5 Facts Vets Want You to Know about Worms in Dogs

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What to know about worms and dogs.

Owner holding her dog while the vet examines the dog.

Whether or not your dog has had worms in the past, you know that worms aren’t good news for your pet. Not only can they cause health problems in your dog — and puppies in particular —some could even pass diseases to you and your family.

In the end, it pays to be well-informed about pests that could potentially harm your dog. Below, we answer five common questions vets receive from dog owners about worms, along with expert answers.

1. Which Worms Should I Worry About?

Roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm, whipworm and heartworm are the primary culprits in dogs, though this can vary depending on the area where you live. Your pet’s lifestyle will often dictate which parasites pose the greatest risk. For instance, dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors can be at greater risk for getting worms.

2. How Do I Know If My Dog Has Worms?

If your dog is fully grown, it’s not always obvious when they have worms, so you might not know for sure. Symptoms for intestinal worms are more obvious in puppies: They might vomit or have diarrhea, and may also have a pot-bellied appearance and a dull coat. However, almost all puppies are born with roundworms, so even those that appear healthy will usually have some worms inside them.

Heartworms are more often diagnosed in adult dogs. These are worms that actually live inside your dog's heart, causing coughing and exercise intolerance.

3. How Did My Dog Get Worms?

Dogs’ everyday curiosity, behavior and propensity to sample things with their mouths will always put them at risk for picking up worms. Digging in dirt, having fleas, eating soil or feces and chasing wildlife are all ways your pet dog can pick up intestinal worms. It’s very easy for dogs to be exposed to a range of parasites throughout their lives.

Dogs become infected with heartworms through the bite of a mosquito. In other words, anywhere there are mosquitoes, dogs are at risk of infection.

4. Why Is Deworming My Dog Important?

Deworming your pup of intestinal worms is important for two reasons. The first is to stop further discomfort or damage the worms may be causing. The second is to reduce the eggs being shed in feces; dogs that are infected with worms will disperse thousands of microscopic eggs out into the soil through their feces, which contaminates the environment and serves as a source of infection for other dogs.

The best defense against heartworm is to have your dog on a heartworm disease prevention product found at your vet’s office.

5. Can I Get Worms from My Dog?

Unfortunately, yes. Anytime dogs are infected and actively shedding eggs in their feces, they can pose a risk to people — especially children. This is why it’s important to pick up your dog’s waste, get in the habit of washing your hands and teach children to wash their hands and avoid putting their fingers in their mouths. Sandboxes, playgrounds and even some beaches can be high-risk areas.

Remember: Consult your vet to get more personalized information about your dog’s specific risk of worms. They will factor in your dog’s lifestyle and the region where you live, and can recommend a treatment plan or heartworm prevention plan tailored to your pet. If you suspect your dog has worms, schedule a visit to treat the infestation quickly — and get your dog back to optimal health. 

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Date of review April 2021

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