One of the main hopes of every dog owner is to see their pet living a full, healthy life. To make this dream come true, you’ll need regular visits to the vet, blood tests and vaccines. But what if your dog catches some parasite you don’t know about? That is a particularly possible situation, especially for outdoor dogs. As such, a bigger question arises: can humans get worms from dogs?
How can you tell if you caught a parasitic infection from your dog? Are your children not supposed to play around animals anymore? Can you do anything to prevent this thing from happening? Is it fatal?
These are the main questions we’ll try to answer in this article, because unfortunately the answer is yes; a human can get worms from a dog.
First of all, you must know that the diseases humans get from animals are called zoonotic. However, they are quite rare because parasites have evolved so that they can survive only in certain environments. As such, the bugs that crawl on and under your dog’s skin may not find that your body provides them with the best living conditions.
The external parasites that can be transferred from dogs to humans are usually mites and fleas. If you have an indoor dog, you’ve probably been attacked by these little crawlers before, and you know that they don’t linger to much on your body. Apart from giving you a mild rash and an itchy skin, they can’t do much. Nevertheless, if these symptoms persist and worsen, you should talk to your doctor – some people may develop allergic reactions and unforeseen complications.
The internal parasites are the ones generally known as worms, even though some are microscopic beings, because of their semblance to actual worms. They are more dangerous and it’s good to be aware you have them, because they’re transmissible and an untreated parasitic infection can also develop serious complications.
Many people consider these infections shameful and avoid going to the doctor. In fact, there’s nothing to be either ashamed, either afraid of, because getting worms from your dog is a very common occurrence. Below we’ll discuss the 3 main zoonotic internal dog parasites.
These white or light brown little spaghetti-looking critters are also known as nematodes. They enjoy living in both your dog intestines and yours for that matter, and their length can get from just 0.04 inches to 40 inches. That’s pretty long, but considering the dimensions of your intestines, there’s no wonder that can happen.
Most parasitic infections, including roundworms, are favored by a warm environment. However, if you get in contact with some poop cells from your dog you can get infected too. That doesn’t necessarily entail a poor lack of hygiene, but more likely a lack of attention. That’s why younger kids must be supervised when playing with your dog, while older children can be made aware of the danger posed by a dog who has licked his anus after defecating, and then tried to lick a human.
Ascariasis, the typical roundworm infection, can affect as many as 1 billion people worldwide.
The symptoms your dog can experience when infected with roundworms are:
- Belly pain.
- Weight loss.
- Lack of energy.
The most obvious symptom is actually seeing these roundworms for yourself either in his poop or in his vomit.
Since the roundworms live in your dog’s intestines, they absorb all the vitamins and nutrients from them, depriving your dog of important vitamins and minerals. That’s how the weight loss and lack of energy are explained.
The pot-belly is a result of eliminating more gas during an infection with roundworms, while belly pain, vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s way to let your dog know that there’s something wrong inside it, which needs to be eliminated.
If these roundworms get inside your body, then they can grow until they have reached their full length. Needles to say that they use the delicious substances absorbed from your body to multiply and take over your intestines. Sometimes, they can grow so big and multiply so much, that they get entangled in a ball that will cause an intestinal blockage.
The most obvious symptom for you too would be to actually see these roundworms in your stool or vomit.
Other symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
Apart from the identical symptoms your dog has, you may notice that cough and shortness of breath are new symptoms that appear for humans. The reason is that after the infection from your dog, these roundworms go in your lungs. That warm, pleasant environment allows them to grow, and when they reach maturity they travel through the trachea and can be coughed out. Sadly, most of them are swallowed back inside, and that’s how they get to your intestines.
What’s the treatment? For most dogs and humans, the treatment is quite simple consisting out of antiparasitic drugs, antibiotics and sometimes anti-inflammatory drugs. If the roundworms have caused an intestinal blockage, then surgery has to be considered.
If this infection isn’t treated properly, you may end up with complications in your eyes, heart, lungs or even neurological problems. Also, consider that the risk of contracting roundworms from your dog is higher for children, so keep them away from the places where your dog poops and make sure they wash their hands frequently.
Hookworms are a type of roundworms that a puppy usually gets from drinking infested milk from his mother. After that, they end up in his small intestine where they suck his blood, causing the puppy to become anemic. Both the anemia and the inflammation of the small intestine can prove fatal for a little pup, if left untreated.
Apart from the symptoms listed above for roundworms, the infestation with hookworms can have other signs as well:
- Lack of appetite.
- Pale linings of his nostrils, lips and ears indicating anemia.
- Dark, hard stool.
- Constipation or diarrhea.
You can’t get a hookworm from your dog if you pet him, but you can get it from his poop like in the case of roundworms. If you have a diet rich in iron, you may not experience any symptoms except for a small rash when the hookworms enter your skin.
