Icky as it may sound, worms are part-and-parcel of owning pets. Animals tend to sniff, lick and taste most things they come into contact with, especially in the garden. And when it comes to dogs, we all know they love to get up close and personal with each other’s butts, too – a common place to find worms!

All of this leads to your pets picking up worm eggs, which can hatch and grow inside their gastrointestinal tract. As for baby animals, they tend to contract worms from their moms, via the placenta and milk. Animals who hunt and eat raw prey can contract worms this way.

The good news is that if you deworm your pets regularly, these creepy critters shouldn’t be an issue in your – or your furbaby’s – life.

Worms and deworming in puppies and kittens

Worms are extremely common in puppies and kittens. During the growth phase of their lives, baby animals are extremely susceptible to worm infestations, and as mentioned, can contract them from drinking their mother’s milk. This means all puppies and kittens need to be dewormed, and it’s vital when adopting a baby pet that you find out when last s/he was treated, and with which product.

Ideally, puppies and kittens should be dewormed regularly as babies – most will be dewormed several times in this phase, specifically at two, four, six, nine and 12 weeks of age, then again at six and 12 months. Usually, your vet will simply deworm your pet at each of his or her vaccinations.

Deworming adult dogs and cats

Worm control is also important in adult pets. In a low-risk environment, you should be doing this at least twice a year for the most common worms.

Read more: The killer worm in South Africa: Spirocerca Lupi

If your cat hunts a lot, or your dog tends to gobble up everything in sight, chat to your vet. S/he will be able to advise you on the frequency with which you should be deworming your pet, and which products are best to use. It may be that you should be treating your pet every three to four months – and this may also apply in homes that have multiple pets. The more pets in your home, the greater the chance of worm infestations and the more regularly you may need to treat.

Finally, if you have a new furry addition to the family, you must find out about his or her deworming history. New pets should have a vaccination and deworming booklet that provides this information, and if they don’t, you shouldn’t automatically trust that they’ve been vaccinated and treated for worms. Rather, take your new baby to your vet ASAP for professional advice and treatment.

Read more: Don’t procrastinate, vaccinate! The vet’s guide to vaccinating your pets

Common worms in dogs and cats

Here are the nasty critters your pets are most likely to encounter:

  • Roundworm: long, thin spaghetti-like and easily visible. These worms consume your pet’s food from within their intestinal tract
  • Hookworm: microscopic. These worms reside in the intestinal tract and live off your pet’s blood. In severe infestations, anaemia can set in.
  • Tapeworm: these eggs look a bit like grains of rice, and are commonly spotted around your pet’s anus or in their faeces. Tapeworm is contracted from fleas, and these worms consume your pet’s food from within the gut. Tapeworm can be spread from animals to people.

Clinical signs of a severe worm infestation

If your pet displays any of these symptoms, get them to your vet as soon as possible:

  • Round, bloated and/or distended belly
  • Weight loss or being underweight
  • Rough, unhealthy-looking coat
  • Occasional diarrhoea
  • Pale gums
  • Lack of growth despite eating well
  • Blood in the stool
  • Decrease in or loss of appetite
  • Coughing

Important:many pets can appear perfectly healthy even though they have worms. That’s why it’s important to treat them for infestations according to a schedule recommended by your vet.

Can I contract worms?

Yes, worms can be transmitted from pets to humans, but they’re as easy to treat in humans as they are in pets. Usually, just a single tablet is needed – you can get this from your doctor or pharmacist.

You can help keep your family safe from worms by:

  • Regularly deworming your pets
  • Washing your hands after touching or playing with your pets, particularly if you’ve come into contact with their saliva
  • If you grow your own vegetables, try to keep your pets clear of the area, so that they don’t urinate or defecate on your produce. Erecting a fence is a great way to do this. Also be sure to wash all homegrown veggies thoroughly before eating.
  • Avoid feeding raw offal or other raw meat to your pets
  • Deworm all your pets and all family members at the same time, and do it regularly, even if there doesn’t necessarily appear to be a worm infestation.

Is it safe to buy deworming medication at my local supermarket?

We don’t recommend this. It’s far better to get your deworming meds from your vet or a specialised vet shop, as these are far superior to regular grocery store products, and will safely destroy all types of worms in your pets.

For medication for yourself and your family, pop into your pharmacy or ask your doctor.

Many deworming products bought from supermarkets are inferior quality and don’t work as well as the kind you’ll get from your vet or a specialised vet shop. Often, they won’t kill the more serious strains, like tapeworm.

Deworm, be happy!

Keeping your pets and your family free of worms is an integral part of owning a pet – and it’s an easy thing to do, too. Chat to your local vet for the right solution for you.

Don’t worm your way out of deworming your pets – it’s for their benefit and yours!

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