Worms in dogs and cats: Myths vs. facts

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Think you know worms? Get the facts about intestinal worms in your dog or cat.

Worms are common parasites in cats and dogs, but how much do you really know about them? These common myths and corresponding facts will help you understand dog and cat worms, as well as the dangers they pose, the signs to look out for and how to keep your pet and family protected.

Myth: My indoor pets can’t get worms.


Fact: Your dog or cat can catch worms anywhere – even if they spend most of their time indoors.

  • Pets can catch worms anywhere – from paddocks and parks to backyards and beaches. Worms are carried by wildlife, farm animals and insects. They sometimes even turn up in undercooked meat.
  • Cats and dogs can become infected with intestinal worms in a number of ways. Puppies and kittens can be infected with worms through their mother’s milk when suckling.
  • Pets can be infected when they accidently swallow microscopic worm eggs or larvae (e.g. while grooming or playing with a toy).
  • Some worms can infect pets by directly penetrating their skin. Others can be transferred in the bite of an insect.
  • Pets that hunt and eat animals, including lizards, mice and birds, or scavenge animal carcasses, are at higher risk of many intestinal worms.

Myth: Most worms reproduce slowly and have a complicated life cycle.


Fact: Some worms can produce 200,000 eggs per day within 3-4 weeks of infection.

  • Worm eggs can survive in the environment and remain infectious for several years.
  • Worms in your pet can build up quickly and make them feel quite sick. Some can even be deadly.
  • The signs of infection are not always obvious. Some pets don’t show signs of sickness when carrying worms, but will contaminate their environment with worm eggs in their faeces, putting other animals and humans at risk of disease.

Myth: Only dogs and cats can get worms – not people.


Fact: Worm infestations in your pet can threaten the health of you and your family.

  • Children are most at risk of getting worms from the cat or dog, as they’re often in closest contact with family pets. They also tend to spend a lot of time outside and can pick up worm eggs from contaminated soil.
  • The spread of worms from pets to people can be prevented by taking the following steps:
    1. Make sure everyone washes their hands after play and before eating.
    2. Cover sandpits to prevent animals from defecating in them.
    3. Clean up your pet’s poo from the yard daily.
    4. Treat all pets regularly with an intestinal wormer.

Myth: Heartworms are rarely fatal in dogs.


Fact: Heartworms can kill.

  • Deadly heartworms are transmitted to your dog via infected mosquitoes.
  • Unlike other worms, heartworms travel in the bloodstream and live in the heart and surrounding blood vessels for up to seven years – growing up to 27 cm in length.
  • Symptoms of heartworm in dogs include coughing, weakness, decreased appetite, shortness of breath, swollen abdomen, fainting, tiredness, behavioural changes and sudden death.

Myth: Cats do not need heartworm protection.


Fact: Heartworms can infect both dogs and cats.

  • Cats can become infected with heartworm, and unfortunately it is difficult, costly and takes a long time to treat. Therefore, prevention is essential.
  • Symptoms of heartworm in cats may include weakness, diarrhoea, poor growth, loss of appetite, vomiting, anaemia. However, some infected cats show no signs at all.
  • Heartworm infection in cats can be fatal.

Myth: Lungworms rarely infect cats and aren’t that dangerous.


Fact: Lungworms can be dangerous for cats.

  • Lungworm infection can cause serious health problems in cats and can be fatal.
  • Cats can become infected after eating snails, slugs, earthworms, rodents, birds or reptiles that carry the lungworm parasite.
  • Lungworms damage the lungs, causing breathing difficulties and coughing.
  • Some cats show no symptoms, or only mild symptoms that can be mistaken for hairballs.

Myth: It’s quite difficult to prevent worm infections in dogs and cats.


Fact: You can keep worms at bay by taking the following steps.

  • Clean kennels and your pet’s bedding regularly.
  • Clean up your pet’s poo from the yard and empty cat litter trays daily.
  • Avoid feeding your pet raw meat or offal.
  • Prevent pets from eating rodents, small animals and reptiles.
  • Provide sufficient high-quality food and plenty of alternative activities to fill in their day to reduce your pet’s drive to hunt.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after playing with your pet and before eating.
  • If you have a sandpit make sure it is covered when not in use.

Protect your pets with Advocate™. Pests such as fleas and mosquitoes can transmit worms, but you can keep these parasites under control with regular treatments from the Elanco Animal Health range.

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