The idea of your dog having worms is probably pretty gross, but you may not be here unless you thought that maybe, just maybe your dog somehow got worms. On the down side, worms, which are actually parasites, can be a pretty common health problem.
According to the dictionary parasites are: “an organism that lives in or on an organism of another species (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other's expense.” That’s exactly what worms are, intestinal parasites in dogs.
Now keep in mind not all worms are alike… Some are fungal and not even a worm, some are easy to notice, and others hide away. Any dog can get intestinal parasites, and some dogs are more vulnerable than others - on the upside they can be relatively easy to get rid of.
Does my dog have worms?
You may have been picking up your dog's business this morning and noticed that something wasn’t quite right. Maybe there was an off smell, their stool was different, or maybe you noticed something in there that should not have been. Whatever the case, your next question was probably “Is that a worm?” followed by “does my dog have worms?!”
We discuss different types of worms and symptoms further down, but the easiest way to tell if your dog has them is by looking at their poop. Most worms are visible in their stool, and come in a variety of sizes. Other common symptoms are weight loss, increase in appetite, bloating tummy, diarrhea, and vomiting.
The 5 Types of worms that can infect your dog
When it comes to the question “what do worms look like” the answer may seem pretty clear, they look like a worm. But some are long and stringy, while others look like small little pieces of rice. These are the most common types of worms in dogs:
While heartworms in dogs are not the most common type of worm, they are one of the deadliest and scariest. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes (as if we needed another reason to dislike them) by injecting microscopic larvae into the bloodstream. The larvae move to and insert themselves in the heart, growing into adults that span from 6-18 inches long. They mate, reproduce, and cause disease in your dog by clogging their heart and major blood vessels - they also interfere with your dog's heart valve function which leads to major issues.
Heartworm symptoms in dogs
Since you can not visibly see heartworms, it can be difficult concluding if your dog has been infected. Mild symptoms of heartworm in dogs to look out for are coughing & lethargy. As time passes more severe symptoms are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Congestive heart failure
- Weight loss
- Abdomen fluid build up
If you suspect your dog has heart worm, seek medical help right away as progressive worms do lead to death.
Roundworms, also called ascarids, are the most common form of worms that dogs can contract. There are two types of roundworms: Toxocara canis (T. canis) and Toxascaris leonina.
- T. canis - common in puppies and can be transmitted to humans
- T leonina - present in teen/adult dogs are less common than T. Canis
Since puppies are the main target for these worms it would make sense that they would transfer from mother to pup. Roundworms in puppies are 4-6 inch spaghetti-like parasites that are found in your dog's poop. Puppies can actually be born already infected with worms as they pass through the mothers placenta or in her milk.
You can see roundworms in dogs poop quite easily, whether it is a puppy or an adult. Adults can be infected with roundworms by their environment (eggs can be present in the soil) or from eating infected animals such as small rodents
If left untreated, roundworms not only lead to poor growth and malnourishment but will migrate to the lung causing serious conditions like pneumonia.
Roundworm symptoms in dogs
Roundworms live in your dog's intestines and feed on their nutrients ultimately depriving your puppy or dog of nutrition. Symptoms are quite noticeable;
- Weight Loss
- Stunted Growth.
- Bloated tummy
- Vomiting or diarrhea.
- Worms visible in vomit or in bowel movements.
Hookworms in dogs are about 1/8th of an inch long and attach themselves to the gastrointestinal wall. They are fatal to puppies and senior dogs if left untreated as they cause severe anemia in dogs. There are several different types of hookworms, but they are all the same in the way they look and eat. While hookworms are very small they ingest large amounts of blood. Dogs who are infected can pass microscopic eggs through their stool, and if another dog sniffs the infected stool or licks their paws after being around the infected dirt, they are likely to also become infected.
Hookworm symptoms in dogs
The signs of hookworms could also be signs of another disease, if you notice these symptoms you should call your vet right away.
