To deworm or not to deworm animals under your care? That is the question. There are many medications that kill parasites on and within animals without harming them. Which product to use and how often animals should be treated is a large topic. There are different conclusions depending on what the reason is for treatment. The main reasons to consider are animal health, animal welfare, productivity and financial return.
Health concerns are easiest to consider when dealing with young animals. Young animals’ immune systems are not as well developed as adults, and they are often at risk of high parasite burdens. A good example of this is round worms in new-born cats, dogs and pigs. These young animals are frequently infected from the milk supplied by their mothers. These infected animals are often in poor body condition with pot bellies. Owners frequently comment about the number and size of stomach worms which are passed out in feces after worming. We typically recommend worming kittens and puppies every two weeks until four months of age then monthly until six months of age.
Welfare concerns are evident in pet cats and dogs who scratch when they are dealing with the irritation of biting fleas. Experiments suggest that cats and dogs can rid themselves of 90 per cent of the fleas than hop onboard by self-grooming. Owners frequently report that there are no fleas on their pets, which is often true. However, it is not the fleas themselves which cause the scratching, but the saliva they leave behind in the skin. The flea can be long gone before the irritation cycle sets in. Routinely applying flea products, which I recommend with religious fervour every month on the month, will prevent flea infestation. It will also aid in the control of fleas in the environment where the animals live.
Production issues are best monitored by regular weighing – noting the weight gain or lack of weight gain in animals with large worm burdens. Worm eggs in animal dung can be monitored for worm burdens. However, as the animal ages its immune system also improves. An adult animal may have a significant worm burden, but its immune system prevents the worms from producing eggs. Hence, looking for eggs in animal dung is not a good reflection of the worm challenge.
A financial return is often achieved after worming. Worm burdens often reduce appetite as well as using energy that could be utilised by the animal for growth. Financial considerations should also extend beyond the immediate returns but also the future returns.
Whatever our reasons for worming, animals under our care are our responsibility, and we need to protect their future. Discuss worming with your local veterinarian. We can all benefit from the conversation.