The pet owner guide to treating intestinal worms in dogs
Intestinal worms are parasites that infect your dog, living on nutrients in their gut. Often, dog owners don’t realise anything is wrong because many dogs don’t show signs until the infestation has worsened, although some puppies may have pot-bellied appearance.
Worms can make dogs sick, tired and uncomfortable. Once infected, your dog may experience anything from diarrhoea, vomiting, anal irritation, stunted growth and anaemia, with some symptoms becoming serious if left untreated.
There are four types of intestinal parasites commonly found in UK dogs; tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.
Roundworms are long, white spaghetti-like parasites, which live in the intestines of pets, although they can infect humans too. There are two main types of roundworm and they feed on partially digested food in the gut. One species stays and develops in the intestinal tract, while other roundworm species move around the body into other bodily tissues.
Tapeworms are flat, white, long worms that can grow up to 16ft inside a dog.1 You may find these worms in your dog’s poop. This is because tapeworms are made up from segments, which break up and are excreted into the dog’s faeces. Each segment is filled with tapeworm eggs and can look like a grain of rice.
Dogs (and cats) can pick up a tapeworm by ingesting a flea that is infected by the parasite, which is easier than you might think with their natural curiosity. They can also become infected from eating other animals with tapeworm. Tapeworms attach onto the wall of the small intestine, absorbing nutrients as food is digested.
Hookworms are short worms, bloodsucking parasites with teeth. They too strip nutrients from their host animal and can be fatal in young puppies. The female hookworm can produce up to 25,000 eggs per day and they can survive in the intestine for up to two years!2,3
Whipworms live in the large intestine and although they do occur in the UK, cases aren’t classed as common. Although in many cases, the host animal may not show any signs of whipworm, a heavy infection will result in diarrhoea and weight loss.
Dogs can easily pick up intestinal worms simply on their daily walk. Worm eggs from infected animals are passed into the environment in faeces and survive in the soil. Dogs can also become infected by eating infected rodents or meat infected with worms. Tapeworm larvae can also be carried by fleas and so dogs can become infected by accidentally ingesting an infected flea.
Puppies are sometimes born with worms after being infected by their mother in the womb. They can also pick up worms through their mother’s milk.
- Older dogs
Working dogs or those that to hunt may be at higher risk of getting worms, because they may be more exposed to other infected, or flea-infested, animals or dead animals.
Find out more about how dogs get worms.
Luckily, there are lots of different dog wormers you can use to help your pooch avoid getting worms:
- Worming tablets
An excellent way to combat worms is through regularly treating with a dog worming tablet, such as Drontal, which has been formulated for improved palatability.
As an all-wormer tablet, Drontal Dog Tasty Bone, and Drontal Dog Tasty Bone XL for larger dogs, are clinically-proven to kill roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm and whipworm.
The active ingredients in Drontal target, kill and breakdown the worms which are passed out of the dog through their faeces.
It is recommended adult dogs are wormed at least once every three months and more frequently (monthly) for dogs that enjoy scavenging or pets living with young children.
- Worming suspension (for puppies)
Liquid worming solutions are also available for puppies. Drontal also comes as an easy to administer oral suspension suitable for small puppies, targeting roundworm, whipworm and hookworm. Drontal Dog Tasty Bone tablets can also be given to young dogs once they are 2kg in weight.
It is often recommended that puppies are wormed every fortnight, from two weeks of age until they’re 12 weeks old and every month until the age of six months.
- Spot-on dog worming treatments
Spot-on wormers can be an effective way to treat worms if your dog isn’t keen on tablets. The liquid is applied to the back of the pet’s neck and left to dry. Although the way products work will vary, the active ingredients in the spot-on spread through to the pet’s blood to begin working in the bloodstream.
- Dog worming pastes
Flavoured worming pastes can be administered directly into the mouth using a syringe, or it can be hidden in your dog’s usual food.
- Powder granules
Worming granules are also given orally and are simply sprinkled over your dog’s usual bowl of food.
All treatments will contain different active ingredients, which may target only some or all four common types of intestinal worms UK dogs are at risk of. Check with your vet if you are unsure of which type of wormer to use for your dog.
When it comes to giving them medication, every dog is different. It often depends on previous experience, how the medication is administered and its flavour. When worming dogs, it’s a good idea to choose a format that suits your dog, your ability and your lifestyle, but here are a few extra tricks which might help:
- Choose a flavoured treatment
Wormers are more appealing to dogs when they taste good. Drontal Dog Tasty Bone tablets are meat-flavoured for improved palatability, so much so that they can be given without food.
- Hide the medicine
If your dog doesn’t want to take their worming tablet by itself, it can work well to crush it up and add it to their usual dog food. Although you will need to ensure your pup eats it all up to ensure they’ve swallowed the necessary dose.
- Disguise the wormer with a treat
Dogs are clever and sometimes detect medicine disguised as their usual meal. If this is the case, it may work to instead wrap the tablet in their favourite treat, such as a slice of meat. They will have swallowed the treat before they realise the tablet was even there.
- Use a pill giver
These devices work by placing the tablet at the end of the syringe and pushing it to the back of your pet’s mouth using water, which encourages them to swallow.
If giving your dog a pill is just too difficult, don’t despair as other worming formats, such as a spot-on, may be better suited to you. Speak to your vet who will be able to recommend the best course of action for you.
While it’s not possible to prevent your dog picking up worms completely, there are ways to reduce the likelihood they will come into contact with the parasites.
Stay on track with your dog’s worming routine
Look after your dog’s general well-being and use a regular worming treatment. Wormers can’t prevent your dog picking up worms, but they can ensure the parasite is dealt with before it can grow, develop and make your dog ill.
Don’t forget to treat for fleas
Because fleas can carry the tapeworm parasite, effective flea control, such as Seresto Flea and Tick Control collar, which kills fleas and kills and repels ticks, provides another way to protect your dog against getting this intestinal worm too.
Keep your dog and their living area clean
It’s also important to bath your dog after a muddy session and keep your pooch’s living and playing area clean. Many dogs contract worms by eating worm eggs from contaminated soil, so the less dirt they have on them, the less chance they’ll have of licking it up when they groom themselves.
Clean up after your dog
Regularly picking up your dog’s poo will also help to minimise any risk of re-infection in your dog, while also helping to protect your family’s health. This is because roundworm eggs released in dog poop can contaminate the surrounding soil and both dogs and humans can become infected if the soil gets into their mouth.
This roundworm infection is called human toxocariasis and is more common in children and young adults. Once ingested, the eggs will develop into larvae, which can travel around the body and make a person sick, although treatment is available and most people make a full recovery.
Find out more about worming tablets for dogs.
Did you know…?
Four out of every five animals found on planet Earth are types of roundworms.4 The largest known one is the Placentonema gigantissima, which can be up to 30-feet long and live in the placenta of sperm whales.
- Taylor MA, Coop RL and Wall RL (2007), Veterinary Parasitology, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing
- Sowemimo et al. The Daily Egg Production of Ancylostoma caninum and the Distribution of the Worm along the Digestive Tract of the Dog. Research Journal of Parasitology. Volume 3 (3): 92-97, 2008
- Platt H M. Lorenzen S, editor. The phylogenetic systematics of free-living nematodes. London: The Ray Society; 1994. Foreward