- Pale gums
- Weight loss
- Bloody diarrhea
- Itchy paws
- Poor growth
Tapeworms in dogs are a part of a different family called cestode that separates them from the other intestinal worms. While there are many types of tapeworms that infect pets, the most commonly seen in dogs is called Dipylidium Caninum. Tapeworms in stool are found on the surface of dog poop or around the anus - they look like small flat ¼-inch white segments filled with eggs. An easier way to say that would be that tapeworms look like rice.
Dogs get tapeworms from fleas, not by ingesting tapeworm eggs. Tapeworms must first pass through a flea, and then the flea must be swallowed by the dog before your dog can become infected. Adults grow anywhere from 4”-28” long and have hook-like mouths that anchor them to the wall of the small intestine, oddly they are not overly harmful, as they mostly result in weight loss.
Tapeworm symptoms in dogs
- Bum scooting
- Rice sized worms crawling around the bum
- Dead worms stuck to the fur around their bum
- Weight loss
One of the top 4 commonly seen worms in dogs is the whipworm. They live in the beginning of the large intestine and colon causing infection in these organs while passing eggs through your dog's feces. Dogs get whipworms by eating infested substances like soil, food, water, feces, or carcasses. They are about ¼ inch long which makes them very difficult to see.
- Whipworm symptoms in dogs
Whipworms like to skip the mild case steps and head right into becoming a severe case. Symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Bloody diarrhea
Ringworm is actually a fungus in the shape of a circle and is a common skin infection that is highly contagious no matter your species. It is a red, often itchy little circle that will go away when applied with a non-prescription antifungal cream for 2-4 weeks.
Tinactin for athletes' foot is safe for both pets and humans alike when applied topically to treat ringworm.
Top 10 common symptoms your dog has worms
Across the board, most signs of parasites in dogs are similar. While there are varying degrees of severity you can almost always tell when something is not right with your pup.1) Adult worms in your dog’s stool
The easiest way to know if your dog has worms is by visually seeing them. If you see them in your dog's stool (or around the bum area) your dog probably has either roundworms or tapeworms.2) Coughing
Coughing is one of the most common symptoms of worms. Dogs with dry, persistent coughs likely have heartworm, hookworms, or roundworms.3) Poor coat condition
Healthy dogs tend to have shiny, beautiful coats. If your dog's coat is dull & dry, they may have become infested with worms. Significant hair loss and rashed follow alongside a dull coat.4) Scratching and biting the base of the tail
Scratching and biting to relieve a skin irritation is a sure sign your pup has a severe infestation.5) Bum scooting
Scooting can also be associated with anal glands, but dogs who have worms will also occasionally scoot their bums to relive an itch. Obsessive licking is also normal as your dog will be looking for any way to get rid of the itching the worms are causing.6) Weight loss
An intense increase in appetite while rapidly dropping weight is a sure sign of tapeworms or whipworms. These worms feed off the nutrients your dog should be getting and will starve your dog's body of their food.7) Pot-belly
Bloated or a pot-bellied tummy is very noticeable and commonly seen in puppies suffering from a roundworm infestation.8) Vomiting
All worms are known to cause vomiting. Whipworms & heartworms may make dogs vomit a yellowy-green substance, while roundworms, hookworms, or tapeworms will be visible in the vomit.
*Keep in mind that constant vomiting can be a cause of other health issues like indigestion, even if your dog does have worms.9) Diarrhea
This can range from soft, bloody, dark, watery liquid, to extremely foul smelling stool. Dogs who are suffering from prolonged diarrhea can be sent into a state of dehydration, in addition dogs with hookworms or heartworms are likely to produce bloody stool. Too much liquid and blood loss can lead to severe lethargy and cause extreme infection in your dog.10) Anemia (pale/white gums)
Heartworms are the biggest culprit of anemia since they feed directly on your dog's blood supply. Dogs can however suffer from anemia caused by roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms.
How do dogs get worms?
Dogs can be gross, and by nature they do a lot of things we wish they didn’t. Unfortunately, sometimes these things lead to them getting sick, or in this case, becoming full of worms. Parasites thrive on bowel movements, and mucus, but their eggs can easily be found in the soil, on a surface, or even transmitted through their mother.
