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.

What type of flea product should I get?

Your vet will be able to prescribe the best product for your dog’s lifestyle, age, weight, and type, and to show you how to apply it. Your vet can give you a flea prevention product which will break the life cycle of the flea. This will not only destroy the fleas living on your dog and in your home, but prevent any eggs from hatching too. Some flea products also offer protection against ticks, mites and worms.

Some flea treatments can be given to your dog by mouth, but many are liquids in small tubes which are squeezed out onto your dog’s skin. These are commonly called ‘spot on’ treatments. This guide will show you how to apply the spot on medications.


Before you apply flea treatment

Read the instructions for the flea treatment you’ve been given and check whether you should wear gloves when applying it. The instructions will tell you how and where to apply the treatment. Be aware that some products need to be squeezed onto two different areas of your dog’s body. Ask your vet practice if you’re not sure.

Get your dog used to being handled for having flea treatment applied. Flea treatment should be applied between the shoulder blades, so your dog can’t reach to lick it afterwards. The shoulder blades can be felt on each side of the rib cage in the shoulder area. The hair will need to be parted so that their skin is visible.

Practise first without applying the treatment, get your dog used to the process. Here’s how.

Sprinkle some treats on the floor. While your dog is eating them, feel for their shoulder blades and lightly touch them in between them.

Sprinkle more treats and practise touching this area for a bit longer.

Sprinkle more treats and practise parting their hair in the same place so that their skin is visible.

Practise this until your dog is relaxed and comfortable having their hair parted. With thick coats this may be tricky, so make sure that you practise until you are confident. Keep giving your dog treats to help them build up a positive association with being handled in this way. The treatment often smells very strong, so the happier a dog feels about things, the better.

When your dog is relaxed, and you are confident that you can part the hair and see the skin, then you are ready to apply the spot on treatment.

Applying the spot on flea treatment

Open the pipette so it’s ready as soon as you need it. Read the instructions about how to open it first, as they can be fiddly. Some lids twist off, others need to be pulled off.

Sprinkle some treats on the floor. While your dog is eating them, find the skin area between the shoulder blades. Part the hair so that you can see as much skin as possible, just as you have practised. To be effective, most of the liquid should reach the skin, so try not to get too much on your dog’s coat.

Apply all the liquid onto your dog’s skin until the pipette is empty. You may need to do this in one or more areas, depending on the size of your dog and the volume of the liquid — the product instructions will tell you what to do. Do not rub it in. Let it gently seep into the skin.

When you’re done, reward your dog with more treats and praise.

Safely dispose of the pipette as advised and wash your hands.

Important information

Do not touch the treated area for at least 24 hours, or as recommended in the instructions.

If you have more than one pet, it is important to keep an eye on them afterwards, especially if they like to groom each other. This is in case another pet tries to lick the treated area. This must be discouraged as it could make your dog unwell, so if you’re worried, keep pets apart or distract them with games or treats. 

Avoid getting your dog wet for as long as the instructions recommend (often 24 hours). If the weather is bad, put a coat on your dog to protect them from heavy rain.

Keep track of your treatments

Find out, or ask your vet practice, how regularly you need to apply flea treatment, and mark it on your calendar. Record the name of the product, the pet you applied it to if you have more than one, and the date when the next dose is due. It’s important to apply the treatment on the date it’s due, and not early or late, as this can result in your dog being either over-medicated or not protected against fleas.

Some products need to be applied every month, and others may last three months, so is it important to check.