When it comes to your dog’s health, few things surpass the ick factor of tapeworms. The bad news is that these parasites are fairly common. The good news is that tapeworms in dogs are relatively harmless and easy to deal with. Read on to learn how to recognize this parasite and rid your pooch of its insidious infection.
A tapeworm is an intestinal parasite. There are many types of parasitic worms, but Dipylidium Caninum are the most common type of tapeworm in dogs.3
A tapeworm infection, called Cestodiasis, usually begins when your dog ingests an intermediate host that is carrying Dipylidium eggs. Adult fleas are the usual culprit, but the eggs can also be carried by animals like rabbits, birds, and rodents.
Once ingested, the eggs settle in the intestine. The adult tapeworm will develop and attach itself to the intestinal wall using its hooked head. From there it feeds on nutrients ingested by the host while also shedding pieces of itself — called proglottids — as it grows. (Fun fact: Tapeworms can grow up to 18 inches in length!)
Proglottids resemble grains of rice and usually end up in your dog’s stool. Once released into the environment, proglottids break open to release more eggs. If the Dipylidium has its way, these eggs will be ingested by a flea or other intermediate host, and the life cycle will begin anew.
Cestodiasis is asymptomatic, making tapeworms in dogs difficult to recognize. Fortunately they pose little threat to adult canines. Even if the worm is allowed to mature to its full size, your pooch likely won’t miss the nutrients that their stowaway is stealing. You might notice vomiting, licking, or scooting behavior as your dog tries to relieve irritation caused by proglottids around their anus.
Puppies are another matter. For a young dog that’s still developing, a tapeworm snacking on precious nutrients can cause some serious problems. If not addressed quickly, complications may include anemia (low iron in their blood), weight loss, stunted growth, and intestinal blockages.4 As a result, puppies dealing with cestodiasis could end up requiring more intensive treatment. That’s why it’s important to invest in dog insurance early so that your pup will be taken care of no matter the cost.2
The easiest way to identify a tapeworm infestation is to look for the proglottid segments in your dog’s feces and around their backside. This is why your veterinarian asks for a stool sample during checkups. Proglottids are motile, meaning they can move around on their own. After a while the proglottids dry up, turning gold in color. If you see anything that resembles proglottids, it’s time to go to the vet!
You’re not likely to get a tapeworm from your dog. To do that, you would need to ingest fleas or fecal matter that is carrying Dipylidium eggs. Of course, just because it’s unlikely doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Children may be more likely to get a tapeworm if allowed to play in areas that contain animal waste. The best way to avoid infestations is to practice good hygiene. Pick up or bury your dog’s droppings and use flea control methods to make sure they don’t come into contact with an intermediate host.
Once your vet has confirmed a tapeworm infection in your dog, they’ll usually prescribe a drug called praziquantel.5 This parasiticide comes in tablets and injections that should cause the tapeworm to dissolve. It’s a quick and easy treatment that usually causes no side effects. Don’t stop your dog’s treatment until you’ve used all the medication, even if you stop seeing proglottids or your dog stops scooting. It’s the only way to be sure.
Looking for more ways to ensure your dog’s health? Pet insurance could help keep you covered when emergencies strike.2 Fetch your free quote today to find out how much a policy from MetLife could save you.1