What is Worms in Dogs?

Worms refer to when a dog has parasites. While generally not life-threatening, it’s good to know the signs and symptoms. A veterinarian can explain more.

Feb 12, 2024By Thalia Oosthuizen
what is worms in dogs

Bringing a new dog home is exciting. A new puppy is cute and cuddly and makes everyone laugh. It might be distressing to think of your sweet puppy having worms, but not to worry. Worms are one of the most easily treatable health issues in a dog.

How do you determine if your dog has worms or another parasite? We will talk about the warning signs that may indicate an issue, the different types of treatments, and some general things to know. First, though, what is “worms” in dogs?

Worms Refer to Parasites in Some Dogs

Jack Russell Dog Lying in Grass
Image credit: Vetster

Worms in dogs are intestinal parasites that feed off nutrients and blood. Worms can be uncomfortable for your dog, and some of them, if left untreated, can even be fatal.

There are many different types of parasites, some less common than others. We will go over all the different types and how to treat them.

How Do Dogs Get Worms?

Dog at Vet Receiving Treatment for Worms
Image credit: Senior Tail Waggers

There are a few different ways a dog can get worms. The most common ways include:

Eating Feces

Some dogs develop a bad habit of eating feces. If they eat contaminated feces, then they can ingest worms this way. If a dog eats its contaminated waste, then it can reinfest itself over and over, even after treatment.

Promptly cleaning up their waste or monitoring their outdoor playtime can reduce the risk of worms and other common health problems.

From Their Mothers

Mothers can transfer parasite larvae to their young while pregnant or nursing. This is a big concern in litters of street dog puppies. Puppy worms are easily treated with worming tablets. Getting a puppy from an ethical breeder can also ensure that your dog doesn’t get infected.

Ingesting Fleas While Grooming

Fleas ingest tapeworm eggs before climbing onto your dog’s fur. Your dog could ingest the fleas while cleaning itself. The eggs then hatch and infest your dog’s system.

Signs Your Dog May Have Worms

Dog Digging Hole in Garden
Image credit: Dig-In

Some signs of worms in dogs include:

  • Diarrhea - It can be distressing when your pup gets diarrhea, but most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about and can happen for many reasons not related to worms. But if it is bloody or contains mucous, your dog may have a parasite.
  • Vomiting - If your pup begins vomiting with no apparent cause, and it lasts more than a day, you should take him to the vet. If he is vomiting up worms, then you’ll know the cause for sure.
  • Weight loss - Losing weight suddenly despite eating well, having little energy, sleeping a lot, or having dull eyes could be an indication they may have worms.
  • A dull coat - Your dog’s coat is a good indicator of its health. If it’s dull and dry, that could be a sign of worms.
  • Bottom scooting - A dog with worms also tends to scoot their bottom on the ground to scratch at it. You might even see little “rice grain” type particles either in their fur or around the anus.

What Are the Different Types of Worms?

Roundworm in Grass
Image credit: A-Z Animals

As noted, worms don’t refer to a single disease or infestation. They can refer to:

  • Whipworms - The most typical indication of an infestation is chronic weight loss and bloody diarrhea or visible mucus in the feces.
  • Hookworms - They are not visible to the naked eye, but the symptoms would be bloody diarrhea, lethargy and weakness, and anemia (though this is something the vet would determine with testing).
  • Roundworms - It’s easy to see roundworms, as they are visible to the naked eye and look like spaghetti. They can be seen in the dog’s waste or are sometimes coughed up. They can cause a pot-belly appearance, a dull coat, and, like the other worms, lethargy.
  • Tapeworms - If you see little rice-like grains near your dog’s butt, he might have tapeworms. These are the parasite’s eggs. These cause excessive scooting, scratching, and itching.
  • Heartworms - These are thread-like worms that are spread by mosquitoes. They migrate to the heart, as the name implies, and can eventually cause organ failure and death. This worm is a serious one, so it’s essential to get your pup tested yearly.

These are the most common symptoms of worms. Other parasites can infect your dog, but knowing the essential things to look out for can make sure your dog gets the help he needs before it can become threatening to his health.

Can You Get Worms from Dogs?

Old Brown Dog Lying on Lawn
Image credit: NexGard

People can contract hookworm and roundworm infections from dogs from handling their feces. So, taking care of your dog’s health will also protect yours. To be on the safe side, wash your hands after using a poop bag or cleaning up after your friend in the yard.

If you notice your beloved pooch showing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should schedule a visit to their vet. Your vet will probably ask you to bring in a stool sample. They will test your dog to determine if they have worms and what type so that they can use the appropriate treatment.

Worm Prevention: Happy Dog, Happy Home

Dog Being Shown Pill by Owner
Image credit: Kirrawee Veterinary Hospital

Your fur baby is part of the family. When you adopt a new puppy or take on an older dog, it’s a commitment for their lifetime. Health issues with your dog can be worrying, but if you keep yourself informed, you can make sure your pup gets the best care. A great way to get informed is with books every dog owner should read. You can also ask your dog’s veterinarian about how you can keep them healthy and free of worms.

Thalia Oosthuizen
By Thalia Oosthuizen

Thalia has been a freelance writer for over a decade and a dog (and animal) lover for over 30 years. She grew up on a farm where, at one stage, she had 15 dogs. She currently has one dog, Avery - an adorable pavement special with an extra toe on each foot, and two rescue cats - Boris and Mango. In her spare time, Thalia enjoys running, cycling, swimming, and reading