Tapeworms In Dogs

As dog parents, we all like to believe that our pup isn’t prone to getting creepy crawlies such as fleas and worms. But the fact of the matter is that they are, and maybe even more often than we realize. One particularly nasty undesirable is tapeworms. If in high enough numbers, tapeworms can cause real problems, such as weight loss and a poor hair coat. Moreover, they may be difficult to detect unless you know what you’re looking for. So in order to help you better protect your best friend from this squirmy worm, we will explore tapeworms in dogs further.

What Are Tapeworms?

Tapeworms are a type of intestinal parasite that are white, flat, and segmented. There are many types of tapeworms that can infect your pup, with the most common one being Dipylidium caninum. Tapeworms attach themselves to the small intestinal wall using a hook-like mouth. They then grow to nearly a foot in length by siphoning nutrients from your dog.

Once a tapeworm reaches maturity, they start to pass little segments called proglottids. These segments are filled with several eggs that are about half an inch long and look like grains of rice. The proglottids makes their way out into the world through the passage of fecal matter where they dry in the air and break open to release the eggs. Afterwards, the eggs are ready to infect another critter.

How Does A Dog Get Tapeworms?

Becoming infested with a tapeworm isn’t as simple as eating a proglottid or a fertilized egg. It requires another step. Getting a tapeworm infestation will require your dog to consume an infected host. The host might be a flea, mouse, or other rodents that ingested a tapeworm egg somewhere in the environment. The egg will then develop inside the host until the infected host is consumed by a dog. Afterwards, the dog becomes the new host for the tapeworm to live in the small intestine.

Since most of our pups aren’t easily getting their jaws on mice and other rodents, the most common cause of a tapeworm infestation is through the consumption of an infected flea. Eating fleas can inadvertently happen during a regular grooming session or when a flea bites and your dog uses their mouth to scratch it. Once inside your dog’s digestive system, the egg hatches and attaches to the wall of the small intestine where it matures in to an adult and starts shedding its own proglottids. 

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Tapeworms?

You might not notice anything different in the early stages of a tapeworm infection, especially depending on the number of tapeworms involved. Once the worms reach maturity and start to pass eggs, you may actually notice the proglottids as they exit the anus. Most of the time, they will appear like grains of rice wriggling around the hair at the base of the tail or littered on fresh feces. Occasionally, a dog may drag their rear end (scoot) to help relieve the irritation that the passage of multiple proglottids can cause. In rare occasions, dogs may vomit the adult tapeworms as well.

Long term or severe tapeworm infestations in dogs can lead to weight loss, anemia, and even intestinal blockages. Puppies may exhibit poor growth and a dull dry hair coat as well.

Tapeworm infections can also be detected through a fecal float, similar to other intestinal worms. Your veterinarian my diagnose tapeworms during a routine annual fecal exam or anytime you suspect a tapeworm infection. However, these segments aren’t continuously released, so it may take repeat fecal tests to definitely confirm a diagnosis this way.

Can Tapeworms Be Passed On To Other Animals And Humans?

Since tapeworm eggs require a host to develop into a stage that is capable of infecting a dog, you can not directly get tapeworms from your pup. However, people and other animals can get tapeworms from ingesting an infected flea from your dog. This is more of a problem in children than in adults.

Other species of tapeworms can be acquired by ingesting mice, other infected rodents, or infected feces. Again, this isn’t a direct infection from your dog, but other animals can get tapeworms by ingesting these animals or waste that has been infected by tapeworm eggs from your dog.

Finally, humans can get infected with a smaller type of tapeworm that comes from infected meat or from feces of infected animals like dogs, coyotes, and foxes. These tapeworms are a little different in that they develop cysts in the liver instead of causing issues in the intestines.

Are Tapeworms Life Threatening To A Dog?

