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What to do about worms this summer – why should I prevent them?

You may wonder if flea and worming prevention is required. Is it a necessary procedure? Will they go away on their own? You may even think your pet is unlikely to catch anything especially if they don’t go out too much. However, the importance of flea and worming prevention is something that shouldn’t be a second thought. It should be something on the top of every pet owner’s list to provide for their pet. If you have a young puppy or kitten, a young child who lives with a dog or a cat, or you are considering getting a pet in the near future, this article is a must read.  We take a look into the main species of the flea and worm parasite, their life cycles, and how as a pet owner you can take charge and manage flea and worms in your pet.  

It is an unwelcomed fact that worms are commonly encountered parasites that can affect your pet companion during their lifetime. They are unpleasant, uncomfortable, yet horribly efficient and can cause worrying symptoms for your pet. Depending on the type of worm species, a range of symptoms can be experienced. Younger pets are more likely to be affected, and sadly the damage these parasites can cause can be life-threatening. Becoming aware now of these parasites, and how you can tackle them, can be extremely valuable. Feel free to share this information with other pet owners you know so as to educate them about life cycles, treatment options and any other ways we can reduce the occurrence of these pesky parasites.

The types of parasites that form worms.

There are three main types of endoparasite that exist and form the type of group that is seen in the veterinary field, or within a vet practice. These are the trematodes, the nematodes and the cestodes.

Trematodes can be referred to as flukes and these tend to affect cattle, sheep and occasionally horses. The two groups that can mostly affect cats and dogs are the Nematode group, (roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, heartworms and lungworms), and the Cestodes group (tapeworms.)


Roundworms are one of the most common intestinal parasites. They are called roundworms because they are round and cylindrical, often referred to by looking like spaghetti. You may have heard your vet talking about the types of roundworms called Toxocara Canis (in dogs), and Toxocara cati (in cats.)

The life cycle of roundworms can be completed in about two months, and eggs from an adult female roundworm can pass in the faeces of infected dogs. Your pet could catch the parasite simply by walking through an area where infected faeces has been present, and then ingesting the parasite after grooming or cleaning themselves.  In a puppy or kitten, the worm larvae can migrate through the tissues of the intestines into the blood vessels and liver, and can also travel through the lungs and oesophagus, causing symptoms like coughing. This larvae can then be swallowed again, repeating the process.  In a senior pet, sometimes the larvae can form cysts within the senior pets organs. These may remain dormant, however some will break out and remain in the small intestines as adult worms. Once settled, the females will start to produce eggs, also repeating the cycle.

If left untreated, these worms can cause blockages, malnutrition and underdevelopment. A regular worming routine at an early age prevents this, which is why flea and worming is so important on our Pet Health Plans.  You can speak to your local veterinary practice about the type of plans they offer including flea and worming treatments. You can also find your local vet practice here.

Lung worms and Heartworms

Lungworms, despite being known by this name can actually be a type of heartworm. The adult worm, which generally is quite short compared to roundworms, lives within the heart and pulmonary artery. They reproduce by laying eggs that hatch into larvae, which then get coughed up, swallowed, and then passed out. The respiratory related symptoms are how the worms got their names.

Slugs and snails can pick up these eggs and larvae, where they then continue to mature. As they gradually move around, they shed matured larvae in their slimy trail. Pets who ingest slugs or snails, or who play with garden toys or water bowls can unknowingly ingest the larvae from the slimy deposits. Signs of these worms can be a mild cough or diarrhoea, or can worsen to clotting abnormalities.  It can be tricky to diagnose and sadly can also be fatal.


The most common tapeworm in domestic dogs and cats, is the Dipylidium caninum, whose host is the flea. The tapeworm is unlikely to produce without the flea being an intermediate host. You may find it is easier to spot tape worms on your pet, as they tend to hang around the pets anus where they are visible to the eye.

Tapeworms are made up of three sections. The head, where they can attach themselves using their hooks, the neck, and then the third section is the rest of the worm that is made up of the segments known as strobilla. The parts of the worm that contains the eggs is called the proglottids. Any eggs that pass out of the proglottids, fall to the ground meaning they can easily be ingested by another creature or wild animal, perhaps a mouse or rat.  Once ingested, they hatch out as larvae and make their way through the circulatory system, eventually forming cysts within the muscles and organs. If this wild animal, or creature, is then eaten by a dog or a cat, as it is raw meat those parasites will be released from the cysts developing into tapeworms in the intestines.

When fleas are involved, their larvae ingest the eggs from within the proglottids, allowing them to mature and develop something called infective cysticercoids. Adult fleas containing the cysticercoids can then be swallowed by your dog or cat, as they try to groom themselves to remove the flea irritation. From this, the adult worm then develops in the intestines and the cycle continues. Prevention and treatment of worms is very important to prevent cysts in livestock, and even humans. Tapeworms in pets have the potential to jump into other animals, like cattle and livestock, creating a risk to the economy.   

Worming – prevention and treatment.

It is essential to always be aware, and make others aware, of the importance of always picking up after your dog when out and about. If dog feaces are not picked up, there is a high risk of them being in areas where children play, or where other cats or dogs go for their walks.  

It can be extremely difficult at times however to completely clean up all dog poo from dogs, and if your cat is particularly outdoorsy, they may choose to toilet in gardens that is not their own. This is why it very recommended to do regular de-worming of all pets.

Outdoor cats who are keen hunters are at a higher risk of catching worms and fleas. You may choose to equip your dog with a muzzle to reduce the chance of ingesting anything when off lead, and cat owners may use collars with bells to make them less successful hunters.

If your pet is around small children, it is also important to advise good hygiene to reduce the risk of ingesting anything after handling animals or playing outside.

Never underestimate the power of flea and worming. Regular worm prevention can stop serious damage being caused. Worm life cycles can be completed in as little as 3 weeks, so speak to your local veterinary practice to risk assess your personal situation, and advise specific recommendations for you.

A Pet Health Plan with your local practice will help you regularly keep on top of these treatments. Many practices now offer convenient, affordable monthly payments to suit your budget.  You can view our list of accredited practices, who offer a Pet Health Plan here.