What to feed your dog? Everyone seems to have very strong opinions on whether it is appropriate to feed your dog people food, or not. Whether to feed your dog a raw, or cooked meat diet, “people food”, or commercial dog food, is a choice each pet parent needs to make.
The term “people food” can be confusing. Some use it to refer to a raw or cooked meat diet as well as table scraps or leftovers from our own diets. Any kind of food can be contaminated by parasites and can result in the consumer getting parasites or worms. Commercial pet food is unlikely to harbor worms, or worm eggs because it is highly processed. People food is subject to inspection and is often processed, or cooked, which minimizes the chance that it is a likely source to harbor worms.
So, could dogs get worms from people food?
It is possible, but not likely. Dogs are far more likely to get worms by transfer from other dogs’ feces, from wild prey such as rodents and birds they consume, have them transmitted by an insect bite, or pick them up in an environment contaminated with worms and containing worm eggs rather than from a meat diet that is appropriately prepared, or table scraps. In addition, dogs tend to be somewhat resistant to parasites and worms that might otherwise make humans sick, so if human food contained a parasite, we would be far more likely to get sick from it than our dogs would.
There is a multitude of worms that can infect your dog. They are most commonly transmitted through the feces of other dogs, insect bites, contaminated soil, or, in some cases, contaminated food. When food is a source of worm infestation, it is usually from food your dog comes across or prey such as rodents and mice they catch, or steal from the cat! However, any food contaminated with parasites can conceivably infect your dog with worms. Common symptoms of worm infestations include:
Visible worms in your dog's feces
Loss of appetite
Dull hair coat
Common worms found in dogs and their sources are:
Tapeworms, from eating a flea that consumed a tapeworm egg, or meat that is contaminated with tapeworm eggs
Heartworms, passed by mosquitos bites
The worms commonly found in dogs, listed above, are not acquired from people food, with the possible exception of tapeworms in contaminated meat. Although food that humans eat is an extremely unlikely source, the following parties are sometimes found in food intended for human use that could affect your dog:
Pork tapeworm or pork worm, found in contaminated meat from pigs
Dog tapeworm (hydatid worm) or roundworms, both may be on fresh produce that has not been adequately washed that was contaminated by dog feces, or, dog tapeworm may also be in contaminated meats of intermediate host animals such as sheep, beef, or pork
If your dog shows signs of having worms, your veterinarian can confirm a parasitic infestation and identify the type of worm or parasite involved. This is usually done by taking a fecal sample and analyzing it for the type of worms or worm eggs present. Regular veterinary checks can also be useful in discovering if your pooch has contracted a worm infestation.
You can read more about parasitic worms in your dog at our guide to Worm Infestations in Dogs.
Worm infestations can be treated with antiparasitic oral medications. Since medications only kill adult worms, eggs in your dog's system that hatch out, or with which they are recontaminated, will need to be treated with subsequent rounds of medication. Medication is available from your veterinarian.
Preventative anti-parasitic medications are also available that you can give your furry companion on a regular basis to prevent worm infestations. Discuss options with your veterinarian if your dog is likely to be exposed to worms.
In addition, minimizing your dog's exposure to worms by preventing them from eating at sites contaminated with other dogs feces, or limiting their access to wild meat that may be infected with worms, will prevent infestations.
All animals, including humans, are susceptible to parasites and worms, some of which can be obtained from consuming contaminated food.
Contaminated food is not the most common way for worms to be transferred to humans, dogs, or cats. Contaminated environments are more likely culprits; keeping your home clean and washing hands, or paws, frequently will minimize the most common form of transmission, from worms eggs on contaminated surfaces.
Tapeworms are more likely to be transmitted from contaminated meats that can affect cats, dogs and people.
Worm infestations cause gastrointestinal symptoms and weight loss as primary symptoms.
Worm infestations in companion animals and people are treatable with a variety of antiparasitics. Tapeworms can be somewhat more difficult to treat.
Although all animals are susceptible to worm infestations, many worms are species-specific and therefore do not transfer, or do not transfer easily, between people and companion animals.
Roundworms are species-specific.
Pinworms are common in children but not found in dogs or cats.
Dogs are especially susceptible because they may eat feces, rodents, or birds contaminated with worms.
Dogs can get worm eggs on their paws from contaminated soil and then lick their feet to clean them, thus consuming eggs. People wash their hands, hopefully, before meals, and are less likely to be exposed in this way.
A local acreage owner is excited about her new vegetable garden. A recent transplant from the city, she has not had the opportunity to grow fresh produce before. The carrots are coming along nicely. But, she does not know is that coyotes and foxes in the area, carrying roundworms, have used her garden patch as a bathroom! They have deposited roundworm eggs on the soil, which have contaminated their carrot crop. The family dog happens to love carrots, and it does not occur to anyone to wash carrots before giving them to the dog. Soon the family dog has a roundworm infestation from eating carrots grown in contaminated soil. The dog is vomiting, and not interested in his food. He is also showing signs of abdominal discomfort.
The pet parents take him to the veterinarian, where he is given medication orally for his roundworm infestation. Soon he is recovered. However, since there is environmental exposure to roundworm eggs on an ongoing basis, due to their location, the pet parents need to regularly treat their dog to prevent roundworm infestation in the future.