What are worms?
Worms are a very common parasite in dogs and tend to live in the intestines and respiratory systems of your pet. Every puppy is susceptible to worms, some species of which are passed from their mother through their milk or placenta.
What are the most common types of worms and how do puppies get them?
The worms I see most often in my surgery are roundworms and tapeworms. Lungworms and hookworms are other forms of the parasite, as is ringworm, but this isn’t an internal parasite and isn’t prevented by wormers.
Here’s what to look out for…
- Roundworms: found in the gut, roundworms are intestinal parasites that look like spaghetti and can cause irritation and diarrhoea. Adult dogs are less commonly affected than puppies. Roundworm eggs are microscopic and are often passed in apparently normal faeces. Many puppies are likely to have worms at birth as they infect the puppy across the mother’s placenta. They are also transmitted via their mother’s milk.
- Tapeworms: another form of intestinal worm, a tapeworm’s lifecycle is dependent on an intermediate host, which is usually eaten by your pet in order to infect them. The most common tapeworm in dogs uses fleas as its intermediate host. Dogs acquire tapeworms whilst nibbling or grooming or in response to a flea bite, thus ingesting the tapeworm infected flea.
- Lungworms: as the name suggests, lungworms live in a dog’s respiratory system. Like the tapeworm, their lifecycle is also dependent on an intermediate host, which are usually slugs and snails. Dogs tend to get lungworm by eating slugs, snails or grass with snail trails attached, as well as playing with toys that have been in contact with snails.
- Dogs can also contract hookworm, whipworm and heartworm. Hookworms can be dangerous as they steal nutrients from your puppy and can lead to anaemia. They can also spread to the lungs in heavy infestations. Heartworm is not indigenous to the UK but can be contracted if travelling abroad.
What are the symptoms?
It can be difficult to tell whether your dog has worms, and you won’t normally be able to spot an adult worm, but here are the important symptoms to watch out for…
- ‘Scooting’ – your pup dragging their bottom along the ground
- Visible worms or eggs in your dog’s faeces or fur around its bottom
- Swollen abdomen
- Diarrhoea or vomiting
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Bleeding (in the case of lungworm)
- Dry, coarse fur
If your dog has worms for a prolonged period of time, these symptoms may become more obvious.
How can worms be treated?
Worms are common in puppies, so knowing how to treat them is vital. Puppies should be wormed at five, eight and twelve weeks old, and then at least every three months for the rest of their lives to ensure they don’t pick up worms.
For me, the best way to treat worms is by using a veterinary prescribed prescription-only product. These can come in the form of tablets, spot-on treatments and palatable chews. If you suspect that your puppy has worms, speak to your vet straight away. They’ll be able to recommend the best course of treatment, the best wormer to treat multiple species of worm and ensure your pet isn’t suffering from any nasty side effects.
How can I prevent my puppy from getting worms?
I always say that prevention is better than cure and I recommend regular, monthly treatment.
Most worming products don’t stay in the body for more than 48 hours as they’re metabolised by the liver. Instead, they act to kill and remove any worms present. This means that your pet can become re-infected soon after. It’s not uncommon for dogs to become re-infected with worms within a month of them being treated and I see this in my surgery all too often.
If your puppy has come from a reputable breeder or rescue centre, they should already be worm-free as they’ll have been wormed prior to you taking them home. Make sure you keep any paperwork safe so you can keep track of your puppy’s worming treatment.
As fleas are a common cause of worms in puppies, it’s important to ensure that your pet is regularly checked and treated for any flea infestations.
What are the risks to humans?
Although relatively rare, worm-related disease can pose a risk to humans.
Roundworm eggs are microscopic and can be picked up on the hands of children playing in soil and sandpits and lead to infections. These worms migrate from the intestine and around the body, causing damage to organs such as the liver, heart, brain and eyes. If this happens, get treatment immediately.