5 Different Dog Worms You Need to Know About


Dog worms are pretty disgusting to think about, and even worse to see.  Luckily, dog worms are easy to identify and treat. Modern medicine has created easy-to-use topical and oral medications to eradicate the problem. In the meantime, you’re going to want to know exactly what you’re looking for, and I’m going to help you with that.

Here are 5 different dog worms you need to know about.

1. Roundworms are Closer Than You Think

The two species of roundworm (Toxocara canis and Toxascaris leonina) are common to both dogs and cats, and can grow up to 7 inches long.

Roundworms are thin, round, and stringy in appearance.  People tend to describe roundworms as looking like strings of spaghetti and are first noticed in the dog’s stool.

Disgusting Dog Worms in Your Backyard

You might be surprised to learn that most worms are picked up in the following ways:

  • through the soil
  • from ingesting a host like a rodent
  • absorbed into the placenta
  • ingested directly from the mother’s milk

Puppies are always more vulnerable to worm infestations, especially if the mother has had worms.  As noted above, puppies easily ingest worm eggs and/or larvae that have been passed from the mother’s placenta into her milk.

Roundworms are easily spotted in the dog’s stool or in their vomit.  You might first think the dog has eaten spaghetti.

The general assumption is that puppies have worms when they’re born, which is why puppies are treated for worms in the weeks following their birth.

Dogs older than six months can develop an immunity to active roundworms, but the larvae will remain in the tissues of the dog until something like stress or illness releases them.

Essentially, worm larvae develop a protective “shell” through a process called encystation. Through this process, the larvae remain dormant.

During times of stress (long trips, sudden routine changes, the introduction of a new pet into your home, etc.)  the larvae become reactivated and find their way back into your dog’s stomach and intestinal lining where the whole cycle is repeated again.

If you’ve treated the initial infestation with the help of a licensed veterinarian, and your dog is generally healthy, there’s no reason to worry. Just repeat the process of worming your dog according to the veterinarian’s instructions.  Treatment for roundworms is safe and fast-acting.  Financially, it might be more feasible to try an over-the-counter wormer.  In my experience, they often involve a lengthy, sometimes complicated routine, that I’m not likely to follow.

Like me, you probably want to be rid of those worms as soon as possible!  The longer it takes to get rid of an infestation, the longer your dog could be exposing other animals, or the family, to worms.  

I suggest making an appointment with a trusted veterinarian for all initial worming concerns.  In addition to treating the problem, your veterinarian will check to make sure your dog hasn’t suffered from anemia or other health concerns while infected.

Ask your veterinarian about approved over-the-counter medicine for future use, if that’s something you’d like to pursue. It’s important for the veterinarian to rule out any health-related concerns that are directly or indirectly related to worms. A clean bill of health is key for your dog to be able to withstand a temporary parasite infection.

2. Tapeworms– People CAN Get Worms From Their Dogs

The fact is, people can get worms from their dogs.  Roundworms and tapeworms have infected people through contact with contaminated soil, contaminated water, or feces.

Later on, I’ll explain what can happen when worms are passed over to humans.

Dogs with tapeworms don’t show obvious signs or symptoms until the worms multiply, further impacting the dog’s immune system.  The nature of tapeworms is to feed from the dog’s blood via the intestinal tract, and the more worms there are, the worse your dog’s health will be.

Tapeworm segments look like pieces of rice. If your dog has them, they should be easy to see in the feces, around the anus, or stuck to the base of the tail.

Some veterinarians suggest only treating a dog for tapeworms once those segments have been identified

There are two reasons for this:

  1. a) expense of the treatment
  2. b) avoiding unnecessary medications

The most common way a dog becomes infected with a tapeworm is by swallowing a flea or eating a dead rodent.

Tapeworms are more of a concern to dog owners who live in rural areas where there’s a higher probability of coming into contact with infected wildlife. Farms, grassy yards, and homes frequented by wild pests (raccoons, rabbits, fox, etc.) leave your dog more susceptible.

The last thing you want to deal with are tapeworms.  The best way to avoid the problem altogether is through ongoing flea treatment prevention

3. Go Ahead and Assume There Are Whip Worms in Your Soil

While most people have heard about tapeworms, whip worms aren’t as talked about.  Like hookworms, they’re not very big, growing to only 2 or 3 inches long (although that’s long enough, thank you very much!).

They’re thin and – naturally – resemble a whip.  Whip worms are picked up from….

  •  Dog feces
  •  Infected soil

These guys are really hard to get rid of because the eggs continue to infect for up to five years!  It’s a useless guessing game, so just assume that the soil is infected with whip worms and take steps accordingly.

A regular, topical anti-parasitic medication will give you peace of mind and allow you to relax while out enjoying the fresh air with your pooch. You want to be able to play with your dog and not worry about touching worms or wondering about his/her health.

Keep on top of these and you’ll keep worms at bay.

  •  Remove feces from the yard every day
  •  Keep dirt runs on gravel rather than dirt
  •  If possible, create a concrete or paved run for your dog. Concrete and gravel runs can be disinfected with a solution of bleach and water.

