Dogs Trust

Worms, ticks and fleas


Almost all dogs will become infected with worms at some point in their lives, with puppies being especially at risk. An untreated worm infestation can lead to a loss of condition in the adult dog and occasionally, more serious illness in puppies. Lungworm can be fatal.

The larvae of some types of intestinal worms in dogs (roundworms) can cause a disease called larval migrans in people, especially children. Some species of tapeworms in dogs can also infect people. Therefore, reducing worm burdens in your dog is also import from a human health perspective.

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 numbers.
  • Puppies are especially at risk from roundworm infections. Roundworms can be passed from the mother to her pup before birth, and afterwards through her milk. Infestation may cause weight loss, a swollen abdomen, vomiting and diarrhoea. In severe cases, life-threatening illness such as an obstructed intestine can occur.
  • Tapeworms are spread through an intermediate host, usually the flea, so this is one of the reasons why flea prevention is so important.
  • Lungworm is a particularly nasty one as adult worms live in the major vessels of the lungs which results in multiple problems. The good news is you can prevent your dog getting poorly with simple measures, and if your dog does get Lungworm, it is treatable if found early enough. Therefore, it’s super important to know what to look for and how to prevent it.
    • Lungworm is spready by slugs and snails, but dogs can also pick it up from eating grass or playing with toys that have a slime trail on, so do discourage your dog from eating slugs/snails but this won’t necessarily stop them picking up lungworm.
    • Prevention is best done through regular de-worming with a product that kills lungworm; these are usually only available through your vet.
    • Symptoms of lungworm can vary but ones to be extra vigilant for are: a cough, lethargy, bleeding (eg. blood in the urine or pale gums)
    • A worming regime which is appropriate for your puppy/dog should be discussed with your registered vet. This will depend on your dog's age and lifestyle.
    • Regular de-worming will help to minimise the amount of egg contamination in the environment.


    Fleas and Ticks

    Many dogs may suffer from a flea infestation at some point in their lives. Dogs can catch fleas at any time of the year. For this reason, treatment against fleas should be provided throughout the year.

    • The length of the flea life-cycle depends on temperature and humidity. In an ideal environment the cycle can be around 21 days.
    • The most common flea on both dogs and cats is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).
    • The flea feeds by ingesting blood from your dog several times a day. 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 in some dogs. This flea reaction is often most evident on the rump area but many other areas of the body can be involved. The itching can be intense.
    • The female flea lays her eggs on the dog's coat, these fall off and can be found wherever your dog spends most of their time - in bedding, in the carpet, on the sofa, or even in your bed!
    • Adult fleas do not live for long on your dog and they die after 7-14 days, only to be replaced by the ones developing in the environment. Approximately 5% of a flea infestation compromises of adult fleas on your dog. The other 95% are the developing stages in the environment.
    • More often than not, as an owner you will notice small dark specks on your 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 brown-red mark. You may also see adult fleas on your dog or in the house- they are tiny, fast moving brown insects.
    • Dogs can also pick up fleas from outside the home, from other dogs, or from other animals such as cats.
    • Fleas can be an intermediate host of the tapeworm. Therefore it is important to remember when treating your dog for fleas, to treat them for tapeworms too.
    • Effective flea treatment and control involves treating both the environment and the dog (for all the reasons stated above). Speak to your vet about the prescription products available which are safe and effective for your dog.
    • Treatment of the environment involves using a recommended aerosol spray and regular vacuuming - don't forget the car, under the skirting boards, under the sofa cushions and the dog's bedding. A top tip is also to spray the bag of your hoover and to empty it after each use.
    • Ticks can be picked up by your dog anywhere, especially in shrubland or tall grass. They grow in size as they feed on your dog’s blood. They can pass on disease as they feed, so tick preventatives are important. If a tick does attach to your dog, prompt removal of the entire tick is necessary; it is best to ask your vet practice how to safely remove it.
    • Preventative medications either repel ticks or kill them before they have a chance to pass on disease. Ask your vet for advice on which tick products are suitable to use on your dog.