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Intestinal worms in Dogs & Cats

Intestinal worms in Dogs & Cats

Regular de-worming for pets is an important part of their care. Worm infection in severe cases can cause illness and death to pets especially puppies and kittens, as well as being a zoonotic risk – meaning that they can infect humans as well! Which worms can our pets catch and how do they affect them?

What are intestinal worms?


Intestinal worms are parasites that usually live within the intestines of pets living off the pet's blood or the nutrients inside the intestines. They can cause different signs depending on the location of their attachment as well as the age and health status of the pet. 

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The most common worms affecting dogs and cats are:

  • Hookworm
  • Whipworm (dogs only)
  • Roundworm 
  • Tapeworms, including the flea tapeworm and the hydatid tapeworm 

Pets can catch intestinal worms in different ways, including via fleas (in the case of the flea tapeworm); via faeces of other pets and animals including sheep or kangaroos; from their mother’s milk or through the placenta in utero; or from the soil and surrounding environment. 

Intestinal worms have potential to be transmitted to humans, with children being at higher risk of catching worms from pets than adults. People can catch hookworm through accidentally ingesting the larvae or from contaminated ground. They may become infected with tapeworm by accidentally ingesting tapeworm eggs. The hydatid tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus) can cause severe illness in humans. 

Who is affected?

Any dog or cat can be infected with intestinal worms. But puppies and kittens are most at risk of becoming sick due to these internal parasites. 

According to PetSure data, pets are most likely to present to the vet with worms under 2 years of age.  

Signs of intestinal worms

The signs of intestinal worms can vary depending on the type of worm and the age and immune status of the pet. Sometimes, you may even see worm segments wiggling around on your pet’s stools! If a pet is unwell for another reason, they may be more likely to be seriously affected by intestinal worms than a very healthy pet. 

Therefore, these signs are more commonly seen in puppies and kittens and are less commonly seen in healthy adult pets. 

Worm Type

Symptoms

Hookworm

Diarrhoea with blood, lethargy, “potbellied” appearance, anaemia. Can cause death.

Whipworm

Dogs only. Diarrhoea with blood and mucous, straining to defecate. 

Roundworm

Vomiting, lethargy, diarrhoea, “potbellied” appearance, failure to thrive in puppies and kittens. Can cause death.  

Tapeworm

“Scooting” (itchy bottom), weight loss, diarrhoea, vomiting, worm segments on stool or around pets’ bottom. 

Because healthy adult pets can have worms and not show signs, it is very important to maintain a regular schedule of worm treatment so that your pet does not become overrun by them, and so that your family and other pets don’t catch them. 

If you suspect your pet may have worms or is suffering from the above signs, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your vet for advice.

Management of intestinal worms  

Preventing worms in pets is the best option to ensure that you and your family are protected against them. 

This means regular worming with a reputable brand of intestinal worming product to the schedule that your vet recommends. For adult pets, this generally means administering quarterly worming prevention. Not all products treat tapeworm, so check the product label carefully as you may need a separate product for tapeworms. If in doubt, speak to your vet who will be able to recommend an appropriate worming product for your pet. 

In cases where a pet is sick due to intestinal worms, management relies on administering an appropriate anthelmintic (antiparasitic medications), as well as supportive care to manage the symptoms.

In very serious cases, pets may be anaemic and blood transfusions or other emergency treatments may be recommended. 

How much does it cost to treat?

According to PetSure claims data in 2020 (calendar year), the average, single treatment cost relating to intestinal worms was $265, with the highest, single treatment cost being $2974.

References: 

  1. Virbac Australia, Intestinal worms in dogs and cats, Accessed on 27 November 2020
  2. Advantage Petcare, Intestinal worms in dogs: Get the facts, Accessed on 27 November 2020

Disclaimer: Reimbursement for these claims would be subject to limits, such as annual benefit limits or sub-limits, benefit percentage, applicable waiting periods and any applicable excess. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider.

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Kylie Mitchell is a veterinarian with over 17 years experience in animal health and welfare, including in the veterinary and pet insurance industries

She has three rescue cats (Noah, Bei Bei and Meeka), four very old cockatiels and a pond-full of fish.

Kylie's pets

Noah
Noah
Bei Bei
Bei Bei
Meeka
Meeka