What are worms?


"Worms" is a very broad term for a range of parasites that can infect an animal (or humans in some cases). Although when talking about worms we are mainly talking about intestinal parasites (roundworms and tapeworms), there are also species that can exist in the lungs and airways (Lungworm) and (although not yet  a problem in the UK), there are even parasites that infect the heart and bloodstream (Heartworm).



How can worms cause a problem?


Often animals can have a worm infection without it causing a problem. However in very young or very old animals, those animals that are ill or those that have a particularly heavy infection, a variety of signs and problems can be caused.


  • Roundworms: are the main worms that can cause problems. Infections with roundworms can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss, poor coat, distended ("pot") belly.   Puppies and kittens are usually born with roundworm infections (passed to them from their mother whilst still in the womb).


  • Tapeworms: are less of a direct health problem but can still be a nuisance for the animal. If your animal has a tapeworm infection your may see little white tapeworm "segments" sticking around the anus or the animal may drag its bottom along the ground (scooting).


  • Hookworms: these infections don't usually cause a problem, but in rare circumstances can cause some foot problems in adults due to migration of larvae through the skin on the feet.  This problem is not seen often.


  • Whipworms: are again not generally a problem, but with severe infections can cause a nasty diarrhoea. Again this is pretty unusual.


  • Lungworms: may cause breathing problems due to both their presence and the damage they cause to the respiratory tract. They can also cause some unusual symptoms such as clotting problems, tummy aches or even seizures.



Certain worms (such as the roundworm Toxocara) can infect people or farm animals who come into contact with contaminated faeces!



How are worm infections caused?


The method of infection varies not only between families of worms, but also individual species.  Broadly speaking, the lifecycle of worms usually consists of adult worms laying eggs, which then hatch into young larvae which then go on to grow into adult worms - thus completing the cycle. Adults tend to live in the animal's intestines where they will lay eggs which are inevitably passed in the faeces. Once out in the open either the eggs or the larvae can be ingested back into a new animal. However before the larvae develop into adults they often migrate around the animal.


Therefore transmission can be one of several ways:


FAECO-ORAL -the animal becomes infected by ingesting eggs or larvae that have originated from an infected animals faeces. This doesn't necessarily mean the animal has to "eat poo"! Eggs can be picked up on the skin and later ingested by grooming.


ORAL -  can occur if an animals eats another animal that may be infected or contain encysted larva. For example if a cat eats a mouse that has larval cysts inside it, or if a dog scavenges offal from an infected sheep. This route of infection is called "Paratenic"  transmission.


MATERNAL - some species of worm can be transmitted to young offspring. This can either occur directly from the mother in the womb, or can also occur through the milk.


OTHER - the common household flea can transmit a tapeworm (called Dipylidium) to dogs and cats when its bites.




What can be done to prevent my animals from getting worms?


Many intestinal worms in dog and cats are spread by their faeces/poo.It is very difficult to completely stop your animal getting worms, and so for this reason it is important to get your animal treated for worm on a regular basis to ensure that there is not a serious build up of parasites which can then go on to cause problems. Unlike a lot of medicines, the drugs used for worming don't tend to have a residual action - in other words a couple of days after an animal has been wormed, the drug will have gone and potentially the level of parasites can begin to build up again.


As a result of this, it is recommended that all animals are wormed every 3-4 months against both roundworms and tapeworms.



What can be done to reduce the risk of human problems associated with worms?



It must be stressed that human problems associated with worms are rare, but this does not mean that we should ignore them. Certain practices should be undertaken to help reduce the chance of any problems:


  • First and foremost, ensure that your animals are wormed regularly and with a suitable wormer
  • Always wash hands after being in areas where dogs and cats have been (parks and gardens etc). This  is especially so for children and the elderly.
  • Always wash vegetables before cooking.
  • Be responsible with animal faeces. Always try to pick up and dispose of animal faeces safely.
  • Pregnant ladies should be extra-careful. Try to avoid picking up dog-mess or cleaning out litter trays.




What are the best wormers to use?


There are a lot of worming drugs to choose from ranging from "over-the-counter" treatments to prescription only drugs.  A lot of the non-prescription drugs are quite old, and therefore there is some resistance around. Also wormers may not treat all worms - i.e. you may be treating tapeworms without treating for roundworms.  If in doubt you should always talk to a vet or veterinary nurse who will be able to advise you.


The prescription drugs are very effective and also come in a variety of forms that should help with the administration of the drug - often a big complaint with pet owners! These days wormers can be given as:


  • Tablets
  • Granules to mix into the food
  • Liquid to mix into the food or squirt into the mouth
  • Paste to mix into the food or squirt into the mouth
  • Injections
  • Drops to be placed on the skin (this is particularly useful for naughty cats!)



Prescription drugs can only be obtained via your veterinary surgeon, and we are happy to supply them to you without the need for a specific consultation.  Please contact our repeat prescription service to obtain your wormers.




24hr Emergency Service

For Registered Clients

Find Us

259 Bilton Road, Rugby,

CV22 7EQ

Call Us

01788 812650








Monday to Friday





08.00 AM to 19.00 PM


08.00 AM to 12.00 PM



click here for our consulting times



259 Bilton Road, Rugby

Warwickshire, CV22 7EQ


01788 812650

01788 522439

 Copyright © 2011-2017 Bilton Veterinary Centre.

Company Reg No 05143483

Call Us

01788 812650

Find Us

259 Bilton Road, Rugby, CV22 7EQ

24hr Emergency Service

For Registered Clients