If there’s one topic that can make even the most learned fur parent’s skin crawl and stomach turn, it’s worms.
Pesky intestinal worms like hookworm, roundworm, whipworm and tapeworm can pose a danger to the pets you love and threaten the health of your family.
It’s not the most pleasant thing to talk about, but understanding how pets contract worms will go a long, long way in preventing initial infection and protecting your family. Regular worming with a tablet, like Milbemax, is crucial, but there are other little environmental and hygiene switches that make a big difference too.
We spoke to Elanco’s Technical Veterinary Manager and practicing vet Dr Claude Stanislaus to get the low-down.
Where is your pet most likely to get worms?
Now this gets a little gross – but the most common way pets become infected with worms is by ingesting poo that contains worm eggs or larvae that are at the infecting stage.
Despite this, Claude says this isn’t limited to direct contact. Faecal residue left on grass after it’s been cleaned up can still pose a threat. As can eggs that become embedded in your pet’s fur, which can contaminate humans and other dogs.
“Higher risk areas include dog parks and kennels. Dog parks are probably the number one place because even though you’re encouraged to pick up after your dog it doesn’t happen all the time,” he says.
“Walks can also be a risk factor – but compared to dog parks there is much less risk of infection. Your backyard can pose a risk too, even if you’re very good at cleaning up.”
Although the above works for roundworm, hookworm and whipworm in dogs, cats don't get whipworm, and flea tapeworms are passed on differently.
A flea larvae will ingest a tapeworm egg and then infection occurs when your dog or cat accidentally eats the adult flea - something that is quite common during grooming. And contrary to common belief, flea control alone does not stop your dog or cat from becoming infected with flea tapeworm.
Hydatid tapeworms can also be passed onto dogs (luckily not cats) if they eat infected offal, and while they're relatively harmless to dogs, they can be fatal in humans if they accidentally ingest hydatid tapeworm eggs from the environment.
Can worms be passed onto humans?
The short answer is yes, and while not frequent, they can pose serious consequences.
"We don’t want to go around scare-mongering people - it’s not a massive amount of people that get infected but it does happen and the consequences can be quite dire," says Claude.
He lists the most serious one as the hydatid tapeworm, which can travel to the brain, liver or lung. Roundworm can pass from the intestinal wall to the blood stream and can cause blindness if it lodges itself in the eye, and hookworm larvae can travel through skin and will result in an infection that while "painful and itchy" generally resolves by itself. But like with any disease, people should always seek professional medical advice if they think they have become infected.
Children can be especially vulnerable to infection and this happens in more ways than you might think.
"A dog could lick a child's ice-cream and then the child eats that remainder of the ice-cream that now has been contaminated with worm eggs," he lists as one way.
"Eggs can also stick to a dog's fur when they’re rolling around in the grass and a child could then cuddle the dog and not wash their hands and put their hands in their mouth and get infected that way as well."
"Another way is through sandpits – cats in particular like to use sandpits as toilets. Dogs too, but less so," he says.
For us new fur baby owners, it's important to note that worms are more common in puppies than in kittens. Adult cats and dogs don't typically show symptoms as they build up a tolerance as they get older.
"That’s why we recommend worming puppies from two, four, eight and 12 weeks of age. It’s a really frequent worming protocol because they’re more susceptible," he says.
Claude says owners should remain vigilant though, adding: "If adult dogs have a really heavy burden of hookworm or whipworm they can get such bad diarrhoea or bloody diarrhoea that they become anaemic. It's a pretty extreme scenario but there are cases of dogs dying."
How can you best protect your pets and family?
Committing to a regular worming schedule is crucial, Claude says. For both dogs and cats, it takes just one Milbemax tablet every three months to help protect against hookworm, roundworm and tapeworm (whipworm, for dogs only).
In good news for us humans, it reduces the risk of the worms being passed onto family members, too. Phew.
"Worming is really important because it makes sure you’re killing the worms regularly so that they’re not reproducing and laying eggs in the environment, but it's not the complete picture," he adds. "You also need to give an equal weight to cleaning your environment and hygiene practices. These all work towards reducing environmental contamination and infection of both pets and humans."
For dog owners this means cleaning up after your pets while on walks and trips to the dog park - which your fellow pet parents will love you for.
Similarly, at home, keeping your garden free of dog faeces, and washing your hands after pet cuddles and before eating are all simple steps that reduce the risk of contamination and infection.
Because when it comes to worms, prevention is simply the best protection.
Have you had any icky run-ins with worms infecting your pets and what are your best worm prevention tips? Tell us in a comment!
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner Milbemax.
Milbemax provides broad-spectrum protection for pets, both dogs and cats, from intestinal worms. It comes in a small, easy to give tablet that ensures maximum protection against internal parasites for 3 months.
Many pet owners know they need to protect their pet from intestinal worms however most don’t necessarily understand what they are or where they come from. Intestinal worms don’t always cause major problems but some of them can be particularly harmful to both your pet and family over the long term. It is important that pet owners protect both their pet and their family with Milbemax.