Last Spring, I started a blog series on parasites with two blogs on fleas and ticks. This year, I am taking you from the most common EXTERNAL parasites to the most common INTERNAL parasites your cats and dogs are faced with as the warmer weather starts to find us, beginning with ROUNDWORMS!
What are roundworms?
Roundworms are the most common gastrointestinal worms we find in dogs and cats. They can grow up to 10-12 centimetres long and have a similar appearance to spaghetti noodles. One roundworm can produce up to 85,000 eggs per day that are shed out in the animal’s feces and spread into the environment, so it is easy to see why these are so commonly spread to our pets. Roundworm infection can cause as little as a dull coat and a pot belly or can lead to severe issues such as an intestinal blockage in high enough numbers and liver damage.
How are roundworms transmitted?
Our pets usually become infected with roundworms by ingesting their eggs. This may be by eating infected feces, infected dirt or water, or an infected animal (such as a mouse). It is also extremely common for puppies and kittens to be born with roundworms from their mother or to ingest roundworm eggs in her milk.
What are symptoms of roundworm infection?
The most obvious sign of a roundworm infection is noticing the actual worms in the pet’s feces or vomit. Other symptoms include a pot-bellied appearance, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, dull coat, colic, weight loss and not eating. The roundworms could also potentially migrate from the intestines to the lungs and cause coughing.
If you suspect your pet has worms, it is best to bring a fresh fecal sample into your local vet clinic to have it microscopically examined for parasite eggs. Once a parasitic infection is confirmed, a proper treatment plan can be established with the veterinarian.
How are roundworms treated?
There are many deworming medications available! Once your veterinarian confirms the diagnosis of roundworm infection, they can choose the best medication for your dog. It is often necessary to give a second dose of the dewormer two weeks or more after the initial dose to finish killing off any stubborn worms that may have stuck around.
It is a good idea to have a fecal sample rechecked after the pet is dewormed to ensure all worms were eliminated.
Since most puppies are born with worms, they are often routinely dewormed as early as 2-3 weeks of age and at their puppy/kitten vaccine appointments at 8, 12 & 16 weeks of age.
How do I prevent my pet from getting roundworms?
It is important to keep your pet’s environment clean and effectively disinfected. Pick up and properly discard of all feces in the yard and the litter box. Prevent your cat or dog from eating small wild animals that may be infected.
Have your pet’s feces regularly checked by your vet. For cats and dogs under 1 year of age, it is recommended to have 2-4 fecal exams per year. For those over a year of age, 1-2 per year is sufficient.
If you are concerned your pet is at high risk for roundworm infection, consult your veterinarian about regular preventative deworming, especially in the spring and the fall, to kill any roundworms before they become a bigger problem.
Can I get roundworm from my cat or dog?
It is important to note that humans can become infected with roundworm as well. Roundworm in humans can cause eye, lung, heart, and neurological issues. It is crucial that you always wash your hands after handling your pet’s feces, contaminated soil, cleaning the litter box, etc.
Children are at a higher risk of infection than adults. Keep them away from areas that may be contaminated with animal feces and make sure they wash their hands regularly too!
Written by Stephanie, RVT