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7 ways your dog could get worms (without you even noticing)

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Worms can be a real problem for dogs and their owners, but have you ever wondered, how do dogs get worms in the first place? Find out exactly where your dog might be picking up worms so you can minimise exposure to help keep your pet healthy.
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Swallowing infected fleas during grooming is one of the ways dogs can get tapeworms

Worms are parasites that can infect dogs and have the potential to cause health problems in your precious pets, especially in puppies. Some can even cause disease in you too, so it's important to know how your dog picks them up, so you can put measures in place that not only keep your dog healthy but help to protect your own health and that of your household.

1. Accidentally eating worm eggs

Roundworm eggs that pass into the outside environment from the faeces of an infected animal can survive for several years. Not only that, one female roundworm can lay 85,000 eggs per day! It means that your dog can easily come into contact with the parasite.

If your dog accidentally ingests these eggs when they’re rooting around in your garden or on their daily walk, they can then develop into worms inside them.

2. Hunting behaviour

If your dog likes to hunt or regularly scavenges, they could catch worms from eating other infected animals, such as rodents or birds, who themselves have eaten worm eggs. If this sounds like your dog, a monthly worming treatment is recommended rather than the standard three-monthly treatment.

3. Grooming

Believe it or not, your dog can get worms just by trying to keep themselves clean. Roundworm eggs can attach themselves to your dog's coat, and if your dog swallows these when grooming, a new roundworm infection may develop. Swallowing fleas when grooming can cause a parasitic infection too. Find out more below.

4. From fleas

The most common species of tapeworm in dogs is transmitted by another very common parasite – the flea. Fleas carrying tapeworm larvae can be swallowed during grooming, which then develop into adult tapeworms in the dog’s intestine.

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Dog scratching in long grass due to flea infestation
5. From their mum

Roundworm, the most common worm affecting pets, can be transmitted from an infected mother to the unborn puppies in her womb via the placenta. Roundworm can be extremely serious in young puppies and can even prove fatal in severe cases.

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Nursing puppies can pick up worms from their mother’s milk
6. The mother’s milk

As well as picking up worms from their mum in the womb, dogs with worms can also pass roundworm on to her puppies during nursing. This means that puppies that are suckling are at risk of continual exposure to these parasites, which is why puppies need to be wormed regularly during this time

7. Eating worm larvae

Hookworm larvae can survive in the soil and if swallowed by your dog a hookworm may develop inside them. Although rare in the UK, some species of hookworm found in the soil can actually burrow into your pet’s skin, causing severe skin irritation. They usually target the area between the toes, which is exposed when the dog walks over the soil.

Puppies can also contract hookworm from their mother during nursing.

How do worms affect my dog’s health?

The problem is you often won’t even know anything is wrong if your pet has a worm infestation. Symptoms in dogs are hard to spot unless the infestation is severe.

Puppies are more likely to display symptoms of worms. An infection can lead to diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss, a dull coat or a pot belly.

Some worms, such as roundworm, move into the respiratory system as they develop and may cause a cough in your dog.

One way you can spot worms in your dog is by keeping an eye on their faeces and checking their vomit if they fall ill. Roundworms will appear spaghetti-like and white, or light brown in colour and can grow several inches long. If you spot what look like grains of rice in your dog’s poop, this is a sign they may have a tapeworm infection.

Can I catch worms too?

Worms aren’t just a gruesome nuisance for your pet. Although infrequent, human infections are possible. It means that if your pet is carrying worms, the whole household is at risk.

Worms can cause significant health issues in people depending on where in the body they migrate to, such as the eyes, lung, heart and brain.

Dog roundworm (Toxocara canis) can cause problems in humans when a roundworm egg is swallowed accidentally & the emerging larvae migrate around the body. The eggs can be picked up from contaminated soil, so children are at particular risk.

People can also pick up tapeworm by ingesting an infected flea!

How do I stop my dog getting worms?

It’s inevitable that your dog will pick up worms at some point in their lives. But you can easily treat any parasites that have made your pet their new home, before they develop into a real problem.

Follow a regular worming routine: A regular worming treatment will help keep your dog happy and healthy. Dog worming products banish intestinal parasites from your pet. Wormers are available in different formats, such as tablets or spot-ons, but you can speak to your vet for if you’re unsure of which to choose.  

It’s recommended adult dogs are wormed at least every three months to help protect your pet and the whole family from these nasties. Some dogs will need to be wormed more frequently, such as those hounds who enjoy roaming and hunting in the countryside, or pooches that live with children or the elderly.

Puppies require the most attention and should be wormed every two weeks, from two weeks of age, alongside their mother to limit the spread of these parasites during nursing. If at any point, you’re unsure about worming products for pregnant or lactating bitches then speak to your vet.

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Dog scratching in long grass due to flea infestation