There are many different types of intestinal worms in dogs. And each type of worm can affect your dog in different ways.
The good news is, there are natural, safe ways to get rid of worms. You don't have to resort to those harsh chemical dewormers.
But before you think about deworming your dog, you should know the signs of worms.
Signs Of Worms In Dogs
Some worms aren’t visible to the naked eye. So here are a few clues that could mean your dog has worms:
- Intermittent or frequent diarrhea or vomiting
- Your dog may have a fever
- He may scoot and lick his rear (though scooting can mean other things too)
- Your dog may be off his food or be a little lethargic; his coat may look dull
- You might see mucus coated stools that otherwise look normal
- You might see squiggly worms or “rice bodies” in his stool
If your dog’s showing some of these signs, you might want to get a fecal sample analyzed by your vet.
How To Collect A Fecal Sample
You need to get a fresh sample … so don’t just go out in your yard and find day-old poop.
Go outside with your dog or take him out on a leash to get a fresh sample. You don’t need to take your vet the whole poop. A sample about the size of two or three sugar cubes is usually enough. You can use a poop bag to “pinch off” a sample and then dispose of the rest of the pile in the usual way.
Place the sample in a clean small plastic container. Old pill bottles are ideal but you should wash them out thoroughly first. Label the container with your dog’s name and your last name and take it to the vet as soon as you can. If you can’t go right away, store it in the refrigerator (not the freezer) or outdoors in cooler weather.
Because of the life cycle of the worm, false negatives can sometimes happen. This means the test says there are no worms when your dog has them. If you get a negative result but still see symptoms, it’s a good idea to retest.
If your dog tests positive for intestinal worms, you need to know which kind he has before deciding how to treat them.
Types of Worms
The most common types of intestinal worms in dogs are roundworms, hookworm, whipworms and tapeworms.
Roundworms live and reproduce in the small intestine. Adult roundworms are 1 to 7 inches long and look like spaghetti.
They have microscopic eggs so your dog can pick them up in his environment. They may also come from eating infected animals like birds or rodents.
For most adult dogs roundworms are low risk and don’t cause health problems. But if you have a pregnant female with roundworms, she can give them to her puppies during pregnancy. In puppies, roundworms can be more serious. They can cause diarrhea and vomiting, which may result in malnutrition and impaired growth.
Symptoms of roundworm to look for:
- Lethargic or weak
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Signs of abdominal pain
- Dull coat
Weight loss can mean a more significant infection.
Hookworms also live mainly in the small intestine. They’re grey and between ½ and ¾ inch long. The front end of the worm has a hook that attaches to the intestinal lining, where it feeds on your dog’s blood.
Your dog can pick up hookworm larvae from the soil, through his mouth or through the skin on his pads. Most adult dogs develop some immunity to hookworms. But if your dog is immune-compromised he can be more susceptible to infection.
Diarrhea and vomiting are the usual symptoms of hookworm.
Nursing females can give hookworm to puppies through milk. This can cause chronic diarrhea (often with blood or mucus) and anemia. Signs of anemia include weakness, depression, lethargy and pale mucous membranes.
Whipworms attach to the mucous membranes lining the cecum and colon. Here they feed on your dog’s blood. Adult whipworms are 2 to 3 inches long and tapered at one end, like a whip – hence the name.
Your dog can get whipworms from swallowing whipworm eggs in soil or water that contain dog feces.
Signs of whipworms are diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss.
Whipworms eggs survive for a long time so reinfection after treatment is common.
Tapeworms are long, flat worms that attach to the intestines. If your dog has tapeworms you might see worm segments that look like grains of rice in his poop.
There are about 14 different species of tapeworm. Fleas carry tapeworm eggs so if your dog has fleas, he could get tapeworm. Tapeworm segments themselves aren’t infectious.
Your dog can also get tapeworms by eating intermediate hosts like …
- Small rodents
- Even large animals
NOTE: If you’re a raw feeder, freezing meats for 10 days before feeding will get rid of tapeworms.
If your dog has tapeworms he may not show any signs of illness. Over time his coat may start to look dull and he may lose his appetite or lose a little weight.
Giardia lives in the intestine and is a protozoan (parasite) with a hair-like tail. Your dog can pick up giardia by drinking water contaminated with the feces of infected animals or humans.
Many dogs don’t get any symptoms from giardia. Others may develop chronic, intermittent diarrhea. The signs are usually more severe in puppies.
Coccidia are also protozoans that live in the intestinal walls. Most adult dogs don’t show symptoms but can spread the infection through their feces.
