Infestation with intestinal worms is often seen in a small animal practice. While it does not cause too many issues in older animals, it can be life threatening in young ones. Intestinal worms can be transmitted from your pet to you and this is why this topic becomes even more important.

How are intestinal worms diagnosed?

Sometimes they can be seen easily in the faeces by naked eye (round and tape worms) or a special test called faecal flotation may be needed to find parasite eggs.

Which intestinal worms are frequently found in pets?

There are 5 different ones:

1. Round worms are the most common type of worm which is easily seen in faeces. The worms are up to 10 cm long, white in colour, thin and tapered at both ends. The parasite can infest unborn pups and kittens through placenta. Otherwise mother’s milk, contaminated environment, eating faeces, or ingesting eggs from the coat can be a source. Infested rodents, birds and beetles can harbour the eggs too.
The eggs become larvae that migrate through the animal’s organs such as lungs, liver and intestines where it finally develops into a mature parasite and start producing eggs. Humans can contract this parasite by ingesting eggs that can be on dog’s coat, equipment, in faeces and soil. As a result of infestation, Visceral Larva Migrans develops in humans who ingested round worm eggs and the parasite can cause blindness, liver and neurological problems. Roundworm in animals can cause diarrhoea, failure to thrive and, if present in excessive numbers, intestinal blockage.

2. Tapeworms are always associated with fleas in which they develop. Once the pet ingests a flea, the parasite continues its life cycle and starts developing in the intestines into an adult worm. Tapeworm does not cause major damage in the body. It can grow up to 50 cm in length and is made of many small segments called proglotids which contain eggs. Proglotids look like cucumber seeds and can move. They are often attached onto the hair adjacent to the anus and may cause itchiness and licking of this area. Tapeworms do not pose significant threat to humans.

3. Hookworms affect dogs and cats and develop quickly. Two to three weeks is all they need to grow from an egg to adult which lives in intestines and feeds on blood. The infestation with hookworm can cause significant anaemia, weight loss, bloody diarrhoea and death. Hookworms in humans can set off chronic dermatitis so it is important to protect yourself when handling your pet’s faeces and gardening in soil contaminated with dog’s or cat’s faeces. Pets can get this parasite through mother’s milk, skin, from contaminated environment and soil in which eggs survive for long periods of time and are almost impossible to destroy.

4. Whipworms are very thin worms and almost impossible to see in your pet’s faeces. Once ingested the eggs develop in the large intestine and cause chronic diarrhoea with fresh blood in some cases. Whipworm can survive a long time in soil and does not pose threat to human health.

5. Echinococcus (Hydatid cyst) is a health threat to humans and should be taken seriously. It needs intermediate hosts such as sheep, cattle and kangaroos that develop cysts in lungs and liver after they have ingested the eggs on the pasture. Dogs get infested after being fed raw meat or the infested organs. Humans pick up Echinococcus eggs from dog’s faeces. While it does not cause any major issues for dogs, it is a different story in humans. Multiple cysts can be formed in liver, lungs, kidneys and brain.

How can I protect my pet and family?

Regular worming will kill worms in your dog or cat’s intestine, and deal with re-infestations from other pets and the environment.

Vets4Pets recommend treatment every 3 months for adult dogs & cats. For puppies and kittens, we recommend intestinal worming every second week until the pup/kitten is 12 weeks of age and then monthly until 6 months old. The pup/kitten then requires worming every three months as per an adult. Pregnant and lactating females should be treated prior to mating, ten days before birthing, and two to four weeks after producing a litter.

There are multipurpose products available to treat roundworms and hookworms, as well as fleas and heartworm. However, be careful, as not all worming medications will kill all types of worms. Please check the label or contact your local vet for advice concerning the best treatment for your pet.

Always clean up after your pet and remove droppings regularly because this will prevent contamination of their environment and re-infestation of your pet or your family. Wash your hands after handling your pet and their faeces. Food bowls and bedding should be also washed down when soiled. Furthermore, it is important to control fleas and do not feed your dog raw meat or sheep offal because it breaks down the parasite’s life cycle.