Last Week: HOW TO Treat Your Dog’s Mange
While tapeworm, a common parasitical infection in dogs, is easy to treat, it can cause your dog a lot of discomfort. The only way your dog can get the most common type of tapeworm, known as Dipylidium caninum, is by swallowing infected fleas.
Humans can also be infected with Dipylidium caninum, but to do so they must, like dogs, digest a flea with the parasite. (Ugh.)
What Causes Tapeworm?
Ready for a basic lesson in tapeworm anatomy? (Warning: May not be safe for the squeamish.) A tapeworm’s body is flat, like a piece of tape – which is how it got its name. Besides the head and neck, the body consists of several segments, which are each the size of a grain of rice. Each segment has its own independent digestive and reproductive systems. According to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, people are often surprised by the actual length of a tapeworm (it’s typically 6 inches or longer), since usually only its segments can be seen.
Your dog can become infected with tapeworm if he swallows a flea that hosts the parasite. According to Mar Vista, the head section of the tapeworm attaches itself to your dog’s intestinal wall using either its rostellum – a structure that’s “sort of like a hat with hooks on it” – or its six rows of teeth.
Once it is latched onto your dog’s intestinal wall, the tapeworm absorbs nutrients from the food your dog is digesting as it flows by. From its neck area, the tapeworm grows a long tail composed of many segments. The older segments are pushed toward the tip of the tail. By the time a segment reaches the end of the tail, reports vetinfo.com, only its reproductive system is left.
When a segment drops off, it is usually filled with lots of eggs. The segment exits your dog through his rectum (it can often be seen in the fur around that area, or in your dog’s feces). Sometimes the eggs are moving if they haven’t dried out yet.
“The pieces you see in the stool are actually small pieces of the tapeworm that break off and contain the tapeworm eggs,” wrote i Love Dog’s “Ask Our Vet,” Dr. Michelle Hoag, in a response to the owner of a dog with tapeworm. “They usually move and wiggle around for a few minutes and then dry up and get very hard.” When a segment dries, it looks like a sesame seed, according to Mar Vista.
At this stage, the eggs are not yet infectious to your dog. But when larval fleas hatch nearby, they inadvertently eat the tapeworm eggs along with their normal diet of organic debris and flea dirt. As the larval flea develops, the tapeworm inside it also grows. When the flea reaches adulthood, the tapeworm is ready to infect a dog.
The young tapeworm is only infectious to dogs at this stage of its development. When the flea hops on a dog and the dog swallows it, the young tapeworm is released. It takes about three weeks from the time a dog swallows an infested flea for the tapeworm segments to appear around his rectum or in his feces.
What are the Symptoms of Tapeworm?
If your dog is infected with a tapeworm, he may show the following symptoms, according to vetinfo.com and findoutaboutdogs.com:
Swollen stomach that’s tender to the touch
Licking his anus area excessively, or scooting his rear end along the floor
In extreme cases of tapeworm infection, your dog may display any of the following symptoms:
Lack of appetite
Low energy level
Diarrhea and vomiting
Convulsions caused by toxins released by the tapeworm
How is Tapeworm Diagnosed?
An infection can usually be diagnosed just by the appearance of tapeworm segments around your dog’s anus, reports vetinfo.com. According to Mar Vista, because the eggs are contained inside one of the tapeworm’s segments, they often don’t show up in fecal exams. To be seen, the segment must break open to expose the eggs.
So if you can see segments under your dog’s tail, around his rectum, or on his feces, your dog has a tapeworm. Mar Vista notes that people sometimes mistake maggots in their dogs’ feces for tapeworms. However, unlike tapeworm segments, maggots are not found in freshly passed stool and are not flat.
How is Tapeworm Treated?
Fortunately, it is easy to treat tapeworms in dogs, according to vetinfo.com. The most common treatment is Praziquantel, a drug belonging to a class of medications called anthelmintics, which works by killing the tapeworm. It can be administered via injection, tablet or topically.
“I usually recommend two treatments approximately two weeks apart to make sure that all stages of the parasite are killed,” Dr. Hoag wrote. “Sometimes more immature stages are protected from the effect of the dewormer and can be missed by a single deworming. In addition, tapeworms in particular are spread by ingestion of fleas, so if your dog has fleas and the flea infestation is not also addressed, the tapeworms will return.”
How is Tapeworm Prevented?
Since dogs can only become infected with tapeworm if they swallow infected fleas, be sure to take preventive measures to keep these pests out of your dog’s environment.
Mar Vista reports that spot-on flea preventives can be very effective in preventing infection and re-infection. If you prefer not to use chemicals, there are several ways to eradicate fleas naturally.
Along with treating your dog, be sure to treat any carpets, rugs and upholstery in your home.
What Other Types of Tapeworm can Infect My Dog?
In addition to Dipylidium caninum, there are four other, less common types of tapeworm that affect dogs, according to findoutaboutdogs.com. Praziquantel can be used to treat all of these types of tapeworm.
Taenia species – Six of the nine species of Taenia found in North America affect dogs, who can become infected by eating raw meat. Usually the only sign of infection, as with Dipylidium caninum, is the appearance of segments in your dog’s anal region. To prevent infection, don’t feed your dog raw meat or allow him to prey on wild animals.
Echinococcus granulosus – As with Taenia species, dogs become infected by eating raw meat. However, they rarely show any signs of infection unless there are a large number of tapeworms present, and the eggs don’t pass through the rectum.
Diphyllobothrium latum – This type of tapeworm is most commonly found in the Great Lakes area. It is transmitted through raw or undercooked fish. It lives in dogs’ small intestines and can grow to be quite large, but there are very few signs of infection in dogs.
Spirometra mansonoides – More cats than than dogs are infected with this tapeworm, which is most commonly found along the Gulf Coast and in Florida. While there are usually no symptoms, severe cases can cause irritability, weight loss and loss of appetite. To avoid an infection, prevent your pets from eating snakes, birds, amphibians, reptiles and rodents.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.