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Worms are unpleasant and potentially dangerous, and no one wants their pet to become infested. Fortunately, worms are also easy to keep at bay as long as you follow a regular worming routine. But how much do you really know about the different types of worms that affect our cats and dogs? Read on to find out more.
Worms are parasites which need a host in order to complete their lifecycle, such as your cat or dog. Worm eggs can be picked up from the environment, from ingesting infected prey or from fleas.
The most common types of worms that infest our pets belong to a scientific group of primitive animals called ‘helminths’.
Although simple in structure, parasitic worms have been on earth for millions of years. During this time they have evolved into thousands of different species, and adapted to live in many strange places, including inside our pets.
While there are many types of worms that affect cats and dogs, there are a few specific types of worms that UK cat and dog owners should be aware of.
These spaghetti like worms live in your pet’s intestines feeding off their stomach contents. Roundworm eggs can lay dormant in the environment for months. They are particularly sticky – often sticking fur, paws or noses – and can be ingested while grooming. After ingestion, the worms continue their lifecycle inside your pet. Roundworm eggs are also extremely small, so you are unlikely to see them on your pet.
Roundworms behave differently in kittens and puppies to how they do in adult cats and dogs. This is because very young kittens and puppies haven’t built up an effective immune response.
In both cases, the roundworm larvae will be ingested and hatch out in the stomach. They will then migrate throughout the body.
In a kitten or puppy, once the larva reaches the lungs it burrows into an air sac, and continues to the wind pipe. As the worm crawls up the windpipe it irritates the throat, causing the kitten or puppy to cough up the worm larva and swallow it back into the stomach. Here, the worm continues maturing into an adult and lays more eggs, which are released into the environment via the pet’s faeces.
In an adult pet, who has generally developed a better immune response, the roundworm larva is prevented from completing the journey. Instead, the larva is diverted to the muscles where it becomes trapped, and forms a harmless cyst. These cysts can lay dormant for years, only recommencing their journey back to the intestines if the pet’s immune system is compromised, usually due to old age, illness or pregnancy.
Roundworms are the most common type of worm that can be transmitted to humans. Fortunately, so long as you’re careful to dispose of faeces quickly and safely, and wash your hands after doing so, you can minimise the risk.
Tapeworms are one of the most common types of worm to afflict cats and dogs in the UK. Classic tapeworms (Taenia species) are flat worms made up of a string of segments all linked together.
In order to complete their lifecycle tapeworms need an intermediate host. For a Taenia tapeworm, this may be a mouse or a rabbit, for Dipylidium caninum it’s usually a flea or louse, and for Echinococcus granulosus this is usually livestock. Your pet becomes infested when it ingests the infected intermediate host; this could occur after hunting and/or eating infected prey, or during grooming.
While the host is digested, the tapeworm produces anti-enzymes to protect itself, and the larva is released. It will then travel to the intestines and hook onto the gut wall. Here, it will grow into a string of segments and continue to mature to adulthood. At this point it will release egg-filled segments from the end of the string.
Dipylidium caninum segments often resemble grains of rice, while Taenia segments will look like a small part of the tape measure. These segments may be seen in pet’s faeces, around the bottom or back legs. Once dried out, the segment will burst open, releasing thousands of eggs into the environment and the whole process starts again.
Protecting your pet and your family from tapeworms and roundworms can be as easy as 1, 2, 3. Effective and affordable wormers are now available from the pet shop or online, including Beaphar WORMclear®, which kills roundworms and tapeworms in one simple dose.
It is recommended that you worm your pet at least every three months. But, if you’d like a reminder you can always sign up to the Beaphar Reminder Service. Sign up with your email address, and the date of your pet’s last worming treatment and we will send you a reminder every three months that their worming treatment is due.
By committing and sticking to a regular worming routine, you can help reduce the risk of both your pet and your family becoming infested by worms.
Also known as French Heartworm, lungworms generally prefer a warmer climate, and so are uncommon in the UK. However, the number of incidences has spread across several areas of the UK in recent years, so it is worth pet-owners becoming more aware.
Lungworms most commonly affect dogs, who can become infested when they eat infected slugs or snails. Lungworms live in the blood vessels supplying the heart, and the larvae burrow into the lungs, Symptoms include respiratory issues, coughing and clotting problems.
As a precaution, you may wish to make sure you regularly clean any water or food bowls and toys that get left outside, as worm larvae can also sometimes be found in slug and snail slime trails.
Hookworms can cause serious health problems for your pet. They are a small worm, usually growing to between 5 and 16mm in length, with adults living in the intestines and feeding off your pet’s blood. This can cause anaemia and damage to gut wall.
Ancylostoma caninum is common in central and southern Europe. Uncinaria stenocephala is also known as the ‘northern hookworm’ due to its ability to tolerate colder climates, but is still considered an uncommon worm in the UK.
However, studies have estimated that 7 out of 10 UK foxes carry hookworm, which increases the spread and risk of dogs becoming infected. In cats, hookworms are very rare in the UK.
Hookworms are hard to spot, but some symptoms include blood in the faeces or diarrhoea, lesions on the feet if hookworms have entered through the skin, and poor appetite.
Although not present in the UK, if your pet travels abroad they could be at risk. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos, and symptoms include coughing, loss of condition and collapse. If you’re travelling abroad with your pet, be sure to visit your vet before you travel to discuss preventative treatment.
Threadlike in appearance with a thick head, whipworms grow from 50 to 76mm long. They live in the last part of the small intestine and the first part of the large intestine. The female can go for long periods of time without laying eggs, which can make them difficult to diagnose.
Whipworms are rare in the UK, but if you’re travelling abroad your pet may be at risk. Many broad spectrum wormers will also kill whipworms, but ask your vet for further advice if you’re concerned.