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How to Tell If a Dog Has Worms: Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For - PawSafe

How to Tell If a Dog Has Worms: Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how to tell if dog has worms

One common health issue that dogs face is worms. These pesky parasites can cause discomfort and even severe health problems if left untreated. If that’s not all, some worms-infected animals show signs of infestation once the worms have thrived in their bodies. This leaves dog owners wondering how to tell if a dog has worms and this is a problem I’m all too familiar with.

Preventing worms is critical to keeping your dog healthy. Regular deworming is recommended for all dogs, especially puppies, and dogs that spend time outdoors or around other animals. In this text, we consulted the MSD manuals and the most up-to-date research on intestinal parasites in the United States. So let’s look at Dr. Andrew Peregrine, BVMS, PhD, DVM, DEVPC, has to say about how to identify them in your dog, and the steps to take to ensure a healthy life for your pet and looked at my own recent experience as to how I found out my puppy had worms.

Worms in dogs are a common and diverse group of internal parasites that can infest a dog’s gastrointestinal tract or other organs. These parasites can negatively impact your dog’s health and cause various symptoms.

81% of stray dogs are worm-infested compared to 41% of domesticated dogs due to their wandering nature and eating from dustbins. Failure to complete the treatment may allow the remaining worms to develop resistance to the medication. 

Case Study: How I Could Tell My Puppy Had Worms

As a dedicated dog trainer who thrives in a bustling multi-dog household, I’m accustomed to the daily symphony of barks and the joyful chaos of our group hikes. My pack’s off-leash adventures are full of discoveries, and, admittedly, the occasional dietary indiscretion. While it’s a delightful sight to see them romping freely, it’s not without its risks. For instance, the curious case of why dogs might snack on unsavory items like poop is a behavioral quirk I’m all too familiar with — a phenomenon that’s not only puzzling but can lead to health issues.

Vigilance in health matters is a creed I live by, especially in a shared space where both two-legged and four-legged family members coexist. It’s why our household sticks to a strict biannual deworming schedule. 

However, life has a way of throwing curveballs, and our routine was disrupted when my puppy, Arthur, was hit with Parvo — an ordeal that led to a lot of stress and sleepless nights. After our battle with Parvo, Arthur exhibited a worrying behavioral shift. He seemed to forget all about his house training, leaving me with more than a few messes to clean up.

One such cleanup stopped me in my tracks. There, amidst the unfortunate evidence of Arthur’s forgotten manners, were telltale signs that no pet parent wants to see: small white grains, similar to rice, which I immediately recognized weren’t grains at all. These were worm eggs, a clear signal that despite our best efforts, an unwelcome guest had invaded our household.

I knew then that it was time to act swiftly. Deworming became the order of the day — not just for the dogs, but for all of us, since dogs and humans can contaminate each other with parasites. 

Sharing your life with dogs means sharing everything, after all, and that includes the responsibility of health care. Getting the entire household on a deworming regime was necessary to ensure that our home remained a sanctuary of health, rather than a breeding ground for parasites.

Now let’s dive into the different types that could affect your dog, and how to know if your dog may have them.

Common Types of Worms in Dogs & Their Symptoms

A microscopic view of the mouth of an intestinal worm from a dog

When it comes to worms in dogs, several types are common. Knowing the different kinds of worms and their symptoms can help you identify if your dog has worms and seek the appropriate treatment. 

Once an infected dog passes their feces, the eggs can survive in the environment for years due to their hardness and can withstand extreme temperatures. A study from BioMed Central that dogs are most prone to a hookworm and roundworm infestation. Whipworm and roundworm infections are most common in winter, while your dog is most at risk of hookworms at the end of summer or in the fall.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common types of worms in dogs:

Roundworms

Roundworms are the most common type of worm found in dogs. They are long and thin and have a lifetime of two to three weeks. Most roundworms are located in the soil, consuming other roundworms, fungi, and microbes. Roundworms can be transmitted through contaminated soil, feces from an infected host, or from mother to puppy during pregnancy.

Infected dogs may show symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting;
  • Diarrhea; 
  • Dull coat; and
  • A pot-bellied appearance. 

