Worming is and should be a vital part of your dog or cat’s health care program. Approximately 80% of dogs and 75% of cats in Australia harbour intestinal worms - which isn’t surprising seeing that some worms can produce thousands of eggs per day and some eggs can survive dormant for up to 5 years in the ground.
Worms are the culprit for some of the most common health problems for dogs. Certain types of worms are easier to spot than others. For example, when infected with tapeworms, it’s common to see what resembles grain of rice in the dogs’ excrement. Heartworms on the other hand will only show subtle symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.
The most common symptoms of worm infestation in dogs are: coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, bloated stomach, itching and signs of skin irritations, appetite and weight loss and rubbing its bottom on the ground (also known as scooting). Left unchecked, worms can cause serious damage to a dog’s internal organs with sometimes-fatal consequences.
There are 2 main types of worms that infect dogs:
These are usually transmitted via mosquitos that have fed on an infected dog, where the heartworm larvae (microfilaria) are transmitted via a mosquito bite. This can cause what’s frequently known as Heartworm disease - parasitic worms (Dirofilaria immitis) living in the arteries of the heart. Over time, the worms grow and accumulate in the dogs’ heart, which act like a blockage – causing the heart to stop functioning properly. This leads to congestive heart failure, which is a life-threatening problem.
- Gastrointestinal worms
Most gastrointestinal worms are transmitted from dog to dog via the faeco-oral route (licking other dogs’ bottoms or eating other dogs’ faeces). The main types of intestinal worms that infect dogs are:
- Roundworms (Toxocara canis)
- Hookworms (Ancylostoma caninum)
- Whipworms (Trichuris vulpis)
- Hydatid Tapeworms (Echinococcus granulosus)
- Common Flea Tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum)
Many puppies are born with gastrointestinal worms and can also be infected through their mother’s milk. This can be a serious detriment to the health of a puppy and is also a risk to humans (especially toddlers). Puppies love showing their affection by licking children’s faces/hands and worm eggs and larvae can be swallowed leading to serious diseases such as hydatid cysts in the internal organs or even blindness (albeit uncommon).
Important: Always consult the product labels and directions for worm treatment directions and frequency. Not all worming treatments for dogs are equally effective and for the best advice on treatments most suitable for your dog, seek advice from your local veterinary.
Most infected cats don’t show any signs/symptoms of having worms, but serious infestations can cause weight loss, vomiting and diarrhoea and irritation around the anus.
The most common types of intestinal worms found in cats are:
- Roundworms (Toxocara cati, Toxascaris leonina)
Roundworms are extremely common in kittens as they can be infected from the mother’s milk, so it should be assumed that all kittens are infected and worming treatment should begin at a young age.
- Tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum)
Tapeworms are usually a problem in older cats, unless a kitten also has fleas (see Boston Street: The Connection Between Tapeworms And Fleas). Tapeworm infestations are usually caused by ingesting an intermediate host, like an infected flea or rodent. When cats are infected, tapeworm segments - actual pieces of the worm that resemble grains of rice - can often be seen on the fur around a cat's hind end.
- Hookworms (Ancylostoma tubaeforme, Uncinaria stenocephala, Ancylostoma braziliense)
If hookworm larvae makes into the lungs through ingestion, there may be coughing. Other symptoms that may present include dark and tarry stool, diarrhoea, and constipation. A cat infected with hookworm will have an unhealthy appearance and a poor appetite; the linings of its nostrils, lips, and ears will be pale.
Important: Always consult the product labels and directions for worm treatment directions and frequency. Not all worming treatments for cats are equally effective and for the best advice on treatments most suitable for your cat, seek advice from your local veterinary.