What is a Roundworm?
Roundworms are common intestinal parasites that affect both cats and dogs. In fact, most puppies and kittens are infected with roundworms at birth or within the first few months of life as the worms are often transmitted in the uterus or while nursing from their mothers.
These large, cylindrical and cream colored worms can grow as long as seven inches and can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms for your pet such as vomiting, diarrhea, poor nutrition and distended stomachs (often seen in puppies and kittens with a worm infestation) if they are left untreated.
What Causes Roundworm?
To fully understand what causes infestations of roundworm, it is important to look at the life cycle of the actual worm. Female roundworms can produce up to 100,000 eggs in a single day! The larvae are then passed in the stool and the embryonic worm develops within this larva in the outside environment.
In good conditions, it takes approximately 1 month for the egg to become infective and once at this stage they can remain infective for as long as a year! The infective egg is then picked up by your pet, usually in the course of normal grooming, and ingested. The second stage larvae is now in the intestine of your pet, from where it can migrate to other tissue areas of the body such as the lungs and liver where it can develop into a third stage larvae.
Once ready, the developed larvae burrow into the airway and up towards the throat where they are coughed up and swallowed and once again find themselves back in the intestine where they can hatch into worms. Note that in serious infestations, the presence of many larvae in the lungs and airways can cause a serious case of pneumonia. Once the mature worms are back in the intestines they can then start to mate and shed eggs, and so the cycle begins again.
As previously mentioned, the larvae can also migrate to the uterus of pregnant animals and as a result many kittens and puppies are infected with worm larvae before birth! However, if the mother is free of worms, then this would not occur.
A veterinarian can diagnose the presence of roundworms by examining and testing a stool sample. The sample is placed in a chemical solution that allows the microscopic eggs to become more visible. In other cases the round worm is visibly identifiable in the stool or vomit.
Help for Roundworm
There are a number of medications that can be prescribed by your vet or bought over the counter for the treatment of worms however, over-the-counter medications are often less effective than prescription types, and potentially more harmful to your pet. Commonly recommended wormers recommended for roundworms are Pyrantel Pamoate, mebendazole and albendazole.
Most medications for roundworm only act on matured roundworms and so 3 to 4 doses may be required to allow the other larvae to become more mature and therefore more susceptible to the treatment. Because worming medications are chemical-based, regular worming, while not without benefits, can be damaging to your pet’s immune system. Many people are therefore exploring alternatives treatments.
Roundworms, just like other parasites are something that animals have had to live with since the beginning of time. In nature, however, animals are well equipped with a number of herbal ingredients to help keep them at bay.
Herbs such as Wormwood and Ruta graveolens act as digestive tonics and help rid the system of worms by promoting regular digestive cleansing. They also help by restoring digestive health after parasitic infections. Others beneficial herbs include Cloves and Neem which work to discourage pests and act as natural parasite repellants.
More Information on Roundworm
Tips for preventing roundworm
- Because it is not always possible to know when your pets have been exposed to infected roundworm larvae it is important to have your pet regularly treated. Some pets are at higher risk than others, for example, an indoor cat is low risk and may only need treatment once a year, where a dog that interacts with other dogs may need treatment every three months.
- Remember that the roundworm larvae can be transmitted to humans and while the worms do not develop, the larvae can cause serious damage to body tissue. For this reason it is essential to wash your hands after handling pets and other animals and immediately after cleaning litter trays.
- Make sure your pets have a healthy sanitation area. This includes cleaning litter boxes daily and regularly removing stools from the garden.
- If you take your dog for walks in public areas, make sure they stay clear of other animal’s feces as this is a common way that roundworm is transmitted.
- Roundworm is also transmitted by host animals such as rodents. The larvae lay dormant until the host animal is caught and ingested by a larger animal. If your cat is an avid hunter it is at a much greater risk of contracting a number of unwanted parasites. You can try a collar with a bell to discourage your pet from catching small animals.