We have all wondered, can I catch worms from my pets? If the idea of worms wriggling around inside your pet makes you feel a bit queasy, then take a deep breath, because we’re afraid there’s worse to come! Did you know that worms, as well as causing problems for your pet, can affect you and your two-legged family members too? It might sound like the stuff of nightmares, but forewarned is forearmed, so read on to find out the best ways to protect not only your pets, but the rest of your family too.
The most common roundworm, Toxocara , lives inside an infected dog or cat’s intestine, where it steals your pet’s food, and produces eggs that pass in their poo. As one worm alone can produce a staggering 200,000 eggs in just ONE day1, an infected pet’s poo will be teeming with worm eggs! These eggs find their way into the soil, and can infect pets that swallow them when snuffling around outside; but your four-legged friend isn’t the only one at risk.
It’s a horrible thought, but people can also swallow roundworm eggs ; it can happen more easily than you might think:
You might need to brace yourselves for the next bit …. Once swallowed, a tiny worm larva hatches out of the egg; this wriggling parasite burrows through the wall of our guts, and starts to travel through our tissues. Our immune system plays a big part in helping us fight off the infestation, but as the parasite migrates around our bodies, it can cause a range of problems, including headaches, coughs, stomach pain, skin rashes and even seizures.
In some cases, worm larvae can even reach the eyes–a condition called “Ocular Larval Migrans ” – and this can, devastatingly, result in blindness. Though rare, it’s one of the many reasons that worming our pets is so crucial, to protect not just them, but us too.
Children are thought to be at higher risk of becoming infected than adults1; their love of sand and mud can bring them into close contact with worm eggs, and they are often not quite as thorough with hand washing. Anyone whose immune system is compromised may also be more at risk. Thankfully there’s lots we can do to protect our pets and our families, so stick with us to find out more!
The most common tapeworm affecting our dogs and cats, Dipylidium caninum, can grow up to a monstrous 70cm inside our pets3 and they contract this beast from swallowing an infected flea or louse. Once infected, pets will shed “segments” of the worm (called proglottids) in their poo. These segments contain hundreds of worm eggs, and, disturbingly, they are mobile – so if your four-legged friend is infected, you might see these crawling in the fur around their back end, or in their poo (eurgh, we know!).
We can become infected by this tapeworm too, if we swallow an infected flea or louse, but this isn’t common. There are other types of tapeworm, though, that can cause something called “hydatid disease” in people – if you’re thinking ‘that doesn’t sound good…’, you’d be right!
Dogs that have access to raw offal can become infected with a tapeworm called Echinococcus granulosus. Infected dogs release egg-filled segments in their poo, and just like with roundworms, we can unwittingly eat these eggs if we come into contact with them from the soil, or through contaminated food. This can lead to ‘tapeworm cysts’ forming in our liver, lungs and occasionally other organs like the brain – we warned you it wasn’t pleasant! The cysts can grow for many years before symptoms start to show – these can include coughing, tummy pain, weight loss and nausea.
A similar tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis, is not found in the UK, but can affect dogs taken on holiday abroad, if they hunt and eat small rodents, and can lead to cysts forming in our liver if we swallow these tapeworm eggs.
Treatment isn’t easy, and may require surgery and long courses of medication, but you can hugely reduce the risks of your pets picking these wriggling creatures up in the first place by restricting access to raw offal and regular worming.
More of an issue in dogs than cats in the UK, hookworms also take up residence in our pets’ intestines, but these worms don’t just feed on what’s already there – they actively bite your pet’s gut wall to feed on their blood. As if there weren’t already enough reasons to detest these parasites! Puppies can be especially at risk, as high numbers of worms can lead to anaemia due to blood loss. Hookworms lay eggs, which pass out in your pet’s poo, and hatch into larvae.
Hookworm larvae make their way into the soil, where they wait for a passing pet to infect. Rather alarmingly, though, these larvae don’t just wait to be swallowed, they will also try and invade by burrowing into the skin of passing feet! And unfortunately for us, they’re not too picky, so it’s all the same to them if it’s a furry paw or shoe-less foot. The usual hookworm that’s found in the UK (Uncinaria stenocephala) can’t actually get too far once it’s invaded, but it can cause intense irritation and itching of the skin in the meantime.
If all that sounds a lot to take on board, you’ll be pleased to know there are some simple and highly effective steps we can take to greatly reduce these risks:
Regularly worming our pets is the cornerstone of protection for both our pets and our families. To make life even easier, there are wormers available that are able to kill all of these worms with a single product.
Prazitel Plus tablets for dogs kill all types of intestinal worm that affect UK dogs, including roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms (it also kills whipworms- not an issue for people but an added bonus to protect your pooch). Prazitel tablets for cats kill the key intestinal worms affecting our moggies – namely roundworms and tapeworms.
So, don’t than let these creepy crawlies keep you up at night! Keeping up to date with your four-legged friend’s worming means you can relax in the knowledge that you’re not only protecting your pet, but also yourself, your family and your community too.
1. Khoshsima-Shahraki M, Dabirzadeh M, Azizi H, Khedri J, Djahed B, Neshat AA. Seroepidemiology of Toxocara canis in Children under 14 Years Referring to Laboratories of Sistan and Baluchestan Province in Southeast of Iran. Iran J Parasitol. 2019;14(1):89-94.
2. Maurelli MP, Santaniello A, Fioretti A, Cringoli G, Rinaldi L, Menna LF. The Presence of Toxocara Eggs on Dog’s Fur as Potential Zoonotic Risk in Animal-Assisted Interventions: A Systematic Review. Animals (Basel). 2019;9(10):827.