Worming your dog


Worming your dog - the types of worms that can affect your dog, how to treat and prevent worms...

All dogs are likely to suffer from worms at some point in their life, it's important to know all about them.

Bringing up the subject of worms in your dog conjures up all manner of unpleasant images, and, let's face it, we'd rather not talk about them. But even though they make the most hardened stomachs squirm, the issue of worms needs to be thought about. All dogs are likely to play host to these unpleasant parasites at some point in their lives, and they can cause serious problems.

Types of worms that affect dogs

There are two main types of worm that affect dogs: roundworms and tapeworms:

  • Roundworms look like strands of spaghetti and can reach up to 20cm in length. They live on partially digested food in the dog's bowel, and adults release microscopic eggs that are passed out into the environment in the dog's faeces. If a dog sniffs, licks, or plays in an area containing contaminated faeces the eggs can be picked up on his muzzle and paws and then ingested.
  • Tapeworms have distinctive, flat segments and are found in the dog's intestines. Tapeworm eggs need to be eaten by an intermediate host, such as a flea, and when a dog swallows the host he becomes infected. All worms cause health risks, not only to your dog, but other dogs and people too - which is why it is so important to worm your dog regularly.

Lungworm is a parasite carried by slugs and snails; it's been present in the UK for around 30 years but until fairly recently was mainly confined to certain parts of Cornwall and Wales. It has now spread around the UK and more owners are becoming aware of it. Speak to your vet about treatments and tactics to avoid your dog getting lungworm.

Parasites within infected slugs and snails that are eaten by a dog develop into adult worms, which live in the heart and arteries of the lungs; larvae that are passed out in the dog's faeces are eaten by other slugs and snails and so the cycle continues.

As well as warmer temperatures being thought to be partially to blame for the spread, foxes may be responsible too, as slugs and snails form an important part of their diet and urban populations of foxes are on the increase.

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How to spot if your dog has worms

By the time your dog shows signs of worms it means that there is already an infestation. Signs include:

  • Weight loss and being visibly underweight.
  • Worms in faeces, vomit, or around the anus.
  • Bottom scooting.
  • Hunger.
  • Flaky skin.
  • Dull coat.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Vomiting.

Even if there are no obvious signs your dog has worms, don't wait for symptoms of infection to appear before you do anything about worms - by the time this stage has been reached, he'll have a heavy infestation and the worms will be doing their damage. A preventative strategy is as important as some form of regularly administered worming treatment; such preventative measures include scooping your dog's poo, both out on walks and in your garden, to help minimise contamination. Try also to prevent your dog from scavenging, regularly wash his bedding, and keep an eye out for fleas.

Less common signs include:

  • Coughing.
  • Skin disease.
  • Constipation.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Reccurring infections.
  • Lethargy, weakness, or swelling of the limbs.

How to prepare and prevent worms

A preventative strategy is a much more effective way of combating worms, as once your dog shows signs of an infestation these wrigglers will already be doing their damage.

When a wormer is given it will rid your dog of any worms in his digestive tract. However, it won't prevent reinfection so it's important to have a year-round programme in place. Frequency of worming will depend on the product you use, the age of your dog, and his lifestyle.

Puppies are wormed every two to three weeks, from two weeks until 12 weeks old, then monthly until six months old, and then every three months should be sufficient. If your dog likes to scavenge, if you live in an area with a high risk of infestation, or have young children you may need to worm your dog more regularly.

Scoop your dog's poo

As worm eggs leave your dog's body in his faeces it is important to pick up your dog's poo. If you don't, another dog can come into contact with it and pick up worms. Be quick and thorough, as even if every trace of faeces has disappeared, the eggs can remain in grass or soil for up to two years. Remember to pick up poo in your garden as well.

Stop your dog from scavenging

If your dog likes to scavenge, keep an eye on him as he can pick up worms from other animals' faeces, and from the carcasses of animals such as birds and rabbits. If you struggle to control your dog's scavenging habits a muzzle may be the answer when out on walks. As tapeworms commonly come from fleas it is important that your dog is treated for fleas regularly. Treat him for these when you worm him.

Treatment for worms

There are many types of treatment for worms, including pastes, syrups, spot-ons, tablets, granules, and liquids. Your vet will help you decide which is best for your dog and your situation. Worming products are available from your vet and pet shops or supermarkets.

Tablets: These can be given whole concealed in a treat such as chicken or cheese, or ground and hidden in food. There are now tablets available which combat roundworm and tapeworm in one dose.

Granules: Some dogs will refuse tablets and so granules are an easier method. They can be mixed into your dog's food, but make sure he finishes his dinner.

Worming tips

1. Worm all dogs in the household at the same time.

2. Make notes on your calendar of when treatments are due so that you don't forget.

3. Store wormers safely out of reach of children and animals.

4. Always wash your hands after using a worming product.

5. Always read the manufacturer's instructions.

Did you know?
  • Victorian ladies swallowed tapeworms to help them lose weight!
  • Tapeworm segments which pass out in your dog's faeces look like grains of rice, but look closer and you'll see them moving.
  • Other types of worms in dogs include the hookworm, whipworm, heartworm, and lungworm.
  • Female roundworms can produce up to 200,000 eggs a day.

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