worm every six months your pet could be passing eggs for two to three months before the next wormer.