Most teenage boys have heard their exasperated mothers cry, “you must have a tapeworm” as they reach for their fifth slice of bread of the day but as we head into adulthood few of us give worms a second thought.
Our pets, however, can harbour several kinds of worms throughout their lives, some of them deadly, and deworming regularly is as important for dogs and cats as annual vaccinations and good nutrition.
The worms or parasites found in our pets include the parasitic tapeworm, the roundworm, the hookworm, the whipworm, and the heartworm. Only two are commonly seen in the stool with the unaided eye, roundworms and tapeworms. Some infestations cause few or no symptoms; in fact some worm eggs or larvae can be dormant in the pet’s body and activated only in times of stress, or in the case of roundworms and hookworms, until the later stages of pregnancy when they activate and infest the soon-to-be-born puppies and kittens.
This parasitic flatworm lives in the intestines. It has a long ribbon like body with many segments that can become independent, and a small head bearing hooks and suckers. They are often visible as dried, white, grain-like segments in faeces or under the pet’s tail. Tapeworm must be first pass through an intermediate host (a flea) before they can infect your dog and cat.
Symptoms of tapeworm infestation include biting, licking and dragging of the hindquarters.
This round-bodied, unsegmented worm hatches in the intestines and lives there. The eggs of the roundworm usually enter the body through contaminated water or food and symptoms of infestation include general weakness, a swollen belly, a dull coat and vomiting.
This parasitic worm attaches to the wall of the gut, puncturing the blood vessels and feeding on the animal’s blood. A severe hookworm infestation can kill puppies, often making them severely anaemic from the loss of blood. Symptoms include diarrhoea, bloody diarrhoea, weight loss, anaemia.
They look like whips with wider ‘handles’ at the end and are generally transmitted through ingestion of contaminated matter. Although they seldom cause a dog’s death, whipworms are a real nuisance for the dog and can be a problem for the veterinarian to diagnose. Symptoms include bloody diarrhoea, faecal incontinence, weight loss and malnutrition.
Heartworm disease is a serious, often fatal, disease caused by worms living in the heart and the pulmonary arteries. It causes coughing, reduced exercise tolerance and heart failure. Heartworm prevention is essential for pets travelling to endemic areas.
How do I prevent worms?
- Remove faeces from your lawn, street, or kennel daily.
- Exercise your pets in grassy areas not frequented by other animals.
- Prevent your pet from eating rodents and earthworms
- Control fleas
- Deworm pregnant pets before breeding, and again before whelping to help prevent infecting newborn pets.
There are several anti-worm medications available from EberVet Vetshops like Drontal, Mediworm (for dogs only) and Milbemax, a chewable tablet for both dogs and cats that is also safe for pregnant and lactating bitches. Revolution, a popular tick and flea drop, is also a dewormer and is safe to use on puppies from six weeks of age and is safe for pregnant and lactating bitches. Antezole and Advocate are for cats and dogs, Profender for cats only.
When must I deworm?
Puppies and kittens every two weeks until the age of three months then once a month until the age of six months; for pets six months and older, every three months.