Dog Tapeworms: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
How Do Dogs Get Tapeworms?
There are actually three tapeworm species that affect dogs and cats: Dipylidium caninum, which is capable of infesting dogs, cats, and people and uses the flea as an intermediate host; Taenia pisiformis, which infests only dogs and uses rabbits as an intermediate host; and Taenia taeniaeformis, which affects mostly cats and uses rats as intermediate hosts.
Based on the role of the intermediate host in the process of infestation, it is important that pet owners prevent their dog or cat from swallowing fleas or ingesting rabbits, mice, or rats. It is also important that pet owners understand the lifecycle of the tapeworm.
The Lifecycle of the Tapeworm
- A dog affected by tapeworms poops a bunch of tapeworm segments in the grass. Such segments, known as ''proglottids,'' squirm around releasing small packets of eggs.
- Flea larvae consume the eggs, as do mice, rats, and rabbits, which are the tapeworm's intermediate hosts.
- The eggs hatch inside the host.
- The dog then ingests the infested flea or rabbit, and the developed tapeworm attaches to the wall of the small intestine where it produces several proglottids.
- The proglottids are again deposited into the grass when the dog poops.
- The life cycle continues as a flea, mouse, rat, or rabbit ingests the eggs and so forth.
Signs and Symptoms of Tapeworms
Tapeworms are not really known for causing any major problems in dogs and their effect is quite self-limiting. At the very least, owners may notice that their dog's stomach tends to rumble more than usual since tapeworms may increase intestinal motility. At times, stool may be covered in mucus, or the dog may be gassy.
What Do Tapeworms Look Like?
In general, owners know their dogs have tapeworms when they notice tapeworm segments stuck to their dog's behind or on top of the stool. Tapeworm segments (the proglottis, mentioned above) resemble grains of rice but are capable of stretching and may look quite long when mobile. Such segments will release egg packets and eventually dry out.
Diagnosis Is Often Confirmed Visually
Tapeworms are visible to the naked eye. Unlike several other worms, diagnosis is not often based by running a fecal test and looking for the presence of eggs (fecal flotation test), rather, a dog owner will notice the presence of eggs in their dog's stool.
Video: How Are Tapeworms Acquired in Dogs?
How Are Tapeworms in Dogs Treated?
If the dog has been infested by tapeworms due to the presence of fleas, it is imperative to practice good flea prevention and control. This not only means applying topical products such as Frontline, but this also means controlling fleas in the environment by using products that contain ''insect growth regulators'' which kill eggs and larvae and prevent the occurrence of adult fleas. Proper flea control is the number one prevention method for tapeworms, but deworming is also necessary if a dog is indeed infested.
Control the Fleas in the Dog's Environment
An affected dog must also be treated systemically to get rid of the tapeworms and to break the reproductive cycle. The most common medication prescribed for dogs with tapeworms is Droncit, also known as praziquantel. The tablets are often prescribed and administered in a single dose. Praziquantel works by causing the tapeworm to lose its ability to stay attached to the small intestine, whereupon the tapeworm is forced to detach, is digested, and later eliminated.
Today, non-prescription medication for tapeworms is available, such as Tradewinds Tapeworm Tabs. This medication works fairly quickly. Keep in mind, however, if there are still fleas in the dog's environment, the dog may become reinfested.
Can Humans Get Tapeworms From Their Dogs?
This question causes many people concern when they discover that their dog has worms. Tapeworm segments that are found stuck to a dog's behind or left in the areas the dog sleeps in cause worry for families with children. But in actuality, it is quite difficult for a human to get tapeworms, although it is not impossible.
Humans cannot get tapeworms from the segments found around the home or by touching the dog's feces. It is actually quite difficult to acquire a tapeworm, according to the Center for Disease Control:
''The tapeworm that your pet was diagnosed with is more than likely the flea tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum). Dog or cat tapeworm infections are a result of your pet swallowing a parasite-contaminated flea. Only in very rare instances do humans accidentally swallow the contaminated fleas.''
Children may be more likely to ingest flea larvae due to their tendency to put their hands in their mouth after being on the ground with the dog. Good hygiene is a great preventative.
Before and After Treatment
The below photos are graphic. They show before and after pictures of tapeworms in dog stool. Viewer discretion is advised.
How I Treated My Foster Dog's Tapeworms
When my foster dog had white, transparent-looking worms in his stool, I did not think that they were tapeworms because I was used to seeing a different species of tapeworm on my cat's bottom. These worms, on the contrary, were longer and stretched as they moved.
I took a stool sample with some of the worms in it in a ziplock bag to the veterinarian. The vet looked at the sample and readily said that they were indeed tapeworm segments and that they looked bigger than grains of rice since they tend to stretch as they move.
My foster dog was prescribed Droncit tables (appropriately dosed), which I inserted into a hot dog. This seemed to do the trick. About five hours later, my foster dog went potty, and I found a long, shoe-lace-length strip of tapeworm segments. This confirmed that the medication was working.
I've included before and after pictures above. I was horribly disgusted, but was happy she finally got them all out!
For Further Reading
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli