Hookworms are not a major problem in the UK although they can occur occasionally. The larvae burrow into your pet’s skin usually through their feet or they are ingested by pets cleaning their paws. Puppies and kittens can be infected via their mother’s milk. Cats can get hookworm from contaminated soil or infected rodents. The hookworm live off your pet’s blood and can cause diarrhoea, lethargy and weight loss. Despite being very small, they suck large amounts of blood from the tiny vessels in your pet’s intestinal wall and can cause anaemia in large numbers. Infection in humans is very rare, but may cause skin disease where they try and penetrate the skin.
Whipworms eggs are shed into the environment in the faeces of infected dogs. The worms live in the large intestine of your dog where they cause severe irritation to their intestinal lining. This results in watery, bloody diarrhoea, weight loss and general ill health. They can be very harmful in large numbers. They are not infectious to people. Most of the broad-spectrum worm remedies available from your veterinary practice are effective against hookworms and whipworms. Control and prevention is the same as for roundworms and tapeworms.
Heartworm live in the arteries and hearts of infected animals. They release larvae into their hosts’ bloodstream. When a mosquito feeds on the infected animal the larvae present in the blood are swallowed by the mosquito. These larvae are then passed via their saliva to the next animal they feed from, for example your dog or cat. As a mosquito is required for the lifecycle to be completed dogs and cats in this country are at little risk of contracting heartworm. Mosquitos easily spread heartworm and you should consider this risk when thinking of travelling with your pet. The risk of heartworm varies depending on where you intend to travel. As heartworm infection can be fatal please consult your veterinary surgeon before travelling with your pet as there are products available to help prevent heartworm.
Cinque Ports Vets run Travel Clinics to help offer advice on protecting your pet from parasites when travelling abroad. Dogs in particular are affected and signs can take months to develop. These include, excessive panting, weight loss, difficulty breathing, being easily tired following exercise and death if left untreated. To check which parasites your pet may be exposed to, log on to www.esccapuk.org.uk and under the ‘Travelling Pets’ section you will find European parasite distribution maps. These maps are designed to help inform you of the parasitic threats present in different countries.