Are Earthworms Dangerous For Dogs To Eat?

Posted on 12 Jan 2018 01:24

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Take a look at the little guy in the photo below. This little guy, a common earthworm, is completely safe to eat, as long as you cook it.

An important question, however, came up in a Labrador retriever forum where the article referenced in the link above was shared for reference. What if your dog likes to eat earthworms? Is this dangerous?

Yes, this can be dangerous for your dog.

Why Eating Earthworms is Dangerous for Dogs

When humans eat earthworms, they remove the "soil" from the intestinal tract of the worm (which is basically the whole worm) and then cook it well. Dogs, of course, like their earthworms raw and straight from the ground.

In short, although rare, dogs can be infected with the giant kidney worm (Dioctopyma renale), from eating earthworms. This is a very dangerous parasite which infects the abdomen and kidneys of dogs. It can ultimately destroy the kidneys. The worms are very large and can reach 40 inches (103 centimeters) in length.


Normally it is quite rare in pet dogs, but when dogs eat raw fish, frogs, and certain ground worms such as the common earthworm, the giant kidney worm can come along for the ride. It is also possible for dogs to acquire the parasite by drinking muddy water harboring mud-worms, which in their larval form may be infected with the parasite.

It is also possible for humans to become infected, although rare. This is most likely to be caused by eating undercooked fish. Canines are the primary host.

Once ingested, the worm will migrate from the digestive tract to the liver and then to the kidneys (usually the right one). Sometimes, the worms won't quite make it to the kidneys and end up infecting the abdomen.

Once they are in the kidneys, however, they block them and begin destroying the kidney tissue. As mentioned above, it is most commonly the right kidney alone which is infected, but if both kidneys are affected, kidney failure may be the unfortunate, deadly result. 1,2

The image below, from the CDC, depicts life cycle of the giant kidney worm, illustrating how infection occurs.


You may feel safe in assuming that if your dog was to ever become infected with these worms, a trip to the vet would take care of it. However, the symptoms can be so non-specific and general that giant kidney worms are never suspected. A urinalysis would detect the worm's eggs, which are passed into the urine, so if you suspect earthworms infected your dog, tell your doctor and ask for a urinalysis to confirm. The problem is, however, that there must be a female parasite present for eggs to be detected. Radiography and ultrasound can be used to find the worms in the kidneys.

Even if detected, however, there is no known treatment. If one kidney is affected, the kidney can be removed. Sometimes an exploratory nephrotomy is performed, which involves cutting open the kidney to search for the presence of worms. Similarly, a laparotomy may be necessary to make sure worms are not infecting the abdominal cavity. 2

Capillaria Plica from Earthworms

And, dogs can also get Capillaria plica from earthworms, which is a kind of small roundworm that infects the bladder and sometimes the ureters and kidneys. Earthworms are one of the main ways dogs can become infected with this parasite. There is no outward sign of the infection in dogs but although excessive urination can occur as well as urinary incontinence (inability to control urination) and urination in abnormal places. There are several antiparasitic drugs available. 1

So, don't let your dogs eat earthworms if you can avoid it unless you want to cook some up for them! If you have friends with dogs, you may want to consider sharing this article with them.

1. Kahn, Cynthia M. The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health: Home Edition. Merck & Co., Inc., 2007.
2. Elsheikha, Hany M. Essentials of Veterinary Parasitology. Caister Academic, 2011.
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