There are two broad categories of worms that may affect our pet dogs and cats, intestinal worms and heartworms.
Worming is one of the first health care issues pet owners need to address as puppies and kittens are the most susceptible. As their name suggests, intestinal worms are parasites that live inside your pet’s intestines, but can also travel to other parts of the body in some cases. These worms range in size from small to surprisingly large (up to 18cm in length). Regardless of their size however, they all have negative, and potentially deadly effects.
Most species of animal, as well as humans, can be infected with intestinal worms including dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, fish, birds and reptiles. Common intestinal worms in Australian pets are:
If your pet has a large number of worms it may find it difficult to maintain body condition and it can lose weight. In some cases it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and even anaemia (a low red blood cell level). Occasionally, heavy intestinal worm burdens can cause death.
Worms sometimes have complex lifecycles which involve a period of existence and development outside your pet. Understanding the life cycle of a specific worm is important so that strategies for treatment and prevention can be designed and implemented. For instance, some tapeworms need to pass through fleas to complete their lifecycle, so flea prevention is an important method of controlling tapeworms.
Below are some tips to consider regarding worm prevention:
- Promptly clean up pet faeces
- Practice good hygiene, always encourage children to wash their hands regularly (especially after playing in dirt or sandpits, playing with pets or prior to eating)
- Prevent children from playing where the soil may be contaminated
- Keep your pet's environment clean
- Always dispose of dog faeces in designated recepticals when in public parks and playgrounds
Heartworm, or Dirofilaria immitis, is a parasite that is spread by mosquitoes, so your pet does not even need to be in contact with other pets to become infected!
Heartworm has a complicated life cycle. Infected dogs have microfilaria, an immature form of heartworm, circulating in their bloodstream. Microfilariae are sucked up by mosquitoes when feeding on the blood of infected dogs. The immature parasite develops into a heartworm larva inside the mosquito, then a single bite from a carrier mosquito can infect your pet (dog or cat).
As the worms mature in the heart they can cause a physical blockage as well as thickening of the heart and associated blood vessels. In the early stages of infection there may be no visible signs, however, infection may eventually lead to signs of heart failure (reluctance to exercise, lethargy, coughing) and even death.
Thankfully, heartworm can be easily prevented and should form part of your pet health care routine. Treatment is available in the form of tablets, chews, spot-on's and even an annual injection for dogs, often given at the same time as vaccination. If your pet has not been on heartworm prevention we strongly recommend a heartworm test prior to starting a prevention program, followed by a repeat test 6 months after commencing.
Please call us to discuss an intestinal worming program for your pet.