Worms and your dog: out of sight and out of mind?

Worms and your dog: out of sight and out of mind?

Worm infestation is a common but often unseen and easily overlooked problem in dogs. It is easy to forget that parasitic worms can cause significant disease in animals and sometimes in people. Over 10 types of parasitic worm are able to infect dogs in the UK and most dogs are exposed to and likely to carry a worm burden at some point. Low burden causes few outward signs and disease caused by parasites ranges from mild to fatal. Risk of infection gives a good reason for effective worm control but increased international travel and potential introduction of more dangerous parasites into the UK, gives more reason than ever to keep your dog protected.

The two major groups of dog worms include:

  • Roundworms. The majority of puppies become infected before birth with “Toxocara” roundworms as up to 98% of worms passed from untreated mothers will infect her pups! Signs of infection range from poor growth and coat condition, to stomach upsets and severe disease, even death, especially in young puppies. Other dog roundworms also infect the skin and small bowel (hookworms), large bowel (whipworms), lungs (lungworms) and even heart and blood vessels (heartworms).
  • Tapeworms. Can be caught from eating contaminated meat or infected fleas or lice during grooming. Signs vary from mild irritation as live tapeworm segments are passed in faeces to anaemia and weight loss with larger burdens.

Dog

Is my dog infected?

The truth is you may not be able to tell if your dog is infected. Signs may be absent or mild if your dog is fit and healthy but can become more significant in young or unwell dogs or those with a large parasitic burden. It is important to worm your dog even if you cannot see external signs as damage may be occurring on the inside. If untreated, your dog will contribute eggs into the environment, making it more likely that other animals or people will become infected.

How did my dog get infected?

Animals pick up worm infection in many ways. Most infection comes from the environment –studies have shown 10% of soil samples in public parks can be positive for roundworms. Roundworm eggs are particularly resistant and given ideal conditions can remain infective for years. Infection can occur via a variety of methods. The Toxocara roundworm passes from the bitch to her puppies in the womb as well as via her milk, hookworm larvae can burrow into the skin and tapeworms are picked up through eating fleas when grooming or from eating or scavenging raw meat, rodents or rabbits. Collecting dog faeces and regular worming are major factors which will reduce the risk of passing on infection to other dogs and people too.

What is the danger to people?

Human infection is a potential risk with several worms affecting dogs. Generally, children have increased risk of infection often with closer dog and environmental contact and greater susceptibility to infection. Once infected, Toxocara larvae migrate causing damage to the organs they travel through, with the eye being particularly susceptible. As a result a number of cases of blindness are diagnosed each year in the UK because of this parasite.

Tapeworm disease in humans involves tapeworm larvae causing cysts in the body and some of these will affect human health.  An important tapeworm from the human health aspect is Echinococcus. One form in the UK (E.granulosus) occurs most commonly in upland sheep areas in the UK. E.multilocularis is an even more serious threat to human health. Whilst currently absent in the UK, it does occur in mainland Europe. Infected humans can get severe disease with 95% risk of death if untreated. Animals travelling under the PETS travel scheme are wormed for this before return into the UK.

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