By Dr Ian Wright, BVMS, MSc, MRCVS (a really important and knowledgeable scientific expert on roundworm – check out all those letters after his name!)
Why is worm prevention necessary?
Parasitic worms are very common in cats and dogs, and can cause serious illness.
Some worms can also cause disease in people, making regular treatment of cats and dogs for worms important for both pets and humans.
What are the most common types of worms?
There are three different types of worms commonly found in cats and dogs: Roundworm, Lungworm and Tapeworm.
As well as roundworm, cats and dogs may also carry other intestinal worms, such as hookworms and whipworms.
These can all cause weight loss, anaemia and diarrhoea in cats and dogs.
In this blog, we’re going to focus on roundworm, but you can learn more about tapeworm here.
What are Roundworms?
Toxocara roundworms are common intestinal parasites of cats and dogs.
Almost all puppies and kittens are infected by their mums at birth (puppies) or shortly afterwards via the milk (puppies and kittens).
At 6 months old, many of these worms are naturally eliminated. However, infection can still be topped up throughout the cat or dog’s life.
This can happen through the pet eating worm eggs directly, or by eating small animals that have already eaten the eggs such as birds or rodents.
What happens if my pet is infected with roundworm?
Infected pets are rarely ill, but large worm burdens can cause diarrhoea or coughs.
The eggs passed in the your pet’s poo, however, can infect people if they are accidentally eaten.
Worm eggs are sticky in texture, so they can easily contaminate fruit, vegetables, gardening equipment and outdoor toys.
Can roundworms make people poorly?
The most common health problem for humans is when larval worms find their way to the eye (ocular larval migrans). If left untreated, this can cause seizures or even blindness.
However, it’s important to note that most people exposed to the parasite will have no ill effects.
That being said, the movement of worm larvae through the body is still linked to a variety of health problems, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Learning difficulties
It sounds scary, and although the consequences of infection (toxocarosis) can be serious, a few simple precautions will help to massively reduce the risk of exposure.
Five steps to protect you and your pet from worms
1. Regular worm treatment for cats and dogs
Treatment for worms should start when puppies are 2 weeks old, and kittens are 3 weeks old.
It should then be repeated every 2 weeks, until 2 weeks after weaning, and then every month until 6 months old.
The puppy or kitten’s mum should also be treated at the same time.
To help reduce egg shedding, adult cats and dogs should be treated at least every 3 months.
Some pets, such as those living with young children, or those that hunt, should be treated monthly.
2. Picking up and (responsibly disposing of) dog poo
This is an important part of dog-ownership anyway, but it also helps to reduce environmental egg contamination.
3. Thorough washing of fruit and veggies
Cats are particularly good at contaminating home grown fruit and veg by defecating on them.
By burying their poo, cats also inadvertently create perfect conditions for the egg’s survival. It also creates an unpleasant surprise for people playing in a sandpit, or digging in the garden!
Fruit and veg can be made completely safe for human consumption by thorough washing or cooking.
4. Good hand hygiene
Washing hands before eating, after playing with pets and after outdoor activity reduces the risk of many parasites being transferred from hand to mouth.
5. Covering sandpits
To prevent cats using them as giant litter trays!
About Dr Ian Wright, BVMS, MSc, MRCVS
Ian Wright is Head of ESCCAP UK & Ireland (European Scientific Counsel Companion Animal Parasites) and is a practicing veterinary surgeon. He has a master’s degree in veterinary parasitology and is an editorial board member for the Companion Animal Journel. He continues to carry out research in practice, including work on intestinal nematodes and tick-borne diseases.
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