How to control worms in your pet

  • All cats and dogs can get worms and pass them onto other animals.
  • It’s important to ensure you regularly worm your pets to prevent this and control any issues that arise from it.
  • This guide explains various types of worms and offers solutions and treatments for your cat and dog.
  • Countrywide stores also have a range of Pet Specialists that can offer advice and help you choose the best medicine for your cat and dog.

Controlling Worms in Cats & Dogs

All cats and dogs from the time they are born can contract and carry worms (endoparasites), passing them onto to other cats and dogs. They can also pass on diseases to man which are known as zoonoses. Pets should therefore be regularly wormed for the following reasons:

  • To maximise the health of the pet. Roundworm in puppies and kittens can cause a number of problems including abdominal swelling and pain, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea and on rare occasions rupture of the bowel. In older animals problems can occur but they are not as serious.
  • To reduce the risk of human contamination.
  • To minimise the risk of contaminating the environment. If a pet is regularly wormed it will not be passing eggs and fewer animals will then be infected by picking up these eggs.

There are a number of different endoparasites that affect cats and dogs.

Controlling worms in cats & dogs
Pets should be regularly treated to prevent worms.

Roundworms (Nematodes—Toxocara canis/Toxocara cati)

Roundworms vary in size from fine threads, hardly visible to the naked eye to those several centimetres in length and clearly visible. They have no segments and are generally a pink/brown colour. The lifecycle of this worm depends on the age of the pet with the majority living in the intestines and others in the bloodstream and respiratory system. The mature intestinal worms produce eggs which pass out with the faeces. The eggs mature into larvae and are then ingested by another animal and become adults when the process starts again. In some cases an intermediate host is involved where an animal such as a rodent eats the worm eggs which are then eaten by another animal to complete the life cycle.

The signs of roundworm infestation are weight loss, poor breath, diarrhoea and constipation. Anaemia and obstruction of the bowel can result from severe infestations. Dogs can pick up worms from a variety of sources including:

  • Grass or soil in public places
  • Puppies are almost always born with worms passed to them through their mother in the womb.

Cats pick up worms from:

  • The environment and therefore it is near impossible to prevent a cat from becoming infected.

Unlike puppies, kittens are not infected via their mothers. However, as soon as they start to suckle they are at risk of picking up worms which can infect the mother's milk. A potential hazard of roundworm presence is the risk of man, and particularly children, picking up dog roundworms. Parks and open spaces where dogs roam are areas where care should be taken. The infective eggs are picked up on hands and clothing etc and are ingested, passing into the intestines. Here the larvae hatches, penetrates the gut wall and migrates around the human body. This is usually harmless but if migration occurs to the eyes, blindness can result and if to the brain, liver, lungs or kidneys problems such as visceral larval migrans can result.

Prevention is two fold. Firstly regular worming of all dogs including puppies and secondly hygiene with the potential for exposure to dog faeces removed.

Hookworms (Uncinaria and Ancyclostoma)

These tend to infect kennelled dogs. The larvae penetrate the skin and cause a Dermatitis causing the dog to become thin and anaemic.

Tapeworms (Dipylidium, Taenia and Echinococcus)

Tapeworms are flat worms that live in the intestines and feed off the food passing through them. They are made up of segments with a head which attaches itself via hooks to the intestine wall to secure itself. Eggs develop in these segments which are passed out in the faeces. These eggs are then ingested by an intermediate host which is then eaten by the cat or dog, maturing into an adult tapeworm and the lifecycle begins again. Eggs can often be seen by the naked eye looking like grains of rice. Tapeworms cause irritation around the anus and can deprive the pet of food.

With Dipylidium tapeworms the intermediate host is a flea and therefore it is essential to control fleas and tapeworms to halt the lifecycle and hence its reproduction. The pet ingests the larvae carrying fleas when grooming and from there the larvae develop into an adult tapeworm.

The Taenia tapeworms are most commonly found in cats rather than dogs. The intermediate hosts for this tapeworm are birds, squirrels, mice and sheep. Cats will commonly catch and eat their prey and hence ingest the tapeworm larvae. When sheep are the intermediate host of tapeworms from dogs the cyst stage of the worm can cause the brain disease gid and therefore all dogs exercised on farm land should as a matter of course be treated for tapeworm.

Echinococcus is a dog tapeworm using cattle, sheep or man as the intermediate host. The potential for human infection makes this tapeworm a zoonosis.

Adult dogs and cats are recommended to be treated every three months i.e. quarterly.
"Adult dogs and cats are recommended to be treated every three months i.e. quarterly."

Recommendations for Controlling Endoparasites of Dogs and Cats

Puppies should be treated from two weeks of age onwards and kittens from five to six weeks of age for roundworms. This treatment should be repeated every two weeks up to the age of twelve weeks. Thereafter treatments should be made every four weeks up to twenty weeks of age and after this every three months.

It is recommended to treat Adult dogs and cats at least quarterly, however monthly is the optimal frequency to treat your pet to ensure they are well protected against the threat of worms.

The worming product should be checked to ensure its spectrum of cover so that it does actually cover what you expect it to be treating. Not all wormers will treat both tapeworms and roundworms simultaneously. The form of wormer should also be carefully selected according to the receptive nature of the pet. Liquid, granules, tablets, paste and powder are all available and the aim is for the pet to ingest the whole dose.

If an animal has fleas then it should also be treated for tapeworm as well as the fleas itself due to the risk of it picking up an infection of the Dipylidium tapeworm.

For further advice or information on how to choose the best medicine for your pet as well as how to administer products speak to a specialist. Pet Specialists are available in stores, who can advise you on all aspects of pet care including nutrition and health. Always seek specialist advice when selecting animal medicines. AMTRA qualified staff available in stores will guide you on your most appropriate selection.