Pets can pick up worms by:

  • scavenging
  • contamination with soil
  • fleas
  • their mother's milk

Worms can easily be prevented with regular worming treatments and it is highly recommended, especially as some worms can be passed on to humans.

What worms can my dog become infected with?
Basically two types of worm can affect your pet, roundworms and tapeworms (NB Lungworm is dealt with in its own section due to its serious nature).
The majority of these worms spend their adult lives in our pets' intestines and vary in length from a few millimetres to several meters in length!

What damage do worms cause?
These worms may either live off the food contained within the gut or attach directly to the gut wall and feed from the blood of your pet directly. They can damage the gut causing loss of blood.
Worms can also cause diarrhoea, dehydration and anaemia, and this may make your dog run-down and susceptible to other diseases. If there are a lot of worms your dog may cough, lose weight, have a rough, dry coat or a 'pot-bellied' appearance. In puppies a worm infection can be more serious, causing poor growth and sometimes even death. If there are large numbers of worms the intestine can become blocked (although this is rare in an adult dog) and this may be fatal.

How can worms be prevented?

Regular worm prevention treatment and regular flea prevention are important for controlling worms.
There are a variety of worm prevention treatments available but not all of them are as effective against all worms. We will be happy to discuss the most appropriate worming routine for your pet.

How are roundworms passed on?
Roundworms grow in the intestine laying thousands of eggs which pass out in the faeces (droppings). The eggs can survive for months or even years in the soil and need to lie in the environment for some time before they can infect another animal. They find their way into a new host either directly, (when eaten by a dog) or indirectly, (after being swallowed by a rodent which is then eaten by the dog). Immature worms also survive in the tissues of an infected dog. Immature worms can be passed from a mother to her puppies in the milk.

How are tapeworms passed on?
Tapeworms are anchored by their head to the intestine wall and grow a continuous ribbon of segments, each packed with eggs. The segments gradually break off and are passed out in the faeces. These segments look like grains of rice and may wriggle like a maggot for a short time before they dry up (sometimes still attached to your dog's fur). The most common type of tapeworm moves on to a new dog by way of fleas. Immature fleas pick up infection from dog faeces in the environment and dogs are then infected if they accidentally swallow an adult flea during grooming. There is also a less common type of tapeworm which uses mice, other rodents and rabbits to complete its life-cycle. This parasite lies dormant in the muscle or other organs of a small rodent or rabbit and dogs are infected if they eat these animals.

How can I tell if my dog has worms?
Apart from the general effects on health described above, signs of the worms can be found in your dog's faeces (droppings). Puppies may vomit or pass round worms (looking like string) in their faeces. Segments of tapeworm (looking like grains of rice), can often be seen in the faeces or in the fur around the tail base and back legs. Roundworm eggs can only be seen by using a microscope to examine the faeces.

Can my family catch worms from the dog?
The common roundworm found in dogs is a rare but potentially serious cause of human disease. The larval stages of this worm burrow through the gut wall and become embedded somewhere within the body and can cause serious damage if they end up, for example, in the eye. There are occasional reports of the victim, usually a child, being blinded in one eye.

Lungworm are carried by slugs and snails and infect dogs via ingestion or via the slime they leave over water bowls and toys etc. The adult lungworm live in the heart and major blood vessels and can cause varying problems such as coughing, breathing problems, general sickness, behavioural changes (no energy, seizures) and also problems with blood clotting.
Because of the severity of illness with lungworm the infection can be fatal.
As such we take lungworm control very seriously as regard an increase in the number of cases in our area as a sign of a failure to control the disease.

How can I protect my dog from lungworm?
Interestingly for such a serious illness control of lungworm is extremely straightforward and we can advise on the best way of going about this for you and your pet.

Other forms of lungworm are potential issues in both dogs and cats and your vet can help to advise on control of these also.

How do I know if my dog is infected?
Many infected dogs show no signs of illness. Dogs that are unwell show a wide range of symptoms including:

  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing
  • Bleeding excessively from cuts or bleeding internally with no signs of trauma
  • Anaemia and loss of condition.

Other animals may show neurological changes including seizures.
If your dog is unwell in any way make an appointment to see your vet.

How would my vet know what is wrong with my dog?
Not all dogs with lungworm show breathing-associated signs. The adult worms in the blood vessels and heart can cause heart failure but also produce a substance to stop the blood clotting. This can cause your dog to bleed, with or without an injury. The bleeding can take place inside the body and may affect the brain or eyes resulting in seizures or blindness.

It is unlikely that a vet will know straight away what is wrong with your dog and a number of tests will be required in most cases to make the diagnosis.

If my dog is infected can it pass disease to me or my other pets?
The infection can't pass direct from to dog without first passing through a slug or snail. However, if you have several dogs living in the same household and one is found to be infected it is likely that the others will also be at high risk of infection. The common lungworm of dogs (Angiostrongylus vasorum) does not affect cats or people.

What is the treatment for lungworm?
The aims of treatment are to eliminate the lungworm infection and also to manage the clinical signs. There are a number of drugs that can be used to eliminate the worms but infected dogs should be monitored carefully when receiving treatment as the sudden killing of the worms could result in a severe allergic reaction.

If your dog has severe signs (particularly affecting the brain or signs of heart failure) your pet will need to be hospitalised for specialised care.

Will my dog get better?
Most dogs go on to make a full recovery with appropriate treatment. However, infection can prove fatal for some dogs despite intensive treatment.

How can I protect my dog against lungworm?
Most dogs are infected by contact with slugs or snails (and usually from eating these) - so if you can reduce your dog's exposure to these that will reduce the risk.

Regular treatment of your dog with a product that can kill the worms can help to protect them against infection. Some standard worming treatment do not protect pets from lungworm infections. We can advise on treatments that protects that not only protects against lungworm but also other common parasites including common worms, fleas and mites.

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