Worms- The Enemy Within
Worms are one of the most effective parasites in the animal kingdom. They’re everywhere, and yet we can’t see them. They’re hidden from sight and most of the time they cause very few problems, meaning that it can be hard to tell that our pets are infected. They can cause severe disease though, and regular worming is essential to protect your pet’s health. And now that summer’s here, and we’re all out and about, the risk increases dramatically!
What types of worms infect pets?
There are two main types of worms that infect our pets in the UK- roundworms and tapeworms. Both types infect both cats and dogs and are found throughout the UK. There are a few other types of worms to consider too:
- Roundworms are the most common form of worm in dogs. They may be passed from mother to pups before they are born, or through her milk. They are also passed from pet to pet by eating faeces, grass that had faeces on, drinking from infected puddles, or eating infected small mammals such as mice. So the more your pet is “out and about”, the more at risk they are… The worms travel through your pet causing all sorts of damage, but the adults tend to live in the intestines so that their eggs are passed in the faeces. The eggs are microscopic and can’t be seen with the naked eye.
- Tapeworms are also extremely common, perhaps more so in cats. They are passed around by fleas, so again, are more of a risk in warmer weather when the fleas can complete their life-cycle faster and even in the great outdoors. Pets become infected after eating an infected flea while grooming. The tapeworm lives in your pet’s intestines where it absorbs some of the food your pet is eating, meaning they feel hungrier and don’t get the nutrition they need. Small segments of tapeworm that look like grains of rice pass in your pet’s faeces- these contain the eggs which then infect the fleas, and so the cycle starts again.
- Lungworm is a third type of worm, which in this country usually only causes problems in dogs. Dogs get it from eating infected slugs and snails, or sometimes from frogs – again, spring to early autumn is the highest risk period for infection, as the intermediate hosts are on the move. The adult worms live in the blood vessels of the heart and the larvae wriggle through the lungs, causing a cough. These larvae move up the windpipe and are eventually swallowed, where they pass in the faeces to infect slugs and snails and await their next chance to infect a dog.
- Whipworms and hookworms are far rarer worms, and luckily are killed by the same parasite prevention products as roundworm, so are rarely considered a problem in the UK.
Why does it matter if my dog or cat has worms?
Worms can be devastating to animals, particularly younger animals or those with immune suppression, such as from medication or due to another illness. Roundworms can form knots in the intestines of young animals, causing blockages and life-threatening conditions such as intussusception (where the intestine telescopes into itself). Tapeworms can quickly suck all of the nutrition from a young animal, leaving them to starve. Severe diarrhoea can occur if the guts have been damaged by worms passing through or feeding. Lungworms can cause a range of problems including bleeding disorders and heart failure.
It’s not just about our pets though. Most of these worm types can infect us too! Some of them (such as dog tapeworm) prefer to infect our livestock so that we eat them when we eat meat. Our meat industry does a good job of removing infected meat from the food chain, but farmers and the economy suffer a huge financial loss from this. Other worms (such as the feline roundworm) infect humans through accidental contact with faeces and can cause neurological problems, pneumonia and blindness.
What can I do about it?
The easiest way to prevent problems with worms is by giving your pet a regular worm treatment. This is usually in the form of a tablet, although there is a spot-on available for cats. There are many active ingredients available, and these may work against roundworm, tapeworm, lungworm, or all three. Worm treatment is not prevention- it kills all adults in the system but leaves the animal open to infection if they come back into contact with new worms. The frequency of re-application should, therefore, take into account your pets lifestyle and their lungworm risk, flea risk and the chance of passing any worms onto humans.
Why not book an appointment so that our vets can talk you through your parasite protection protocol? They’ll ask questions about your pet’s lifestyle and look at the current regime, and if there are any areas not covered they can discuss extra treatments or a change of drug with you.
Don’t forget that our nurses are also available to help you to give your pet their tablets if this is something that you struggle with- just give the clinic a call and we’ll arrange for you to bring them in so that we can give you a hand.