Does my Pet have Worms?

It isn’t nice to think about your pet having worms, but knowing how to prevent and treat the pesky parasites will keep your pet healthy and reduce the risk of serious illness. 

What are intestinal worms?

Intestinal worms live in the inner organs or bloodstream of your pet and will infect your pet’s gastro-intestinal system.

There are many different types of intestinal worms that can infect your pet:

Hookworms are short and curved and hook onto the intestinal wall. Once they have developed in the gut, the worms feed on tissue and blood. This can be a serious threat to kittens and puppies as they can cause severe blood loss. Your pet will likely be exposed to the larvae through contaminated soil.

Roundworms are long, white and wiggly. Infection starts when your pet ingest eggs, which then develop into worms in your pet’s gut. The eggs can be found on contaminated surfaces, or through hosts such as birds or mice.

Whipworms are long and tiny with a thicker end. They are harder to detect as they are found in low numbers, so your pet may not show any symptoms. However, if left untreated they can cause bloody diarrhoea and damage the intestines.

Tapeworms are long and flat and are most commonly transmitted via fleas, but can also be transmitted if your pet has eaten a mouse or other small animals.

Lungworms are long and wiggly and affect dogs. The worms are transmitted through snails and slugs which carry the infected larvae. These eggs hatch in the infected dog’s intestine before the larvae make their way into the lungs, causing coughing, sneezing and breathing problems. This can be fatal, so if you suspect your dog has contracted lungworm it’s best to contact your vet straight away.

Basset hound and red kitten watching through the window. Does my pet have worms?

How does my pet get worms?

Pets can become infected by intestinal worms by a number of ways including;

  • Ingesting eggs in soil and infected larvae from birds or small animals
  • Ingesting the faeces of another infected animal
  • Passed between mother to puppies – either before birth or whilst nursing
  • Transmitted via fleas, which why it’s important to use a flea treatment all year-around
  • Transmitted via snails and slugs which carry the infected larve (this type of worm is called Lungworm and affects dogs)

What are the signs of intestinal worms?

Pets infected with worms may show some, but not all, of these signs:

  • Diarrhoea (sometimes with blood)
  • Weight loss in spite of increased appetite
  • Dry and coarse hair
  • Vomiting (perhaps with worms in the vomit)
  • Pot belly (in kittens and puppies)
  • Anaemia
  • Blood loss and overall weakness

However, it is possible that your pet could be infected without showing any visible signs, for example worm larvae in your pet’s body may only be activated during times of stress.

How to prevent worms in pets

Regular treatment

You should regularly give your pet a worming treatment specifically formulated for their species type (e.g. cat or dog), size and weight (never give dog treatment to a cat or vice versa).

It’s recommended that you worm your adult cat or dog at least once every three months. However if your pet is a hunter or lives with small children/elderly they will need to be treated more frequently.

One treatment may not cover all types of potential worm infections, so you should speak to your vet about which types your pet is most at risk of catching.  They will also advise you how you should treat your pet. It’s even more important to seek advice if your pet is pregnant or has any other underlying health issues. 

Schemes such as The Healthy Pet Club often include wormers as part of your membership.

General housekeeping

Regularly disinfecting your pet’s food and water bowls, especially if they have been left outside, can help prevent worms. Just be sure to use a disinfectant that won’t harm your pet.

By regularly washing any soft furnishings that your pet has access to at 60°C can kill any worms and larvae that could be lurking there. You should also wash your hands thoroughly (with hot water and soap) after touching your pet to prevent any potential worms spreading from them to you and your family.

What are the long-term implications?

As parasites, worms will feed off the existing nutrients inside your pet’s body. This means your pet will become weaker over time and less able to overcome common, otherwise less serious illnesses. In severe cases, where worms haven’t been noticed and are left untreated, worm infections can actually lead to death.

Always consult your vet first before you start treatment.

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