Top 5 ways dogs get worms
- Skin Contact
- Dogs can get worms coming into contact with contaminated stool. Hookworms especially can burrow through your dogs skin and can easily begin infecting them.
- From Their Mother
- Mothers who are infested with worms can transfer them to her puppies either through the placenta before they are born, or through her milk when they are nursing.
- If your dog gets fleas, they may also get worms since tapeworms are transmitted via fleas. However, your dog must eat the flea before they will become infected.
- Intestinal worms spread their eggs via dog poop. Worm eggs can be left behind in the soil and can contaminate your pup if your dog is interested in smelling and getting close to the stool.
- If your dog likes to bring home “prizes” or catch small animals there is a chance they are picking up a worm infested critter and infecting themselves
Are worms contagious? Tips for keeping the household safe
In short, yes. Some worms are contagious to people and other animals.
- Roundworms can be transmitted to people, and in some cases cause serious disease, especially to children. This happens when soil, sand, or plants have been infected with animal feces and have somehow, accidentally been ingested.
- Hookworms can cause rash development in people and are usually from contaminated yards.
- Tapeworms from your dog are NOT transferable as you would have to eat a flea to get them, and this seems highly unlikely - however, tapeworms from livestock can be transferred.
- People cannot be infected by the same whipworm that can infect your dog.
Tips to keep your home and yard parasite free
- Keep a clean yard - worms and parasites thrive in excess mucus and waste. By picking up after your pup and keeping a clean yard you significantly reduce the risk of worms.
- Use a natural control spray - there are many different types of sprays or products that are available to help kill worms present in your soil
- Sprinkle Food-Grade, Diatomaceous Earth on your lawn - while this one is a bit messier, it is also natural. Diatomaceous Earth, also known as D.E. is the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled microalgae from the ocean. It looks like flour and is a safe, effective, and natural treatment for preventing and removing both internal and external parasites.
How can I get rid of worms and how are they treated?
Thankfully all it usually takes when deworming dogs with mild infections are a few pills from the vet and your dog will be parasite free. Deworming medication is administered the first time to expel and kill the adult worms, and then 2-4 weeks later to catch newly developed worms
Of course, treatment is different depending on the parasite and extent of infestation.
- Tapeworm treatment for dogs actually breaks up the tapeworms inside of the intestinal tract. Because they are transmitted by fleas, an additional flea treatment and prevention is recommended.
- Roundworm treatment for dogs detaches the worms from the intestinal tract, and excrete them into the stool. A second treatment is required 3-4 weeks later to get rid of any eggs that may have hatched.
- Hookworm treatment for dogs, kills the adult hookworms only. A second treatment is recommended 2-4 weeks after to kill the unhatched hookworms during the first treatment.
- Whipworm treatment for dogs is often prescribed in 3-4 week intervals, and then every 3-4 months to help prevent a re-infestation. Be sure to check with your vet, if you live in an area that is not prone to whipworm then prevention medication is unnecessary.
- Heartworm prevention for dogs depends on the severity of the infestation. Your vet may prescribe oral and injectable medication. Prevention can also be in the form of antibiotics, heart medication, and a diet change.
- Ringworm treatment for dogs can be found at your local pharmacy, or you can go to the vet and get a prescription. If your dog has a minor fungal infection, antifungal cream like Tinactin is safe and will work like a charm. If your dog is severely covered, your vet will most likely shave your pup and give them a bath with antifungal shampoo accompanied by medication to help them get back into peak health.
We do highly recommend consulting your veterinarian before purchasing or administering any over-the-counter or prescription medication for dog worms. Only your veterinarian is able to determine the severity of the infestation and properly treat them, as well as offer other instructions.
Holistic methods to keep your dog worm free
Diatomaceous Earth - we know, it’s a mouthful. Dai-uh-tuh-may-shus Earth has a flour-like appearance and is made up of tiny aquatic fossilized organisms called diatoms. Diatoms are a hard-shelled microalgae that come from the ocean, rivers, lakes, and just about any body of water. These diatoms work to reduce the number of worms in your dog overtime and can help in the prevention of worms in dogs. Tapeworms are the exception and are not affected by D.E.
