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Tapeworms in Dogs

Tapeworms are parasites which attach themselves to a dog's intestine causing serious health problems. Hence, it is important to be aware of the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention methods in order to keep your pet healthy.
DogAppy Staff
Last Updated: Feb 23, 2018
Among the different parasitic infections, one of the most common is that of tapeworms, also known as cestodiasis or taeniasis. Dogs usually get infected with tapeworms when they consume fleas that carry tapeworm eggs. Therefore, it is the duty of every dog owner to take good care of their canine friends who are at a risk from many infections.
The most common parasite is the Dipylidium caninum which spreads through fleas. Others include the Taenia species (transmitted through infested raw meat of wild animals, rodents, and offal), Echinococcus granulosus (enters the digestive system on consumption of feces infested with tapeworm eggs), Echinococcus multilocularis species (spread when dogs consume infected rodents), Mesocestoides parasites (spread through contaminated or uncooked meat of rodents, birds, reptiles, etc.), and Diphyllobothrium latum (spreads through consumption of raw fish).
Common Symptoms
  • Kernels of rice-like bodies or proglottids around the anus
  • White, brown, or golden-colored segments of rice-like bodies in feces
  • Dragging of the rear area on the floor (scooting)
  • Abdominal discomfort and pain
  • Enteritis (intestinal inflammation)
  • Pot belly or distended abdomen
  • Nervousness and restlessness
  • Anal itching and licking
  • Dull and dry coat
  • Anemia and weakness
  • Digestion problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stunted growth
  • Blood in stool
  • Pneumonia
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Bronchitis
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
The vet will conduct a stool examination and a thorough physical check-up to determine the presence of the parasite. He will give deworming medicines to the affected dog either orally or through injections. These drugs will dissolve the tapeworms in the gastrointestinal tract without causing any side effects. It is important that the tapeworm heads which are attached to the small intestine are destroyed as they drain blood. Do not use over-the-counter drugs as they may harm your dog. Solicit professional medical advice for the right kind of treatment for different types of tapeworm infections.
  • Look out for symptoms: Dogs are prone to tapeworms as they are constantly exposed to risk factors. Look out for symptoms and take them to the vet immediately.
  • Treatment in time: If undetected or left untreated, these parasites can affect the health of your pet adversely. Hence, it is important to keep your dog worm-free by taking him to a vet for periodical check-ups.
  • Flea-control: It is important to have effective flea-control. Do not allow your dog to eat contaminated meat or infected rodents.
  • Hygiene and cleanliness: Dispose off canine feces immediately to curb the spread of tapeworm eggs. Keeping your home and surroundings clean and hygienic will help in preventing the infection and maintaining the health of your canine. Try to keep the bedding and carpet flea-free or it might cause reinfection after deworming.
Oftentimes, dogs swallow fleas which can be the carrier of tapeworm eggs. When these eggs enter the dog's body, they mature and bind themselves to the digestive system. The adult tapeworms look like a flat tape which is divided into segments. A fully grown tapeworm can measure up to 20 cm, i.e. 8 inches long. Lying in the digestive tract of the canine, the tapeworm absorbs the nutrients through its skin, giving rise to new segments at the neck area of the tapeworm. The tail end then detaches from the body, once it becomes completely matured. The tail segments actually contain the eggs of the tapeworm, and are passed out of the body through the feces. One can also find these segments in the dog's feces or near its anal area. Some of the sources of these parasites are as follows:
  • Fleas and lice are the primary hosts. Dogs get infected when they bite, swallow, or lick the infected fleas and lice.
  • Dogs often get infected with tapeworms during their grooming.
  • Contaminated livestock scraps also carry these parasites.
  • They hunt down small rodents, cattle, wild animals, and fish which are infested by fleas.
  • The parasites can also spread through contaminated soil and water.
  • Dogs can contract these parasites from the carpet and their bedding.
  • They often eat feces of other animals which may have tapeworm eggs.
Impact on Human Health
Tapeworms in dogs do affect the human health. As the immune system of children is not fully developed, they are more susceptible to parasitic infections. If humans ingest the tapeworm eggs, they can travel to the intestines. The larvae will hatch and make hydatid cyst in the liver, kidneys, lungs, brain, or other organs. In extreme cases it may cause organ failure or cyst rupture which can even result in death. It is advisable to wash meat, vegetables, and fruits before cooking or eating as food contaminated with dog feces can also cause tapeworms.
It is essential that the lifecycle of tapeworms is completely broken or there may be chances of a reinfection. Do not forget to treat other pets which stay in your house, as eventually they may also catch the infection. Sprinkling garlic powder in limited quantities on dog food can help in controlling tapeworms. Wash your hands and sanitize them after petting your dog to avoid the transfer of eggs. If you have a puppy, it may require special medical attention. Apart from giving your pet the love and care, do not forget to take him to a vet periodically.
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