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What are Roundworms in Pets?
By: Trupanion Staff | Updated Oct 7, 2019
Roundworms in pets, of all the different types of parasitic worms found inside dogs and cats, is the most common. Almost every dog will be infected with roundworms at some point in its life, and often puppies are born with them, passed on from their mother. At up to 12 cm long and often found in large numbers, roundworms can cause your pet discomfort.
While roundworms are more common in dogs, there are three main types of roundworms that can affect both dogs and cats:
- Toxocara canis, which use dogs as a host
- Toxocara cati, which are found in cats
- Toxascaris leonina, which affects both animals
While the life cycles and genealogies vary, all three variants of this parasite survive by living on your pet’s sustenance and can cause risks to long-term health.
3 quick things to know about roundworms
- Roundworms are extremely common in young animals. Most dogs will be infected at some point in their early lives.
- Roundworms can also infect humans, another reason to visit the veterinarian if your pet shows symptoms.
- Different symptoms of roundworms in pets can indicate different stages of the worms’ life cycle. The parasites begin in the intestines, causing diarrhea and vomiting, but later move to the lungs and cause the dog to cough.
What do roundworms look like?
Roundworms can be 10-12cm in length and are usually white/cream or brown in color. They look like cooked spaghetti. They are generally thin and smooth-skinned, compared to tapeworms which are thicker and have bumps or ridges on their surface. This is because the tapeworm is made up of individual segments, while the roundworm is one, continuous body. On average, roundworms are also considerably longer than tapeworms.
1. Pet inhales or consumes live roundworms or roundworm eggs, from food, milk, vegetation or soil.
2. If eggs were consumed, they hatch during the host’s digestion process, releasing the larvae.
3. If the animal is a suitable host, the larvae migrate to the lungs. From here, it may be coughed up.
Roundworm infection symptoms
Roundworms in pets produce a variety of symptoms. One of the most common is abdominal swelling, so be on the lookout for your pet’s stomach area appearing larger than normal. If you notice a change, gently feel the area with your hand to see if it seems bloated or firmer than normal.
Other symptoms may include lethargy, vomiting, abnormalities in the feces, or weight loss caused by the parasites feeding on your pet’s food intake. The animal is likely to be weaker than normal, too, expressing signs of fatigue. If you notice a combination of these symptoms in your pet, take them to the veterinarian for an exam.
Roundworms might also be spotted in a dog’s feces or vomit. The roundworm is long and smooth-coated and will appear as light strands.
Unlike many other conditions, the symptoms of roundworms may indicate the stage of infection. Roundworms start in the intestines and digestive system, causing vomiting, diarrhea and stomach inflammation. However, as roundworms develop into their adult stage, they move to the lungs and respiratory system. Your pet may cough and show signs of breathing interference. Spotting these symptoms can help diagnose how far along the infection is.
How can my pet become infected?
A domestic animal can be infected with roundworms in a variety of ways. Puppies and kittens are especially susceptible to infection, especially because an infected mother will often pass roundworms to her infants prior to birth through umbilical feeding, or shortly after birth via her milk.
Roundworms — and other similar parasites — are one reason puppies are commonly de-wormed by a veterinarian soon after birth. However, roundworms pose a risk to adult pets, too. A fully-grown dog or cat can pick up the parasites by eating infected food or water or feces found in soil, thereby ingesting roundworm eggs too small to see.
Are roundworms in pets dangerous?
In adult pets, roundworms pose little threat to the animal’s health. An adult pet will likely suffer the symptoms listed above (vomiting, swelling and weakness), but should return to their usual self once treated.
However, in young pets, roundworms can present more severe, long-term damage risks. Roundworms thrive by feeding on the sustenance consumed by their host, draining large portions of their food intake and not leaving enough for the hungry pet to remain healthy.
Over time, if untreated, this greedy snatching of all the good stuff in your pet’s food can lead to malnutrition, which in turn can impact growth and development. A young pet with untreated roundworm could grow up frail and weak compared to its siblings and not reach its full potential as an adult. For this reason, it is crucial to take your pet to the veterinarian for an exam if you notice roundworm symptoms.
Getting rid of roundworms
Treating roundworms in pets is a simple, painless procedure. Your veterinarian will give your pet a single oral dose of de-worming treatment to remove the pests.
You may be asked to take samples of their stool at weekly intervals after treatment to ensure that the problem has been cleared. Your veterinarian may also recommend a heartworm de-wormer, which often also tackles and prevents roundworms.
Home de-worming treatments are also available over the counter, though their reliability and effectiveness vary. To be sure of a healthy pup or kitten, and to minimize the risk of roundworms in pets reoccurring, seek the help of a veterinarian.
Thinking ahead - tips for preventing infection
There are several easy steps owners can take to minimize the chances of picking up parasites. Here are some simple steps you can take to keep your pet roundworm-free:
- DE-WORM IN EARLY LIFE: Get rid of roundworms passed on from your pet’s mother by arranging de-worming treatment fortnightly until the age of 8 or 10 weeks.
- THINK HYGIENE: Keep your pet’s living areas clean, removing and disposing of any feces in a sanitary way to prevent transmission.
- LESS BUTT-SNIFFING: They love to do it, but sniffing around behind a fellow canine or feline could cause your pet to inhale dangerous roundworm larvae.
- NO WILD SNACKS! Try to discourage your pet from catching and eating wild animals, such as squirrels or rodents, which may be carrying roundworms.
This article is intended as an informative guide for pet owners, but is not a replacement for veterinary care. If you believe your pet may be infected with roundworms, seek professional advice from a veterinarian. In the meantime, protect your dog or cat with a good pet insurance plan — while parasitic infestations often aren't covered due to prevention being key, pet insurance can help lessen the worry about your pet's health needs overall.
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Pet Parenting is the official blog of Trupanion, a leader in the world of pet insurance for dogs and cats. Here you’ll find useful dog and cat care tips, interesting veterinary insights, and fun pet topics galore. While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.
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