Worms in dogs are very common. It's easy to think we've let our pets down, but dogs can easily catch worms and most will do at some point.
The different types of dog worms include: heartworms, roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms and lungworms. Depending on the worm, your dog may lose weight, seem very tired or experience more serious health problems.
The most common intestinal worms (worms which live in the guts) in the UK are roundworm and tapeworm. The other types are quite rare. Lungworm is a parasitic worm and once dogs are infected, adult worms live in the heart and major blood vessels of the lungs.
This guide will focus on intestinal worms. It will help you learn how to prevent worms, be able to spot the symptoms of a dog with worms and know how to treat your dog.
How do dogs get worms?
Dogs can catch worms in various ways. According to The Blue Cross, these are the main ways:
- Puppies can catch roundworms and hookworms from their mother.
- Dogs can eat contaminated soil or poo. This could happen by accident if they lick muddy fur, for example. Some dogs just have nasty habits. This is a major source of infection of roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms.
- Dogs can contract hookworms from walking on contaminated soil.
- Dogs can eat infected animals, such as a rodent, and catch roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and whipworms.
The responsible thing to do is to prevent worms by worming your dog with products specifically designed to protect your dog. If you follow a regular worming routine, using either a tablet or a spot-on treatment, it's unlikely your dog will catch worms.
Different worming products are available. Many protect against different types of intestinal worms and lungworms. Speak to your vet if you're unsure what to buy for your dog, and always buy veterinary-licenced products.
If you're struggling, your vet or a veterinary nurse will be able to administer the treatment too. Giving dogs tablets isn't always the easiest task. Spot-on treatments can be easier, but need to be applied correctly.
How do you know if your dog has worms?
If your dog has worms, it can be difficult to tell during the early stages of infection. You won't see the worms. Only mature tapeworms start to shed segments which can be seen around the dog’s bottom and in their faeces. They might look like grains of rice and cause your dog to drag its bottom along the ground. This is known as scooting.
Symptoms of intestinal worms
- Weight loss
- Excessive hunger
- Blood in the poo
- Low energy levels
- Poor coat quality
Puppies with worms may also get a bloated potbelly. This bloating can be a sign of a large number of worms. Worms are most likely to cause more serious problems for puppies or old dogs.
What do dog worms look like?
You can rarely tell if your dog has worms just by looking at its poo. Most adult worms are barely visible, so you can't easily detect them by inspecting your dog's droppings. You may see worms once they've been treated and killed with a worming product. The eggs of worms can only be seen under microscopic examination.
How to treat worms in dogs
You can easily treat worms with a worming tablet or a spot-on treatment. You'll be able to buy these from supermarkets or pet stores. It's very important that you only buy approved medication that's made for dogs. Vets can also prescribe the correct worming treatment, but only after they've examined and weighed your dog. After the medication has been dispensed, the vet may ask you to take your dog back for a check-up (usually every 6-12 months). If you have any doubts, or if your dog has lost weight or seems generally unwell, speak to your vet for advice.
How often should you worm dogs?
You normally need to worm your dog every three months, but it does vary between worming products. You should also regularly use a flea treatment to prevent tapeworms (fleas carry tapeworm eggs).
If your dog catches worms despite regular worming, you'll need to talk to your vet about changing the routine.
Puppies also need to be wormed more regularly. According to PDSA, they should start being wormed at approximately two weeks old, every two weeks, until they're 16 weeks old. If you're buying a puppy, find out what worming routine the breeder has been following, but also consult your vet.
Can you catch worms from dogs?
You can catch worms from dogs, but it's very rare. It tends to only happen when young children play in areas where dogs have gone to the toilet. They can get infected poo on their hands. If you have small kids, make sure you're careful where they play. And if you have a dog, regularly worm them.
If your dog is infected with worms, you'll need to be really strict with hygiene in the home and garden. For example, cleaning up any poo, washing the dog's bottom, disinfecting where the dog has gone to the toilet and washing your hands thoroughly afterwards.
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