Coccidiosis can be quite common in puppies. In young puppies, coccidiosis can cause serious diarrhea. It may even cause death from dehydration and malnourishment.
Avoiding De-Worming Drugs
I’ve got some great recommendations for foods and herbs that can help prevent and treat worms. But first I want to emphasize why you shouldn’t use deworming drugs. Not for prevention and not to treat worm infestations in your dog.
There are many different drugs available and, like any drugs, they all have side effects.
Here are some examples of the adverse drug events from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These are just for the most common active ingredients in de-worming drugs. And some drugs contain more than one active ingredient.
- Fenbendazole. This is the active ingredient in some of the most commonly used de-worming products: Panacur®, Drontal Plus ® and Safe-Guard®. The most common are vomiting, depression/lethargy, diarrhea, anorexia and anaphylaxis. There have been 126 reported deaths. Other side effects listed include itching and facial swelling.
- Pyrantel. This is the active ingredient in Drontal® Plus, PRO-Wormer 2®, Nemex®-2. Side effects include vomiting, depression/lethargy, anorexia and 204 instances of death.
- Praziquantel. This is the active ingredient in Droncit®, Drontal® Plus. Reported adverse events include vomiting, depression/lethargy, diarrhea, anorexia and 13 deaths.
- Combination Drugs. Some drug manufacturers combine de-worming ingredients with heartworm drugs. They then market these combos as preventives for heartworm AND various kinds of intestinal worms. The manufacturers recommend using these drugs monthly. If you do, you’re actually treating your dog unnecessarily for worms he doesn’t have! Some of these include Panacur® Plus, Heartgard® Plus, Tri-Heart® Plus, Iverhart Max®.
Preventing Worms In Dogs
The starting point for preventing and treating worms is a healthy immune system. A dog with a strong immune system is a less attractive host for any kind of parasite.
Many dogs occasionally get some intestinal worms. If your dog is healthy with a strong immune system, they probably won’t make him sick. You may never even know he had the worms because he'll just expel them naturally.
To help prevent worms, consider these 3 tips ...
- Approximately 90% of the immune system is in the gut, so giving your dog the best diet you can will help keep worms away. Feed your dog a natural raw meat-based diet.
- Support your dog’s overall wellbeing. Avoiding pharmaceutical drugs like antibiotics and vaccines. Stay away from pesticides such as flea, tick and heartworm medications. These will have a negative effect on your dog’s immune system.
- Keep your yard free of poop to help prevent your dog from picking up intestinal worms.
Foods To Prevent Worms
You can add some of the foods below to your dog’s diet to help prevent worms. They will also help get rid of a worm infestation.
Fruit And Vegetables
Several foods can help make your dog’s intestinal tract less attractive to worms. These include:
- Grated raw carrot
The orange veggies also provide vitamin A, which can help eliminate roundworms.
Feed any of the above fruits and vegetables you like. Give at least ½ tsp of each veggie or fruit per 10 lbs of your dog’s body weight, twice daily. Don’t overdo the orange veggies or your dog may get orange poop!
Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes
Probiotics help maintain a good balance of healthy gut bacteria. They can strengthen your dog’s immune system and help him keep worms at bay.
Digestive enzymes also provide extra support to the digestive system to help get rid of parasites.
For both probiotics and digestive enzymes, if you use a product made for dogs, follow the package dosing recommendations. If you use a human product, assume it’s for a 150 lb person and adjust according to your dog’s weight.
Apple Cider Vinegar
A naturally alkaline system kills parasites. About ¼ to 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar added to your dog’s food or water every day can help keep his system alkaline.
Natural Worm Treatments
Here are some of the more common herbal and other natural treatment options.
Keep in mind that you should not overuse these herbs. Don’t use more than the recommended amount without consulting your holistic vet or herbalist.
CAUTION: Except for pumpkin seeds and black seed ... you should not use these remedies for dogs during pregnancy or lactation.
Raw, organic pumpkin seeds can help prevent or expel worms. You can grind them and place them in your dog’s dish. Ground seeds will mix well with ground meat.
Give ¼ teaspoon per ten pounds of your dog’s weight. Pumpkin seeds are safe to use, even during pregnancy.
Black seed or black cumin seed (nigella sativa) comes from the mid-east and parts of Africa. Indigenous populations have used is for centuries and it’s known as “the cure for everything except death.”
Black seed will get rid of most types of worms and is completely safe. Depending on the size of your dog, use ½ to 1 teaspoon of black seed in food per day. You can heat the seeds first to reduce the bitter taste.
