Taking a closer look at worms

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Worms are disgusting. As pet owners, none of us like the idea of these parasites infecting our dogs and cats. The reality though is that many of us lead extremely busy lives, and it’s easy to forget your pet’s deworming routine.

Let’s take a closer look at the most common of these nasty organisms. As they say, it’s good to know your enemy – and if you know just how horrible they are, it won’t be so easy to forget to get rid of them!

Tapeworms

The tapeworm is a segmented flatworm that makes himself comfortable in the small intestine of his host. From here he helps himself to the food that your cat or dog ingests, which leads to your pet suffering deprivation of the important vitamins and minerals that he needs to stay healthy.

Your dog or cat can become infected with tapeworms by swallowing fleas that are infected with tapeworm larvae or by eating an infected carcass. The larvae will hatch once ingested and attach themselves to the intestinal wall.

Roundworms

The roundworm looks like a tiny piece of spaghetti and is light brown or white in colour. Older animals as well as puppies and kittens are at risk, as young animals may already be infected in the womb or through the mother’s milk. Your older animal can get roundworms from eating the faeces of an infected animal, which may contain roundworm eggs. The eggs will hatch in the intestines, from where they migrate to the liver and lungs. Roundworm infestation causes diarrhoea or constipation, stunted growth, vomiting, dehydration and a bloated belly.

Whipworms

This worm’s name comes from the way he is shaped, with a thick posterior and thin anterior. Your dog can become a host for whipworms if he ingests eggs from infected faeces. The eggs will hatch in the dog’s large intestine where they will grow into maturity, attached to the lining of the large intestine. Infestation can possibly cause diarrhoea, anaemia and dehydration.

Whipworms are rarely contracted by cats.

Hookworms

Like with the roundworm, puppies and kittens can contract hookworms in the womb, but the larvae can also enter your dog or cat by simply penetrating the skin or footpads. These vile creatures then make their way to your pet’s intestinal wall, where they will start feasting on his blood. This can lead to anaemia, bleeding and diarrhoea. If you notice blood in your dog or cat’s stool, pale gums or weight loss, it’s best to get the animal to the vet, who will be able to detect hookworm eggs under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.

Spirocerca lupi

This reddish-pink creature lives in the dog’s oesophagus, where it forms a nodule. It is possible for more than one nodule to form, each of which can contain numerous worms.

An intermediate host, a type of dung beetle, ingests the eggs. The life cycle will later continue in the dog, the definitive host, and takes about six months. Once ingested, the larvae penetrate the stomach wall and migrate up the arteries to the aorta, where they develop further, and then end up in the oesophagus.

Dogs react differently to the nodules, with some showing signs of severe irritation even with small nodules, whereas other dogs may show no symptoms until the nodules are large. Look out for symptoms like gagging, swallowing, retching, fever, joint pain, coughing and difficulty breathing. The nodules can become cancerous with time.

Scooting in dogs

At times some dogs display scooting behaviour. This means that they slide their bottoms across the floor or carpet, and often the owner will think that this is due to worms. While it is true that tapeworms can cause anal itching, anal discomfort can also be caused by your dog’s anal glands. These glands, which are located just inside the anus, can become blocked and will need to be expressed. Your vet can do this quickly and easily – he can even teach you to do it yourself!

It is unpleasant to see your dog scooting, but remember that he is only doing it because he is very uncomfortable! So do not scold him, and rather ask your vet for advice.

Tip

When you deworm your pets, remember to deworm yourself and your family as well. Your pharmacist will be able to recommend a product.

Prevention

While a regular deworming routine is not negotiable, doing the following will help stop the parasites in their tracks:

  • Make sure to take your pet for an annual check-up at the vet.
  • Remember to regularly treat for fleas.
  • Don’t allow your dog or cat to eat the carcass of another animal.
  • Keep your garden or your cat’s litterbox free from faeces.
  • Make sure that your pet’s bedding stays clean.