The saying goes that the early bird gets the worm, but worms can actually be very bad for all of our pets, and not just dogs and cats. Worms can also affect reptiles, hamsters and birds. But what are worms and what do they mean for our critters?
Worms are essentially parasites that use the animal’s body as its host. There are many types of worms, including heartworms, tapeworms, roundworms and hookworms. The tapeworm is often the one that pet owners know the best since they can view it in their pet’s stool. Animals contract them by eating something like a flea, mouse or lizard that already has the worm.
Roundworm is another common type of worm that affects many animals including dogs, cats and birds. In fact, it is the common intestinal parasite in both dogs and cats. It can be particularly harmful for puppies and kittens because they can contract them from their mother’s milk. These worms then zap vital nutrition away from the baby animals and can lead to blocked intestines.
Worms can cause vomiting and diarrhea in animals and even anemia. With hookworms, the animal’s stool can turn dark and tarry since its absorbing blood.
“Every animal can contract its own type of parasite. That’s why it is so important to get regular health checkups with your veterinarian where they can obtain stool specimens and analyze them to make sure they have not contracted worms. If the animal does have worms, your veterinarian can provide treatment options,” said Terry Tomlin, D.V.M., veterinarian at Town and Country Animal Hospital. “Ask your veterinarian for their recommendations for monthly worm prevention medication. Kittens and puppies should also get on a strict deworming schedule with their vets as well.”
The heartworm is among the most serious of the worms affecting animals since it can grow within the heart and cause lasting damage to the heart and lungs in dogs. In cats it can cause respiratory disease, according to the American Heartworm Society. It is more common on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States because it’s transmitted by mosquitoes.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends pets undergo annual screenings for worms and be given year-round preventative medication that has a broad spectrum that protects against parasites, fleas and ticks. Other tips CAPC has for preventing worms include providing fresh water and commercial cooked pet food as well as covering areas like sandboxes.
Dogs should be kept on a leash when outside and cats should be kept indoors. Caged animals are less likely to contract worms outdoors. Properly dispose of animal waste and avoid handling feces with bare hands. If you suspect that your pet has worms, visit your veterinarian immediately.