Worms

Dogs can pick up worms by:

  • scavenging
  • contact with contaminated soil
  • fleas
  • their mother's milk as puppies

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

Which worms can my dog become infected with?
Basically three types of worm can affect your dog:

  • Roundworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Lungworm

Roundworms and Tapeworms

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
  • Anaemia

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
  • Have 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 and this may be fatal. (Although this is rare in an adult dog)

How can I tell if my dog has worms?

  • Your dog may show any of the health signs listed above
  • Signs of the worms may 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

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.
  • Speak to your vet about the best prevention programme 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.


Can my family catch worms from the dog?

The common roundworm found in dogs can spread disease to humans via their faeces (droppings).  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 occasionally cases of children becoming blind in one eye having played in areas where dogs have defecated.  Thankfully these cases are rare, but it is extremely important to always clear up after dogs and never to walk them in children’s playgrounds.

Protecting Dogs from Lungworm

The Lungworm parasite (Angiostrongylus vasorum) can be fatal to dogs...but it can easily be prevented. Due to the serious nature of lungworm infection our policy is to recommend preventative treatment for all dogs in our care, with lungworm prevention included as standard for all canine members of our Health Care Plan. 

What is lungworm?

The lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) is a parasite that can cause serious health problems in dogs and can even be fatal if not diagnosed and treated.  Lungworms are carried by slugs and snails and infect dogs if they are ingestion or via the slime they leave over water bowls and toys etc. The adult lungworm lives 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. 

How can I protect my dog against lungworm?
Preventative products are available and with regular use prevention is easy to achieve. An easy to use spot on treatment can keep dogs protected, but it is important to use it regularly to be effective.  Always speak to your vet because not all worming products are effective against this particular parasite. 

How do I know if my dog is infected?

Many infected dogs show no signs of illness. However, dogs that are affected by lungworm will usually show some of the following symptoms:

  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing
  • Bleeding excessively from cuts or bleeding internally with no signs of trauma
  • Anaemia and loss of condition.
  • Some dogs 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 the disease to me or my other pets?

The infection can't pass direct from to dog 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. 

Remember it can be easily prevented, but if you think your dog may have been infected it’s important to seek veterinary advice urgently.

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