Puppies are especially susceptible to roundworms, as they can be passed from the mother during nursing.

Hookworms

Hookworms are shaped like a hook, hence their name. They have three sets of teeth that enable them to hook and suck blood on the walls of the small intestines in their host. After mating, the female goes ahead to lay numerous eggs.

The eggs are passed down to the large intestines and are ejected into the environment.  Hookworms ejected are not effective until five to ten days when they can attach themselves to the host through penetration or ingestion.

Symptoms of hookworms in dogs include:

  • Green pee due to anemia; 
  • Weight loss; and 
  • Diarrhea. 

Whipworms

Whipworms are a type of worm that live in the large intestine of dogs. They are long and thin and have a whip-like appearance. Whipworms can be transmitted through contaminated soil or feces.

Dogs infected with whipworms may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody); 
  • Weight loss; 
  • Dull coat; and 
  • A generally decreased energy level.

It’s essential to keep your dog’s living area clean and to pick up after your dog to avoid reinfection from their poop.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms are a type of worm that live in the small intestine of dogs. Tapeworms can be transmitted through fleas(Dipylidium caninum) or from ingesting infected animals such as rodents(Taenia spp).

Symptoms of tapeworms include:

  • Shaggy coat; 
  • Failure to grow; 
  • Anemia; and 
  • Diarrhea.

Heartworms

Heartworms are a type of worm that lives in the heart and lungs of dogs. They are transmitted through mosquito bites and can cause serious health problems if left untreated. Symptoms of heartworms include coughing, fatigue, blue tongues, and difficulty breathing.

It is important to note that some dogs may not show any symptoms of worms for six to nine months after infestation.  Treatment for worms can vary depending on the type of worm. This is why it is vital to have your dog tested regularly by a veterinarian. 

Recognizing Symptoms of Worms

When it comes to our doggies, it’s essential to keep an eye on them, not only for signs of worms but for any abnormal behavior. Changes in behavior in dogs may indicate health issues. Here are some common symptoms to look for if you suspect your dog may have worms.

1. Digestive Issues

Many types of intestinal worms can irritate the lining of the dog’s intestines, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. The diarrhea may vary from mild to severe and can be accompanied by mucus or blood in the stool. 

2. Weight Loss

Intestinal worms feed on the nutrients in the dog’s digestive system. As they consume essential nutrients, the dog’s body receives fewer nutrients, resulting in malnutrition. This can lead to weight loss over time as the dog’s body is not receiving the necessary calories and nutrients.

3. Visible Worms 

In some cases, you may see worms in your dog’s feces, around their anus, or in their vomit. Different worms look different, so it’s essential to identify the specific type if possible. In the case of tapeworms, you might see small, rice-like segments (proglottids) around your dog’s anus or in their bedding.

4. Lethargy

Dogs with worms may appear more tired or lethargic than usual. The puppy may not eat and sleep a lot and may lack energy and interest in their everyday activities. Hookworms can cause internal bleeding in the dog’s intestinal tract. This can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by a reduced number of red blood cells, resulting in fatigue and lethargy.

5. Change in Coat Condition

A dull or dry coat, as well as hair loss, can sometimes be associated with worm infestations. Intestinal worms can interfere with the dog’s ability to absorb essential nutrients from their food.

A balanced diet includes vitamins, minerals, and proteins for maintaining healthy skin and coat. When a dog’s body is not receiving adequate nutrients, it can result in a lackluster and unhealthy coat.

6. Coughing

Heartworms can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, and fatigue in dogs. These symptoms can be severe in advanced cases.

7. Swollen Abdomen and Itchy or Irritated Rear End

Dogs with tapeworms may scoot or drag their rear ends along the ground due to itching or irritation in the anal area. 

8. Poor Appetite

Many intestinal parasites can irritate the lining of the dog’s gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. This discomfort can make eating unappealing for the dog.

Diagnosing Worms in Dogs

diagnosing worms in dogs

There are a few methods that veterinarians use to determine whether your dog has worms. In this section, we’ll go over the three primary forms of diagnosing worms in dogs.

