Dogs eat some really weird and gross stuff. As owners, we tend to freak out a little when we see our dogs eating strange things like grass, dead or rotting food or animals, and even poop (totally the worst!). Occasionally you might see your dog licking up a dead worm on the sidewalk, or digging for fresh earthworms in the garden. So why do dogs eat worms?
Seeing your (healthy, and very well-fed) pup eating worms can be disconcerting if you’re a dog owner. Why do dogs eat worms if they’re already well fed and have good healthy treats available? Are they missing some type of nutrients? Do they like the taste? Or do they like the wiggliness of live worms?
Here are some of the reasons your dog might eat worms, and what you should do about it if you catch them.
Why do dogs eat worms?
There could be many different reasons why your dog has developed a taste for worms. These include:
Stress, boredom, or anxiety
Dogs can get bored easily, which means they can get into all types of mischief. They might also suffer from stress or anxiety, depending on their breed, background, and lifestyle.
Ensure your dog is kept occupied, exercised regularly, and given the proper nutrients they need to thrive. This might be enough to snap them out of any new and strange worm-eating behavior.
This condition develops in humans, as well as dogs. If your dog has pica, they may develop a taste for items that aren’t “food”. This includes paper, dirt, poop, plastic, and of course – worms.
Pica can have both behavioral and psychological causes, and usually occurs in older dogs. It can also be caused by liver and endocrine issues, boredom, and stress.
Your dog might be a natural born hunter. Or, your dog’s hunting instinct might be well buried, but suddenly pop up when worms are nearby! It’s quite possible that worms are your dog’s new hunting target, and that tracking them down provides a primal sense of satisfaction for your pup.
It’s helpful to give your dog something else to “hunt” if you suspect that this is the reason for their worm snacks. A new toy or giant bone could be just what they need to distract them.
Dogs are always curious about new animals. A wiggly worm might have them wondering if it’s a food, or a toy. Eventually curiosity can get the better of them and they’ll try it out to see for themselves. If your dog is the curious type, one taste of worm might be enough for them.
They like the taste!
Of course, if your dog tries one worm and loves it, they might just enjoy the new flavor! Many types of worms are edible, and even a delicacy in some countries. They’re tasty, and high in proteins, and it might be that your dog is really enjoying his new found treats.
Is it safe for my dog to eat worms?
Worms by themselves aren’t harmful to your dog. It’s the soil around them, and the potential parasites, bacteria, fungi, and toxins that the worms might be carrying.
These are the main risks for your dog when it starts eating worms regularly:
Your dog can ingest harmful bacteria
Soil contains many types of fungi and bacteria that can make your dog sick. They might have an upset stomach after eating worms, and experience vomiting and diarrhea.
These bacteria don’t typically pose a long-term health threat, but your dog might feel unwell for a few hours or days after eating worms containing bad bacteria.
Your dog can ingest toxic chemicals and pesticides from eating the worms and surrounding soil
Your dog might eat some soil along with his tasty worm snack. This soil can contain chemicals and pesticides that are bad for your dog. These toxins can also be concentrated within the worm.
If your dog is eating a lot of worms, it’s best to curb this behavior to avoid ill effects over time.
Your dog can catch parasites from eating worms
Your dog can catch common parasites that may be in the soil around the worms, or within the worms themselves. These parasites can make your dog sick, which is one of the reasons it’s not good for your dog to eat earthworms.
Common parasites that your dog might contract are:
These are common in dogs, and especially in puppies. If you’re worried your dog might have roundworms, regularly check their poop for tiny, threadlike white worms. If you spot these, consult your vet for the best treatment to flush them out of your dog’s system.
Whipworms and hookworms can also be contracted through ingesting earthworms and surrounding soil.
Less common is Capillaria plica (aka dog bladder worm). As the name suggests, this parasite heads straight for your dog’s kidneys and bladder, and can wreak havoc on their health if they get established in your dog’s system.
While they’re not life threatening, it’s best to see your vet if you notice common symptoms of this parasite, such as incontinence or blood in the urine.
Giant kidney worms
Even less common, but still a risk, is the giant kidney worm – a parasite which can be ingested along with the common earthworm.
As its name implies, this worm infects your dog’s kidneys and abdominal area. These worms can grow up to a meter in length, and can be fatal if they get into both of your dog’s kidneys.
Should I stop my dog eating worms?
Due to the potential risks of toxins and parasites that could be lurking in the soil, it’s best to get your dog out of the habit of eating worms if you notice it’s becoming a regular thing to see him digging in the soil and snacking on earthworms.
How can I stop my dog eating worms?
If you’re concerned about your dog’s new worm-eating hobby, there’s a few basic things you can try to distract them and get them out of the habit.
Constantly watching them and training them out of this “bad” behavior is the first step. There are lots of helpful books on dog training that can assist you in coaching your dog out of unwanted new habits.
Keep your dog inside unless you have the time to vigilantly monitor their outdoors activities. You should also keep your dogs supervised after it’s been raining, as this is the time all those tasty worms come to the surface!
If your dog seems to really enjoy the worm flavor, try keeping some dog-friendly tasty treats on hand to train them away from the worm habit.
Should I see the vet about my dog eating worms?
Keep an eye on your dog for any unusual symptoms if you see them eating worms. It’s also a good idea to check their stools regularly (you lucky dog owner, you!) in case your dog has picked up any parasitic worms while they’ve been foraging.
If you’re worried about your pup’s new worm-tastic diet, or notice any symptoms that are unusual, take your dog to the vet for a check up. The vet will assess them for the presence of parasites or infections they may have picked up, and the treatment is mostly simple and straightforward in the form of de-worming paste or tablets.
In the rare event your dog has picked up one of the lesser-known parasites such as giant kidney worms, your vet will test your dog’s urine to see if there is any evidence of worm eggs. Ultrasound or radiography can then be used to detect any worms living in your pup’s kidneys. If evidence of these invasive worms are found, surgery may be required.
If you think your dog has behavioral or anxiety issues, or that pica might be causing your dog to hunt out worms – your vet can check for nutrient deficiencies, or other evidence of boredom or stress.
Occasionally, your dog may require a short course of anti-anxiety medication to relieve symptoms. But if you can figure out why your dog might be stressed or anxious at home, it’s best to address these causes first before putting your dog on any anxiety treatments.
In conclusion – why do dogs eat worms?
Hopefully this has answered your questions around “why do dogs eat worms?”
In general, eating the odd worm here and there won’t harm your dog. They’re not toxic, and earthworms are even safe for human consumption if they’re prepared properly.
But it’s important to know that if your dog eats a lot of earthworms, they could be in danger of ingesting soil bacteria, pesticides, and harmful parasitic eggs such as roundworms.
It’s best to check with your vet if you notice your dog has developed a worm eating problem, and always ensure your dog is regularly de-wormed to prevent them getting sick from common parasites they may have ingested during their foraging.
Recommended dog training books if you’re worried about your dog eating worms
- Can dogs eat salmon safely?
- Can dogs eat limes, lemons, or other citrus fruit?
- Can my dog eat Honey Nut Cheerios?