Whole seeds are best, but if using black seed oil, halve the above dose.
Garlic is safe and is good for your dog when fed in moderation. Garlic can boost the immune system and help fight worms and giardia.
In fact, research shows that garlic to be just as effective as the toxic chemical dewormer, Ivermectin. Garlic helps rid the stomach wall of mucus and makes it less hospitable for worms. It also contains an amino acid called allicin. Allicin is effective against roundworms and hookworms.
Peel and chop the garlic and allow it to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. This releases the allicin.
Feed in the following amounts:
- Small dogs up to ¼ clove twice a day
- Medium dogs up ½ clove twice a day
- Large dogs up to ¾ clove twice a day
- Giant breeds up 1 clove twice a day
CAUTION: Don’t use garlic if your dog’s taking cyclosporine or blood thinners.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
DE can reduce the number of worms in your dog although it may not be as effective for tapeworms.
When using DE for your dog, use food grade, not pool grade DE. Feed small dogs 1 tsp per day and dogs over 55 pounds up to 1 Tbsp per day. Make sure it’s well mixed in his food as inhaling DE can irritate your dog’s lungs.
You can also sprinkle DE sparingly on the skin to prevent fleas (and the tapeworms they may carry).
This herb can work to prevent and expel both roundworms and whipworms. It may not work as quickly as other herbs but it’s effective and has anti-inflammatory properties. It can calm the intestinal tract when parasites cause discomfort (bloating, gas or cramps).
Chamomile is best used as a glycerin tincture. Give 0.25 to 0.50 ml per 20 lbs of body weight, twice daily in your dog’s mouth or drinking water.
Cloves are effective against microscopic parasites such as giardia and coccidia.
Give one clove per 10 lbs of body weight once daily, or a small pinch of clove powder in food. Freshly crushed leaves will kill the eggs of parasites.
CAUTION: Do not give cloves to pregnant females as they can cause miscarriage. Cloves can be highly toxic given in large doses and you should also be careful when using them on small dogs.
Olive leaf extract will help flush parasites out of your dog’s intestinal tract. Oleuropein is a unique compound contained in the fruit and leaves of olive trees.
Olive leaf extract comes with different strengths of oleuropein. To treat intestinal worms, look for olive leaf extract containing 12% oleopurin or higher.
Give your dog this olive leaf extract for eight weeks, in the following amounts.
- 300 mg twice per day for small dogs
- 500 mg twice per day for medium dogs
- 1000 mg twice per day for large and giant dogs
Give neem leaf twice a day for one week to help expel intestinal parasites (but not tapeworm). Use 150 mg per day for small dogs, 250 mg for medium dogs and 500 mg for large dogs.
Slippery elm is a gentle laxative that can help your dog get worms out of his system. It can also soothe any irritations the worms cause in the digestive tract. This makes slippery elm a very good supplement to give alongside other treatment options.
Mix the powder into food or some yogurt, ⅛ tsp per 10 lbs of body weight.
When dosing your dog with herbal wormers, it can be more effective to give them ten days on, five days off, and then ten days on.
It only takes ten days to kill the worms. But when worms die off they’ll lay eggs to propagate the next generation. And it takes about five days for the eggs to hatch so you should repeat the treatment to kill the new offspring.
You may wish to bring another stool sample to your vet after the treatment series to confirm the worms are gone.
Liver, Kidney And Lymph Support
Any time you’re treating worms it’s a good idea to support the kidneys and liver as well as the lymph system. This will help move fluids and process worms that get absorbed by the blood.
Giving milk thistle seed at the same time as other treatments can help protect the liver. Milk thistle is best given in a tincture, starting at ¼ tsp per 20 pounds of body weight.
Parsley, one of my favorite herbs for so many things, acts as a lymph and fluid mover as well as a de-wormer (vermifuge).
Make a parsley tea using ⅛ to ¼ cup of fresh parsley to 1 cup of water. Heat the water and steep for about five minutes. Give your dog 1 tsp of parsley tea for every 10 lbs of weight daily for no more than 10 days.
CAUTION: Don't use parsley if your dog has kidney issues.
Written By Rita Hogan
Rita Hogan is a canine herbalist and co-founder of Farm Dog Naturals, an herbal remedy company for the All-Natural Dog. Rita combines nature with her love for dogs by offering consulting that focuses on dogs as individuals: mind, body and spirit. Her practice incorporates herbal medicine, complementary therapies and environmental stewardship to help dogs and people find balance and partnership with nature. Connect with Rita through her website canineherbalist.com