We received an interesting question from a reader in Michigan about her dogs eating worms. Actually, the question isn’t really directly about eating worms, but more about the potential dangers associated with dogs digging around in the ground, finding worms, and then playing with them in their mouth, potentially ingesting them (or part of them) in the process. Her scenario is fairly specific and contains a few components, so we’ll quote her message in full, but our general focus will be on the question of whether or not it is safe for your dogs to eat worms.
Here is the reader’s message:
“My dog was digging in a hole as if he had smelled something delicious. Before I could get to him he took off as fast as he could shaking his head vigorously. I knew at that time he had something. By the time I had caught up, he and my other dog had played tug of war and split what looked like a 8-12” whitish worm! I mistakenly went after our younger dog who doesn’t listen as well so I never got my hands on the specimen. Is this possible… ..that it could’ve been a parasitic worm living 4” down in the soil beneath a pine tree along side a fence? We’ve never had issues with our dogs. We have 3, and all are treated with flea prophylactics and well taken care of! So do I now treat for worms and if so what kind? Please help! I’m baffled & disgusted! Thank you for your time!”
We’ll begin by saying, as we always do in these scenarios, that we aren’t veterinarians, and therefore aren’t qualified to offer any specific medical advice for our reader’s dogs. If she suspects the dog has a problem, she’ll have to go to the vet, and as a clearly responsible pet owner, we are sure she will. That said, we do have a few things to say about our reader’s situation.
First, the reader seems to be using the word “worm” in slightly different ways, which has given rise to some confusion. She refers to what the dog found as a worm, and although we aren’t sure what exactly was unearthed, it could just be a large earthworm. The place where the worm was found (four feet under the soil) seems to suggest this, and many dogs are known to go after worms, whether to catch them or eat them. However, then the reader starts talking about the worms that infect dogs, and these of course are not things like the earthworms that you find in the soil. The parasitical worms that infect dogs are generally either eggs or small larva that dogs pick by ingesting something contaminated – like feces with roundworm eggs, or a flea infected with tapeworm – and in any case they certainly aren’t large creatures burrowing beneath the soil. So, our reader’s dog didn’t directly dig up a parasitical worm and then play tug of war with it.
That said, these two types of worms can intersect, as earthworms (for example) can themselves be the creatures infected by parasites that are harmful to dogs. Roundworms eggs are often in soil, and as earthworms work their way through soil, they ingest it, along with all the things that are in the soil. In this way, an earthworm can carry roundworm, which can then be transmitted to your dog should it eat the earthworm. This same logic can be applied to essentially whatever a dog might eat. It isn’t necessarily dangerous for a dog to eat something like grubs, to pick another example we have written about, but this carries risks because of whatever the grubs might have on or in them. Thus, it is advisable to keep your pets from eating the random things they come across outside to the extent that this is possible.
Of course, though, dogs will come into contact with any number of things outside, and this is why it is important to have your dogs regularly screened for worms. So, we don’t think our readers needs to worry, but she should perhaps be a little extra vigilant by, for example, looking for small worms that look a bit like spaghetti in her dog’s feces, which would indicated a roundworm infection. If she notices any problems, she should visit the veterinarian.