Dear Lisa: I have a 14-month-old Pug who eats earthworms every chance he gets. He eats the same amount dry dog food as his brother but eats the earthworms as snacks during his outside time. His brother does not eat earthworms. I'm sure hunger isn't the issue. Is he missing something in his diet? Can the earthworms be harmful to his health? Should I prevent him from eating them? --Unearthed Delights in Delaware
Dogs will eat the craziest things. Many times experts don't know why or have conflicting opinions. For example, there is no solid evidence as to why so many dogs eat grass. Some say they must be missing a nutrient, others claim dogs do it to ease gastrointestinal troubles or some say it simply means dogs like greens!
As for earthworms, I've heard some dog owners report that their dogs devour these segmented hors d'oeuvres with no ill effect. However, there are a few reasons why you should not let your pup scarf up this garden garnish.
Earthworms are great for soil because they move it around, clean it up and deposit nutrients. They do this by swallowing the soil. Some of the things that an earthworm might run across on his errands include bacteria and other parasites that are harmful to dogs.
While bacteria could cause stomach upset in your pet your biggest worry should be roundworms. The eggs of the roundworm (Toxocara larvae) can be left behind in soil by other dogs or wildlife and then ingested by the earthworms. Then once the earthworms are eaten by your dog, he runs the risk of getting the common parasite. Puppies are quite susceptible to getting roundworms, especially from their mothers. But adults can get them too.
Check your dog's stool for spaghetti-shaped worms for the main telltale sign of roundworm infection. If your dog does get roundworms, don't despair, working with your vet on a de-worming protocol will usually take care of the problem. It is estimated that a medium-sized garden can contain more than 20,000 earthworms. Worse yet, if your dog gets roundworms he could spread them to you. So don't let your dog eat the earthworms to keep him and you parasite-free.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.