Even healthy looking animals can carry worms, so it's very important to worm pets regularly. Worms can cause suffering, illness and even death. Some types of worms can be spread between pets and people and can cause diseases. But with the right advice and treatment you can help protect pets and people from disease.

Our pets are at risk of picking up different types of worms, such as roundworms and tapeworms.

Animals can pick worms up in a variety of ways, including from other infected animals, from mother to offspring, from eating the larvae or eggs of worms in their environment (e.g. in infected faeces or urine, or in grass) and from eating raw meat, infected prey animals or infected parasites (such as fleas which can carry tapeworm eggs).

Recognising infection

Many infected animals do not show any outward signs, so it's important to have a worm control programme in place for your pet. Your vet will be able to advise you about this. But, if your animal is infected, you may see worms in faeces or vomit, or around your pet's bottom.

If you do see any worms on or near your animal, wrap them up in damp cotton wool and take them to the vet who will be able to identify them and treat your animal accordingly.

If your dog or cat starts losing weight, this could be a sign that unwelcome visitors have arrived. Other signs of worms include fur becoming dry and coarse, increased appetite, weakness and diarrhoea. Your pet may also lick its bottom more than usual. In severe cases, infected puppies and kittens can have a distended abdomen or 'pot belly'.

Reducing risk

Pets should be wormed against roundworm regularly from a young age. Adult pets should be treated regularly against roundworms and tapeworms.

In addition to worming programs, you can also prevent tapeworms by using a flea treatment regularly, as recommended by your vet.

Ensure you disinfect your pet's food and water bowls regularly. You should also ensure your pet's housing is regularly cleaned and disinfected. You should only use a disinfectant that is safe for animals.

In addition to worming, good pasture management is required for grazing animals such as horses, ponies, donkeys and rabbits, to prevent them from eating the larvae and eggs of worms which can be shed in the grass. This may involve removing droppings and rotating which areas your animal has access to.

For rabbits, avoid collecting fresh greens from areas where wild rabbits and rodents have been and if kept outside, place housing in a location where exposure to wild rabbits and rodents is minimised.

Wash your hands thoroughly before you eat and ensure children also do this. Clean up after your pet and dispose of faeces and urine carefully.