Tapeworm infections are fairly benign the majority of the time, meaning they don’t cause a lot of harm. However, severe cases can cause significant weight loss and anemia. Puppies are especially susceptible since their immune system isn’t mature enough to help fight off large numbers of adult worms. Their bodies are also smaller and their nutrient requirements are greater, meaning they will need every last bit of nutrient and even small amounts of blood loss will be noticed.

For cases with heavy worm burdens, intestinal blockages can occur. Imagine a dog’s small intestine that is harboring dozens of these tapeworms that can be near a foot in length. It wouldn’t take long for the worms to plug the intestine that creates a blockage that could be life threatening.

How Are Tapeworms Treated In Dogs?

As nasty as tapeworms may be, the upside is that they are easily treated. For those of you that get a little queasy by the possible side effects of common deworming medications, there are some other options. However, be aware that many home remedies for tapeworms are untested and may even be dangerous for your dog. Never give your pup anything without the supervision of a veterinarian.

  • Home remedies

A quick search on the internet will reveal that tapeworms in dogs may be treated by many common human foods, such as pumpkin seeds, garlic, pineapple, and fermented foods. The efficacy on any of these foods is highly variable. Garlic for example, can actually be toxic if given in high enough quantities. Always follow the supervision of a licensed veterinarian when trying any form of home remedy for tapeworms.

  • Medications

Not all types of dog dewormers carry the actual medication that is necessary to kill tapeworms. In fact, many over the counter ones don’t. It’s also important to note that most over the counter dewormers may be unsafe to use on your dog and may have severe side effects.

  • Going to the vet

Your safest bet in treating a tapeworm infection in your dog is to visit your veterinarian. They will be able to accurately diagnose and prescribe a medication that will kill the adult tapeworms safely and effectively. If you’re weary of prescription drugs, know that dewormers aren’t what they used to be. Today’s prescription dewormers carry few side effects in healthy animals, and they are often the safer route over alternative treatments. Your veterinarian will also be able to provide an accurate dosage to further help decrease those side effects.

These prescription dewormers can either come as a tablet, granule, or injection. They often come in a combination product that will kill all types of intestinal worms. These treatments are only capable of killing the adult tapeworm. The adults are then actually digested in the GI so you won’t see them come out in your dog’s feces. Prescription dewormers do nothing to prevent reinfection, so that part is up to you.

I can’t stress this enough. I have seen enough reactions to over the counter dewormers and flea treatments, as well as all natural deworming treatments to know that you have to be very careful. Please only give your dog a tapeworm treatment under the supervision of a veterinarian.

How To Prevent Tapeworms

Even the most effective dewormer can only get rid of the adult worms that are in your dog at the time of administration. In order to prevent a reinfection, there are some other things you can do.

  • Treat fleas

Since the most common way of getting tapeworms is through the ingestion of an infected flea, controlling these little biting parasites is a must. Fortunately, there are many great long lasting products available from your veterinarian that will easily kill and prevent flea infestations on your pup. In most cases, treating fleas require more than just delivering treatment to your dog. You may also need to treat your house and other pets in your furry family as well.

  • Clean up properly

Properly dispose of your dog’s waste by burying it or by sealing it in a waste bag to prevent the proglottids from getting out where they can infect a host. In addition, you should keep your pup away from other dog’s feces, including wild animals. Always wash your hands, and teach your kids to do the same after handling dog feces.

  • Walk your dog on a leash

Don’t allow your dog to eat mice or other rodents. Keep them on a leash during walks if this is a problem.

  • Thoroughly cook food

This is for humans only. Thoroughly cook all of your meat to the recommended temperatures to prevent infection with tapeworms.

Conclusion

Nobody wants their dog to ever experience a tapeworm infestation. Not only are they nasty, they can also cause issues like weight loss and anemia if the infestation is severe. In order to keep those creepy crawlies at bay, it’s important to recognize what a tapeworm infection may look like and understand where they come from. After that, look to your veterinarian for treatment and other prevention tactics so that your pup doesn’t have to experience the same issue in the future.