4. Your Dog Could be Harboring a Dangerous Killer – Heart Worms.

Heart worms appear in the dog just as the name implies:  in the heart. If you’ve ever seen a pot of cooked fusilli noodles, you’ll have a pretty good idea what they look like.  These worms can reach anywhere from four to twelve inches in length, depending on the sex. Male worms average about four to six inches while its female counterpart can grow as long as twelve.

Any time your dog is bitten by a mosquito, he/she is vulnerable to heart worms. It’s that simple.

Heart worms are particularly worrisome for a several reasons, including:

  • their prominent location in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of your dog
  • the prevalence of mosquitoes globally
  • the ease in overlooking general symptoms
  • the earliest a dog can test positive for heart worms is five months after it is bitten by an infected mosquito.

In the early stages of infestation, dogs show few, if any, symptoms. As the infestation grows (from 15 to upwards of 250 worms!), the dog might show some general fatigue. Fatigue in an older dog might easily be dismissed as age-related.

  • Once infected with larvae, it takes up to six months for them to mature.
  • Heart worms can cycle through their entire lifespan while living inside your dog.
  • Veterinarian approved heart worm treatment does not kill an already present, mature heart worm.
  • Heart worm is much cheaper, easier, and safer to prevent than to treat.

Symptoms occurring six months or later could include:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble breathing
  • Heart failure

This is Vital Information…

Heart worm treatments do not kill adult heart worms already present in your dog. Heart worm treatments are designed to prevent the initial infestation by killing the larvae, before they mature.

We’re only human, and it’s tempting to let treatments slide during the colder, winter months. However, with an ever-changing environment and uncertain temperatures, it’s not unheard of to see mosquitoes all-year round, depending on where you live.  Keeping a monthly routine of heart worm treatment is the best way to keep your pooch happy and healthy.

5. Let’s Talk About Hookworms

Hookworms are typically a quarter inch to one inch long.  Like tapeworms, hookworms attach their mouths to the small intestine of your dog.  Like any parasite, hookworms will feed on the host until eradicated.

Hookworms, like the other worms identified in this article, can be picked up a number of ways, including:

  •  through the soil
  •  absorbed into the placenta and passed on to pups
  •  direct penetration of the skin from contaminated soil (mainly through the paws)
  •  ingesting a host, such as a rodent

Hookworms, like roundworms, can also remain dormant within your dog’s tissues.  If the dog becomes ill, or suffers prolonged stress, the hookworms will reactivate.  You’ll know that this has happened because your dog will show the primary symptom of bloody diarrhea.

Prevent reinfections by promoting frequent hand-washing. 

Schedule a visit with the veterinarian. You might also want to consider holistic approaches to de-worming, provided your dog is already in good health and has no allergies.

Before attempting to de-worm on your own, it’s important to have your dog checked out by a veterinarian to make sure there are no other health concerns present.  Over-the-counter and holistic de-worming techniques are based on the assumption that your dog is in good, overall health.

While at-home procedures might not be inherently dangerous to the dog, they can prolong the experience if not done properly. The longer the worms are inside your dog, the more time they have to infest you, your family, and other pets.

Can Humans Get Worms From Their Dogs?

In a word: yes. The following worms can infest humans:

  • Thread worm
  • Roundworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Whip worms
  • Hookworms

Unless you’ve swallowed a flea or eaten raw meat, it’s unlikely you have a tapeworm.

Some ways you can get worms (not necessarily from your dog), include:

  • Worm eggs passed to humans through the soil to your mouth
  • Poor sanitation
  • Under-cooked meat and fish

The best way to avoid becoming infested with worms yourself is to:

  • Wash your hands after handling soil, petting your dog, or picking up dog feces.
  • Maintain preventative worm treatments in your dog to avoid infestations in the first place.
  • If possible, provide a dog run that is on concrete or gravel, not soil. Sterilize the run regularly with a bleach/water solution and rinse well afterwards.
  • Sanitize the dog’s bedding.

The Not-So-Final Word on Worms

It’s hard to imagine there might be invasive, parasitic worms living and thriving beneath your dog’s soft, adorable exterior. We want to be close to our dogs, but worms just want to be closer.

Worms in dogs are part of the program but, as noted earlier, there are several factors you can control to reduce the risks. The safest bet is to have your dog professionally tested and treated from the puppy stage onward.

RESCUE DOGS should be taken to a veterinarian immediately and tested for worms. Never begin preventative treatments until you’re sure there isn’t already an infestation, especially when you don’t know the dog’s medical history.

REMEMBER:  Raw meat is worm meat!

Raw food diets should be limited to plant-based foods that have been proved safe for canines.  Raw or improperly cooked meat can be a source of tapeworm infestation and should be avoided at all costs.  It’s much nicer to enjoy your dog’s kisses and cuddles when you know he or she has been effectively, and safely, treated for worms.

If you’re STILL worried you may have contracted worms from your dog, go ahead and read this!

Infographic created by Kidus Yoseph (Upworks.com)