Everything You Need to Know about Worms in Dogs and Cats
Intestinal worms aren’t just a nuisance that can cause your dog or cat discomfort. They can pose health risks for your pet ranging from mild to serious. Knowing how your pet can be exposed to intestinal parasites and how to treat current problems is important to help reduce the risk to your pet.
What Kinds of Intestinal Worms Do Dogs and Cats Get?
The most common types of worms in cats and dogs are tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms and whipworms (mainly dogs). Even indoor cats can be at risk for worms. Read on to learn how pets and people can pick up worms and how to know if your cat or dog has worms.
- What are the symptoms of hookworms?: Adult animals may not show any symptoms, but in younger animals, anemia and diarrhea containing blood may occur.
- How do dogs and cats get hookworms?: Hookworms can be picked up if your pet eats or walks on soil containing hookworm larvae, or if your pet hunts a rodent infected with hookworms.
- How can people get hookworms?: If people walk barefoot over soil containing hookworm larvae, the larvae can burrow into the skin and cause intense itching.
- What are the symptoms of roundworms?: Adult dogs and cats may show no obvious signs, but puppies and kittens can be more severely affected. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and poor coat condition, and young animals may have a potbelly and slow growth.
- How do dogs and cats get roundworms?: Infected pets pass roundworm eggs through their feces, which find their way into the soil, where other pets are at risk of eating the eggs and restarting the cycle. Pregnant dogs and cats infected with roundworms can pass the worms to their offspring, and pets that hunt rodents may also pick up worms by eating infected critters.
- How can people get roundworms?: If people accidentally swallow these eggs, the larvae of this parasite can travel in our bodies and cause disease.
- What are the symptoms of tapeworms?: Most pets don’t show any clinical signs of a tapeworm infestation, though dogs may show signs such as scooting, irritation around the anus and unexplained weight loss. In cats, weight loss, tapeworm segments around the anus and consistent vomiting can all be signs.
- How do dogs and cats get tapeworms?: Segments containing eggs are released from the worm and pass out into the pet’s feces. The most common tapeworm is called the “flea tapeworm,” and as its name suggests, it is contracted when pets swallow infected adult fleas.
- How can people get tapeworms?: Though rare, if a human swallows an infected flea, they can get tapeworm.
Whipworm affects dogs; whipworm infections are rare in cats in North America. Whipworms resemble whips, with a thicker front end and a longer, thinner back end. This worm infects adult dogs more often than puppies.
- What are the symptoms of whipworm?: If low numbers of worms are present, pets may not show symptoms. In heavy infestations, the worms cause damage to the intestines with their whip-like tails, which can lead to diarrhea containing blood.
- How do dogs get whipworm?: Pets prone to rummaging in the soil can accidentally ingest whipworm eggs that have leeched into the ground from an infected animal’s feces.
- How can people get whipworm?: Dog whipworm is not considered a zoonotic threat; in other words, there is little risk of catching this parasite from your pet.
What Are the Long-term Effects of Worms in Cats and Dogs?
Because worms are parasites that feed on your pet’s nutrients and, in some cases, their blood, cats can develop a host of health problems, such as anemia. In severe cases of worm infestations, the worms can block the intestines, causing very serious health issues. In rare cases, worms can be fatal, especially for kittens. Learn more about deworming kittens in our handy guide.
For dogs, puppies are most at risk for long-term negative effects from worms. Growing puppies infected with a large number of roundworms may experience stunted growth, digestive issues including excessive gas, and a pot-bellied appearance. Dogs and puppies may also suffer from anemia or eczema due to hookworms.
CONCERNED ABOUT HEARTWORMS?
They can infect your pet, too, but are not intestinal worms. Rather, they live in your cat's or dog's lungs and heart. Visit our heartworm education section for more information about deadly heartworm disease.
How to Help Prevent Worms in Dogs and Cats
Deworming your dog or cat is recommended to help protect them from the potentially harmful effects of intestinal parasites. There are a variety of effective dewormers, including tablets and spot-on treatments, available at specialty pet stores or through your vet.
Regularly deworming your pet is by far the best way to avoid an infection, but you can also help reduce the risk by:
- Regularly disinfecting litter trays
- Washing your cat’s or dog’s bedding as often as possible
- Regularly treating your pet for fleas, which can carry tapeworm eggs
You should also ensure children wash their hands thoroughly if they’ve been in a yard cats or dogs have access to. This is because roundworms can potentially infect humans. In rare cases, larvae can migrate to the eyes, which can lead to blindness — particularly in children.
By taking the proper preventive measures and knowing how to recognize the signs of worms in your pet, you can make sure your dog or cat spends less time dealing with the discomfort of having worms — and more time going for walks, playing with toys and spending quality time with your family.