Health Problems: Worms, Ticks and Fleas

Worms

All dogs will have worms at some point in their lives, with puppies being most at risk. An untreated worm infestation can lead to a loss of condition in the adult dog and quite serious illness in puppies, as well as putting human health at risk (however small this risk may be). As a responsible dog owner, it is important for you to worm your dog regularly.

  • Dogs with worms may not show signs of illness, except when the worms are present in large volumes.
  • Puppies are most at risk from worm infections. Worms are passed from the mother before birth, and after through the milk. Infestation may cause weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, a swollen abdomen and, in extreme circumstances, death. Puppies should be wormed from two-three weeks of age at two weekly intervals until they are twelve weeks of age, then every month until they are six months of age. Worming should continue at least three times a year with a recommended veterinary preparation for the rest of the dog’s life.
  • Pregnant bitches should be wormed at the time of mating and again when the puppies are one week old.
  • Most worms will live in the intestine and feed on partly digested food.
  • The two main types of worms are Tapeworms (Dipylidium species) and Roundworms (Toxocara canis).
  • Roundworms can appear like elastic bands, up to several inches in length. These are the most commonly seen worms, particularly in puppies. Tapeworms can appear like white grains of rice, which are joined together to form a tape. These are most commonly found in adult dogs and very rarely in puppies.
  • Roundworms are spread through the environment. Tapeworms are spread through an intermediate host (usually the flea). The intermediate host is necessary to form part of the life-cycle; more development stages take place in the intermediate host.
  • Both types of worms are easy to eliminate and suitable preparations are available through your veterinary surgeon.
  • Remember, if your dog has tapeworm you must also treat him for fleas.
  • As a responsible pet owner, you should discourage your dog from fouling in public places, parks and children’s play areas. Always carry a poop-scoop or plastic bag with you to clean up after your dog. Regular worming will help to minimise the amount of egg contamination in the environment.

Fleas and Ticks

Strangely enough, most of the fleas that you may find on a dog are actually cat fleas!

Most dogs will suffer from a flea infestation at some point in their lives. It used to be that they were most at risk during the warmer months; however, with modern day central heating we now provide a lovely warm environment for fleas all year round. For this reason, treatment against fleas should be provided throughout the year.

  • A dog will almost certainly suffer from a flea infestation at some point during his life.
  • The number of fleas would normally decrease during the cold winter months. However, as most houses are now centrally heated, the fleas are provided with an ideal environment in which to survive and breed all year.
  • The length of the flea life-cycle depends on temperature and humidity. In an ideal environment the cycle can be around 21 days.
  • By far the most common flea in both dogs and cats is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).
  • Some dogs will develop a hypersensitivity to flea saliva and this can lead to an itchy reaction. One or two fleas would be quite enough to cause a marked irritation. Most flea reactions in dogs are seen on the lower back area, above the tail.
  • Fleas spend the majority of their life-cycle in the home environment. Only adult fleas are seen on the dog. The female flea lays the eggs on the dog's coat, these fall off and can be found wherever your dog spends most of his time - in his bedding, in the carpet, on the sofa, or even on your bed!
  • Adult fleas do not live for long on your dog and die after 7-14 days - only to be replaced by the ones developing in the environment.
  • The flea lives by ingesting blood from your dog several times a day.
  • More often than not an owner will notice small specks of grit on the dog's coat. To establish whether this is flea dirt, brush the coat and allow the material to fall onto a moist white tissue. Flea dirt will produce a red mark.
  • Dogs can also pick up fleas from outside the home or from other animals.
  • Fleas are also the intermediate host of the tapeworm. Therefore it is important to remember when treating your dog for fleas, to treat him for tapeworms too.
  • Effective flea treatment and control involves treating both the environment and the dog (for all the reasons stated above).
  • Flea preparations come in all forms - aerosols, powders, pump action sprays, insecticidal collars, spot-ons, oral tablets or shampoos.
  • Treatment of the environment involves using a recommended aerosol spray and regular vacuuming - don't forget under the skirting boards, under the sofa cushions and the dog's bedding.
  • Ticks are usually picked up by your dog in long grass or in woodland. They often attach to the dog’s head and look like warts. They grow in size as they feed on your dog’s blood, and although if left alone will eventually fall off when full prompt removal is neccessary as they can pass on disease to your dog as they feed.
  • If you do not know how to remove ticks safely (just pulling may leave parts of the head behind and cause a nasty infection) then ask your vet to show you.
  • Certain spot-on preparations that you can use for flea prevention will also kill ticks, so ask your vet for advice on this. There are a large number of flea products available. Ask your local Veterinary Surgeon for advice on which products will suit you and your dog's needs.
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