Veterinary Check-Up

The first step in diagnosing dog worms is to take your dog for a check-up. During the check-up, the veterinarian will examine your dog’s overall health and look for any signs of worms. This may include checking your dog’s fur for signs of fleas or ticks, as well as checking your dog’s stool for any signs of worms.

Stool Examination

One of the most common methods of diagnosing worms in dogs is through a stool examination. During a stool examination, your veterinarian will take a small sample of your dog’s stool under a microscope. It allows the vet to look for any signs of worms or worm eggs in your dog’s stool.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can help detect certain types of worms, such as heartworms. During a blood test, your veterinarian will take a small sample of your dog’s blood and examine it for any signs of worms or worm-related diseases.

Treatment and Prevention

When it comes to treating and preventing worms in dogs, there are a few different approaches that can be taken. In this section, we’ll cover some of the most common methods that we use to keep our pups healthy and worm-free.

Prevention

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to health issues. Here are a few tips to help keep your dog worm-free:

  • Regularly deworm your dog as your vet recommends, especially after visiting the park. Adult dogs should be wormed after every three months. For puppies younger than 12 weeks, deworm them two times in one week. Then, deworm them monthly until they are six months old.
  • Clean after your dog.
  • Keep your dog’s living area clean and tidy.
  • Don’t let your dog eat feces or other animals’ waste.
  • Keep your dog from mingling with infected pets in the park or the neighborhood.

Medications

There are a variety of different medications that can be used, depending on the type of worms your dog has and the severity of the infestation. Some common medications include:

  • Fenbendazole;
  • Praziquantel (Tapeworm dewormer); and
  • Pyrantel pamoate.

It’s important to note that while medication can be effective, it’s not the only treatment method. Additionally, some dogs may experience side effects from certain medications, so it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about which remedy is best for your dog.

Hygiene & Cleaning

Good hygiene and cleaning practices can go a long way in preventing dog worms. Regularly cleaning your dog’s bedding, toys, and other belongings can help eliminate any eggs or larvae that may be present. Additionally, it’s essential to pick up your dog’s waste promptly and dispose of it properly, as this can help to prevent the spread of worms.

By using a combination of these methods, we can help to keep our dogs healthy and happy, free from the discomfort and health issues that worms can cause.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the symptoms of worms in dogs?

Some common symptoms of worms in dogs include diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and a pot-bellied appearance. You may also notice your dog scooting or dragging their bottom on the ground or licking or biting at their anus.

What does dog poop look like if the dog has worms?

If your dog has worms, you may notice that their poop appears abnormal. It may contain worms or worm segments, or it may be loose and runny. In some cases, you may even see blood in the poop.

Can humans get worms from dogs?

Yes, humans can get worms from dogs, although it is rare. Some types of worms that dogs can carry, such as roundworms and hookworms, can be transmitted to humans. It’s essential to practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands after handling your dog or cleaning up their poop to ensure your safety.

How do dogs get worms?

Dogs can get worms in various ways, including eating contaminated soil or feces, drinking contaminated water, or ingesting infected prey. They can also acquire worms from fleas or other parasites that carry the worms.

Can I deworm my dog myself?

While it is possible to deworm your dog yourself, it’s essential to consult with your veterinarian first. They can recommend the best type of dewormer for your dog and guide how to administer it safely and effectively.

How do you get rid of worms in dogs ASAP?

The best way to get rid of worms in dogs is to take them to the vet for treatment. Your vet can prescribe a dewormer that will target the specific type of worms your dog has and provide guidance on how to prevent re-infection. It’s important to follow your vet’s instructions carefully and to continue treatment until all of the worms are gone.

Conclusion

Signs of worms can vary depending on the type of worm your dog has, so it’s essential to keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior and health. By being vigilant and taking the necessary precautions, you can help keep your dog healthy and worm-free.

Prevention is critical when it comes to worms in dogs. Make sure to keep your dog’s living area clean and free of feces, and always pick up after your dog when you’re out on walks. Regularly deworming your dog can also help prevent a worm infestation.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.