Most Pets owners know that, from time to time, dogs and cats can become infested with worms. It’s not a pleasant subject, and it is tempting to ignore it but it’s also very unwise. Worms can cause a-dull lifeless coat, swelling of the stomach, the loss of weight, pneumonia and diarrhoea. In addition, one of the commonest round worms, toxocara canis is all too easily transmitted to children, where it can cause potentially permanent eye damage, although it should be emphasised that this is a rare complication.
For this reason, if for no other, we all have a responsibility to keep our animals free from worms, and to minimise the spread of infection in the environment.
Of course, this is easier said than done. There are, after all, a dozen different species of round worms, tape worms, hook worms and whip worms which may infect cats and dogs in the United Kingdom. It’s a big problem in every sense; two of the commoner tape worms, for example, reach a mature length of half a metre or more when adult and there may be dozens of worms in the intestines of the infected animal.
Fortunately, there is an effective way of controlling all these worm species.
To understand the problem of round worms it is helpful to one look at the life cycle of the relatively common ones:-:Toxacara canis and Toxocara Cati.
Toxacara Canis is the worm which has had a great deal of publicity in recent years. This is because of cases where children have become infected.
It grows to around 180 millimetres in length, and can be transmitted in several ways:
- Transfer of worm larvae (immature worms) across the womb to unborn puppies, so that they are already infected at birth.
- Transfer of worm larvae to pups as they feed on a bitch’s milk
- A nursing bitch may be re-infected while cleaning her pups.
- Round worm eggs may be accidentally picked up by dog’s from the environment.
- An adult dog may eat birds earth worms or mice which could be harbouring the round worm larvae.
The other piece of bad news about round worm eggs is that they are great survivors. Given favourable conditions, they can remain infective in the environment for several years. These eggs act as a reservoir of infection for older dogs and children alike. The life cycle of the cat round worm is broadly similar, and the infection is spread in much the same way, with the only exception that larvae or not passed to unborn of kittens. Nursing Queen’s however, may infect kittens via their milk, and adult cats can become infected by eating mice and birds.
Tape worms are the other major group of parasitic worms which can infect our pets. They attach themselves to the wall of the small intestine, and some types can grow to a length of 5 metres.
Unlike the round worms, they cannot be passed directly from one dog or cat to another, but have to develop in another animal first (the so-called “intermediate host”).
The flea is a common intermediate host. The Flea tape worm, is called the Dipylidium canium . these are commonly found in both cats and dogs. The tape worm larvae are carried by fleas, which pets swallow while grooming and once in the pets gut the larvae develop into adult tape worms. On reaching the maturity (in as little as three weeks) they start to shed egg-filled segments, which may be passed with the faeces or independently. Once in the environment (ie the pets are bedding, carpets etc.) The segments release their minute eggs, which are eaten by free living Flea larvae. The worm larvae develops inside the adult Flea, which, if swallowed by a dog or cat, allows the whole cycle to begin again.
The other common tape worm to infect cats is Taenia taeniaeformis, whose life cycle is similar the flea tapeworm, but uses small mammals (typically mice) as the intermediate host. This, of course, explains why hunting cats are so susceptible to infection.
Both these worms have a complex and improbable life cycle but their continuing presence shows just how successful it is.
Your Veterinary Surgeon can advise you on the best product to use to control these worms. Pet shop products are often needlessly complicated expensive and rarely effective. There are many good worming products available from Pool House Veterinary surgeries. There are now several different ways of administering these products including spot on formulations for pets who are impossible to give tablets to.
Responsible Pet Ownership
We all have a responsibility to prevent the spread of worms, especially the round worm which can infect children albeit rarely.
- Regular worming at least every three months. Remember a wormer cannot prevent reinfection even the day after it is administered so much more frequent worming especially in the case of outdoor cats is required.
- Effective fleacontrol.
- Do not permit your dog to defaecate in public areas and always collect the faeces and dispose of them hygienically at home. Use a poop scoop!!
- Do not feed raw offal or unsterilised pet food.