After they have protruded your skin, they will get in your bloodstream and travel to your lungs, from where their life cycle is similar to that of other roundworms: they get bigger, travel through your trachea, and are coughed up and swallowed, ending up in your small intestine.
However, there are some symptoms you may experience:
- Abdominal pain.
- Intestinal cramps.
- Blood in your stool.
- Loss of appetite.
- Itchy rash.
The treatment for hookworms generally consists of an appropriate anti-parasitic both for you and your dog, combined with an iron supplement to treat the negative effects of anemia.
If your dog is barely a puppy, he will definitely have to be weaned of his mother so that he won’t drink any more contaminated milk. In very severe cases, the puppy will also have to undergo fluid therapy, blood transfusion, and supplemental oxygen.
These are the most common parasites that live in your dog’s intestines. If he swallows an infected flea that carries the tapeworm while grooming himself, he will most likely get infected as well.
The main symptoms by which you can identify a tapeworm infection in your dog are:
- You see them.
- You see your dog dragging his butt on the floor.
We’ll explain those below.
The tapeworm’s head is called a scolex and has hooks and sucking grooves which are used to attach itself to the host. The scolex is the most obviously distinctive part of a tapeworm, but since it’s inside the host, it can’t be used as a form of identification. As such, tapeworms can be diagnosed by their trail of eggs in the feces or by the proglottids. These are segments about the size of a grain of rice that make up the tapeworm’s body, which is so thin that it resembles a tape. In fact, that’s where the name comes from.
When the tapeworm starts feeding from your dog’s intestines, it can grow as big as 28 inches. As the worm keeps getting bigger, some of the proglottids will fall off and that’s when you’ll be able to see them in your dog’s feces. You can also notice them in your dog’s bed and, if they get dry, they’ll get stuck in your dogs fur. You can recognize them because they look like hard, yellow specks.
They’re usually very inconvenient for your dog, and they will cause itching in his bottom area. That’s why he’ll start dragging his butt on the floor, trying to get rid of this nasty feeling.
For a human that gets tapeworms from a dog, the symptoms can be similar: seeing the tapeworms plus an itchy bum. However, there are cases when people experience other symptoms as well, which are in fact common to most intestinal parasitic infections:
- Abdominal pain.
- Hunger or loss of appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The tapeworm can have the same perilous complications that roundworms have when it comes to intestinal blockages, because they too can become entangled in your intestine. Other complications may affect your heart, liver, eyes and brain, and become life-threatening if left untreated.
To diagnose tapeworms, both you and your dog will have to give stool samples. If there are no more eggs or tapeworm segments in the feces but you’re sure that a tapeworm infestation has taken place, then you’ll have to give blood samples. The blood can provide evidence of specific antibodies that your body produces to fight off these worms. In that case, if the antibodies are in your blood, then the tapeworms are in your belly. If the damage was extensive, you can also be submitted to a CT or an MRI.
The treatment for your dog consists of de-worming drugs, given either as oral medication or as an injection, which simply dissolves the tapeworm. You will likely be given a human anti-parasitic drug, in the form of a pill, which will also kill the tapeworms. Otherwise, if an intestinal blockage has formed in your intestines, surgery may be necessary.
All that being said, you have to be extremely careful when it comes to you and your dog becoming infected with worms. Take some preventive measures to ascertain that doesn’t happen. These are:
- Try to give antiparasitic drugs to your dog even when he’s very young. Deworming your puppy thoroughly will help prevent unfortunate circumstances of either one getting infected.
- An infected female dog must be treated before breeding and also during her pregnancy, to make sure her puppies don’t contract parasites from her blood.
- Maintain proper hygiene throughout the house, but especially in the areas where your dog spends the most time.
- Be sure to wear gloves when handling his poop, and secure it properly inside a poop bag.
- Always pick up your dog’s poop as soon as possible, and don’t omit doing that in the park.
- Your dog must not come in contact with small, wild animals because they may be infected with worms.
- Deworm your dog at regular intervals, taking your vet’s advice. Do this especially if he’s an outdoor dog, with a higher risk of contracting worms.
- Since fleas are the main way through which your dog can get tapeworms, make sure you keep them away. You can use various products for this (flea spray, powder, collars, or topical liquid treatments), following your vet’s recommendation.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after playing with your dog and after playing outside.
- When handling a dog infected with hookworms, protect your hands with gloves, as they can penetrate your skin and get in your bloodstream.
- Wear shoes when walking outside, even in your yard, because an outdoor dog that poops outside may leave traces of feces in the soil.
In the end, the answer is yes; you can get sick with nasty critters that also affect your dog. So, be extra careful with Fido’s health if you want to make sure yours stays intact.