Can I catch worms from my pet?

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Reviewed by Claude Stanislaus BVSc (Hons I) MANZCVS (Pharmacology)

Yes, humans can contract worms from cats and dogs, including roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. Here’s what you need to know.

Can I catch worms from my cat or dog?

Most of us deworm our pets to keep them healthy and save them from discomfort – but it’s also essential for reducing the risk to us. Here’s our guide to the parasites your cat or dog could catch and how you can reduce the risks to you and your family.  


Humans can pick up roundworms from a variety of places, so it’s important to know where they are most prevalent and to follow up with good hygiene practices. Following ingestion of roundworm eggs, the larvae hatch and migrate around the body causing organ damage, such as blindness, and liver and lung disease.

Here are a few places you could pick up roundworms:  

From puppies and kittens  

A single roundworm can produce 250,000 eggs per day. Puppies can be infected in utero (i.e. before birth), and puppies and kittens can be infected through their mother’s milk when suckling. Remember to wash your hands well after handling puppies and kittens and deworm them regularly, to help eliminate these parasites.  

From pet waste

Roundworms can cause disease in humans if we unknowingly eat the microscopic eggs that infected dogs and cats shed in their faeces. Always use gloves and a bag to collect your pets’ waste. Clean litter trays daily, and regularly pick up poo in the backyard, at dog parks and while walking your dog to help minimise the spread of parasites. Remember to always wash your hands after handling dog or cat poo.  

From the soil  

Roundworm eggs can survive in the soil for years. People can come into contact with them during gardening, and young children are at risk of infection if they play outside in the dirt and don’t wash their hands afterwards. Roundworm eggs in the soil can also stick to your pet’s fur, especially if your dog or cat loves to dig or roll around in the grass, so always wash your hands after patting your pet.


Tapeworms are segmented worms that live in the intestine, they produce small egg-filled segments that break off and are passed out in your pet’s faeces. If your pet has tapeworms, you may see tiny white segments that look like grains of rice crawling around their back end or in their faeces.   

Dogs and cats can become infected with tapeworms by swallowing infected fleas while hunting or scavenging, or when eating uncooked meat or offal. Flea tapeworm infection rarely causes disease in pets but can sometimes cause an itchy bottom.  

Humans, mainly children, can also become infected with the flea tapeworm if they accidentally consume an infected flea (e.g. after patting their flea-infested dog or cat). Symptoms in infected humans can include vomiting and diarrhoea.

Another species of tapeworm called the hydatid tapeworm can cause a serious condition in humans called  “hydatid disease”. This disease occurs in humans who accidentally ingest hydatid tapeworm eggs from the environment. These eggs can migrate from the intestinal tract and lodge in various organs (mainly the liver and lungs), where they can grow into large cyst-like structures, resulting in serious and potentially life-threatening diseases. Hydatid disease is difficult to treat and control, so reducing the likelihood of exposure by regularly deworming your dog, preventing your dog from scavenging and maintaining good hygiene practices is very important.


Pets can pick up hookworms by eating larvae from the soil, or by the larvae penetrating the skin, or if they eat an infected rodent or bird. Symptoms of hookworms aren’t common in adult pets but can be much more serious in young dogs and cats. Symptoms include diarrhoea, lethargy, anaemia, and in severe cases, even death. If the larval stages of hookworms penetrate the pet’s skin, it can occasionally cause irritation and itching (i.e. dermatitis), with the paws being most commonly affected. 

The larval stages of hookworms can also affect people similarly. If we walk across a contaminated area in bare feet, the larvae can burrow into our skin and cause irritation and itching. Wear shoes outside wherever possible to reduce the risk of a hookworm infection. Occasionally, hookworm larvae can migrate to the intestinal tract, resulting in severe abdominal pain. 

Dealing with worms  

Pet owners can choose from a range of deworming products, such as MilbemaxTM. Deworm your adult pets at least once every three months to control intestinal worms, and help reduce the risk of human infections. In some cases, such as with hydatid tapeworm in dogs, monthly dosing is recommended. Puppies require more frequent deworming as they are much more susceptible to worms (refer to label for dosing instructions).

Other options for deworming your pet include:

  • AdvocateTM, a fast-acting, water-resistant, easy-to-apply monthly spot-on that protects your pet against most gastrointestinal worms, as well as fleas and heartworm.
  • CredelioTM PLUS is for dogs only, and is a monthly chewable tablet that protects against most gastrointestinal worms, as well as fleas, ticks, mites and heartworm  

Always consult your veterinarian to ensure your pet is on an appropriate deworming regimen. Appropriate hygiene practices are also essential in minimising the risk these parasites pose to humans.

Always read and follow label directions.

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