Mix very well into your dog’s meal:
Small/medium sized dogs (under 55lbs) - 1tsp per day
Medium/large dogs (over 55lbs) - 1tbsp per day
*Caution: Do not use D.E. in pregnant or nursing mums. Always make sure your Diatomaceous Earth is FOOD GRADE as there are different ways this product can be used.
How a good diet & nutrition can keep worms away
The good news is, with the right ingredients, keeping your dog worm free can be achieved without the use of preventative measures. A fresh, whole-food diet is one of the superior options to help keep your dog worm-free since it contains the right ingredients to support a healthy digestive system.
Most intestinal parasites thrive on the starches and sugars that are found in commercial dog foods. Because of these high levels of starch and sugars, kibble diets tend to make your four legged bestie more susceptible to worms than dogs who eat meals made with real, fresh ingredients.
✅ Made with superfood ingredients fueling your dog with energy
❌ High in starches, sugars, and binders causing dogs to look and feel bloated
✅ Gently cooked to preserve whole-food nutrients so your dog gets the best nutrition
❌ Cooked at high temperatures destroying nutrients
✅ Natural supplements to boost immunity & keep your dog's coat shiny and healthy
❌ Synthetic vitamins & minerals added back in to balance out the destroyed nutrients
Natural foods to support a healthy digestive tract
Fermented vegetables like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and beets are full of vitamins and enzymes that improve food digestion. They offer a superior source of probiotics and antioxidants that are not only essential for a strong immune system, but will aid in the gradual expulsion of intestinal worms.
*Fermented veggies do feed yeast in your dog's body, so if your dog has yeast problems you’ll want to avoid this method.
A rich source of fiber and beta-carotene, carrots are known for improving dental health, vision, turning carbs into energy, and keeping the digestive tract clear. Chopped up carrots are easier for dogs to digest and can help clear the intestinal walls of worms.
Pumpkin seeds are one of the safest and most effective ways to clear your dog of worms. The seeds contain an amino acid called cucurbitin which paralyzes the worms and expels them from your dog's digestive tract.
Make sure to give your dog raw, organic seeds - NOT the salted seeds as those seeds will make them sick.
Pumpkin seeds are safe to give to pregnant dogs, you can grind them up and give ¼ tsp per 10 lbs of dog once a day until the parasites are gone.
Grated Fruits And Vegetables
Certain fruits & veggies can act and aid as a natural dewormer for dogs as they can make their digestive tract healthier, resulting in an unwelcome feeding ground for worms.
You can add:
- Cucumber - the enzymes found in cucumber seeds can kill tapeworms
- Squash - full of beta carotene and aids in a healthy digestive tract
- Fennel - high in vitamins and linoleic acid keeping the digestive tract clear
- Pineapple - full of an enzyme called bromelain which helps digest proteins (make sure you don't give too much pineapple as it is very acidic)
- Papaya - contains an enzyme called papain which helps fend off worms
- Pomegranate - useful for fighting off tapeworm
Veggies in your dog’s diet can also provide a natural and much-needed source of fiber.
One of the most powerful immune boosting methods out there, bone broth is a huge promoter of digestive health. This in turn helps the immune system kill worms. You can make bone broth yourself or alternatively get pre-made bone broth that has been formulated to excel your dog's nutritional needs
While reading this may put you on high-alert for the possibility of worms in your dog, diet is one of the best places to start in the prevention of a parasitic infestation. A proper diet goes a long way in supporting your dog's overall health and is a much safer & holistic alternative than conventional, monthly deworming medication.
It is of course important to also take the worming advice of your veterinarian seriously and be extra cautious whenever pets and children are in close contact.
If you are thinking about changing your dog's diet, or interested in learning more about what whole-foods are and what healing properties bone broth has to offer we encourage you to reach out. Contact us here