What Are Tapeworms?
Tapeworms are a type of parasite that make their home in your dog’s intestine. Tapeworm infections can also affect cats, humans, and many other animal species. Tapeworms are flat, segmented worms, and the most common type in dogs is called Dipylidium caninum. Tapeworms hook to your dog’s intestines with their mouth parts and, as they mature, release segments (proglottids) containing eggs into feces.
What Are The Signs of Tapeworms in Dogs?
In many cases of tapeworm infection, your dog may show no symptoms. However, the following signs may be seen:
- Scooting on their rear end
- Mild gastrointestinal signs (diarrhea or vomiting)
- Weight loss
- Tapeworm segments in feces. These may move, appearing like maggots or like grains of rice. They can also be found around the dog’s anus or on their bedding.
Tapeworm infections can be serious in young puppies, leading to anemia, poor growth, and intestinal blockages.
How Does A Dog Get Tapeworms?
Tapeworm infection occurs in a cycle. The cycle for Dipylidium caninum is as follows:
- A dog ingests an immature tapeworm lifecycle stage. These will be within a host creature, most commonly the flea, but it can also be the dog louse (Trichodectes canis). This usually happens while your dog is grooming themselves.
- Immature tapeworms settle in your dog’s intestine and develop into adult worms.
- Adult tapeworm segments, containing eggs, break off and are released into the environment.
- Eggs released into the environment
Dogs can contract other tapeworm species (such as Taenia species) through eating infected rodents, rabbits, or even sheep, which even a well-fed dog may opportunistically scavenge given a chance. Another tapeworm (Echinococcus species) can be contracted from eating sheep or horse meat; this infection is rare in the United States but has been reported.
How Do You Treat Tapeworms in Dogs?
If your dog has a suspected tapeworm infection – diagnosed either by visualizing segments of the tapeworm in dog poop or via fecal testing – your veterinarian will recommend treatment. First-line treatment for tapeworm infection is with an antiparasitic medication, commonly praziquantel, usually given via tablet, but injections and topical formulations are also available. It should be noted fecal testing is not always reliable in ruling out tapeworm infection as the segments are not shed consistently.
How Do You Prevent Tapeworms in Dogs?
Prevention of tapeworm infections involves both prevention of flea infections and preventing rodent ingestion.
It is a commonly held belief by many pet owners that fleas cannot infect their pet for a whole host of reasons (indoor-only pets, no fleas seen, pet not itching, etc.). Still, none of these reasons definitively mean your pet does not have a flea problem. Around 80% of the flea life cycle occurs off of the animal, for example, in the carpets and soft furnishings. So, an effective flea management strategy involves routine treatment of your pet and the home. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss the available treatment regimens with you to find the one you are most comfortable with. At-home remedies, suggested widely on the internet and social media, are unlikely to be effective. It is important to note that the use of garlic is discouraged as it is toxic to dogs and can lead to severe anemia. All pets in the household need to be treated for fleas for any management strategy to be effective.
Since tapeworms can be contracted from infected rodents, keeping these small critters away from your dog is critical to preventing tapeworm infection. As well as taking time to remove food sources, water, and items that may provide shelter for rodents around the home and garden, consider the importance of preventing your dog from scavenging for food while on walks. All dogs can be guilty of eating all manner of delightful things when out on a walk. Dead rodents, and other animals, are no exception. Keeping your dog under close control and teaching the leave it command are handy ways to limit unwanted scavenging. If your dog is a serial offender, consider using a basket muzzle on walks to restrict this behavior.
Monthly Preventative Treatment
In addition to effective flea control and preventing access to rodents, a monthly preventative worming protocol should be started. Tapeworm prevention can often be given in combination with routine heartworm prevention.
Clean Up After Your Dog
Removing feces regularly reduces the likelihood of the tapeworm life cycle being completed.
Can Humans Be Affected By Tapeworms?
There are many different species of tapeworm, many of which can affect humans. Humans can be infected by the canine tapeworm, although this won’t happen directly from your dog. It can, however, occur by inadvertently ingesting an infected dog flea. This is more likely to happen in young children. To limit the risk of infection, follow the above-listed measures and ensure your kids partake in regular handwashing, and do not allow them to play in areas soiled with pet feces where possible. Other tapeworm infections in people usually come from eating undercooked meat.
Tapeworm infections are relatively common in domestic pets but can be prevented with careful preventative anti parasite management. If you are worried your dog might have a tapeworm infection, make an appointment with your local veterinarian, who will be more than happy to advise you on treatment and prevention protocols. And remember, if you notice those little white bits in your dog’s poop, show your veterinarian a photo.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are tapeworm symptoms in dogs?
Many tapeworm infections in adult dogs are asymptomatic. You may see white rice-like bits in your dog’s poop, which may wriggle like maggots. Your dog may also scoot her rear end along the ground.
Can I get tapeworms from my dog?
It is possible for humans to contract infection with dog tapeworms, although this does not happen directly. Children are more commonly affected.
How to get rid of tapeworms in dogs?
If you think your dog has tapeworms, then speak to your veterinarian. Treatment is commonly an antiparasitic medication, usually in tablet form. Holistic therapies do not have proven efficacy and should not be used instead of licensed veterinary medicine.