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Tapeworms in Dogs

Tapeworms can infect dogs for years before they are noticed.

Tapeworms are parasites that attach to a dog's small intestinal lining, so they can feed on blood and other nutrients there.

What Are Tapeworms in Dogs Like?

Tapeworms are one of only a couple types of intestinal parasites in dogs that are visible to the naked eye.

Tapeworms are flat, and their bodies are segmented. The head has suckers and hooks so it can embed into the intestinal wall. The body's individual segments, also called proglottids, contain tapeworm eggs, and they can move by themselves when they first detach from the head. Segments detach periodically and make their way out of the dog's body in the feces.

There are three types of tapeworm that infect dogs:

  • Dipylidium caninum is the most common tapeworm in dogs and cats.
  • Taenia Pisiformis isn't as common as dipylidium.
  • Echinococcus is the least common type of tapeworm in dogs.

How Do Dogs Become Infected by Tapeworms?

Proglottids that pass out in a dog's feces dry out in the environment. Then, they're eaten by a host.

Dipylidium caninum uses fleas as a host while Taenia Pisiformis and Echinococcus use rodents, rabbits, deer, or sheep as intermediate hosts.

When a dog ingests the intermediate host, they become infected with tapeworms.

Dipylidium caninum, contracted by ingesting infected fleas, usually through grooming them off of their own fur, is the most common type of tapeworm infection in dogs.

Signs of Tapeworm Infection in Dogs

Dogs often do not show any signs of tapeworm infection. In fact, they can be infected for a long time before the tapeworms are noticed and treated.

If a dog does show signs of infection with tapeworms, they may include some of the following:

  • Visible proglottids around the anus. These look like grains of rice and they may be moving, or they may be dried up.
  • Scooting. The proglottids may irritate your dog's rear end, causing him to scoot around on the floor. This behavior can also be caused by anal gland problems, so if you see your dog doing this, visit the veterinarian and take a fresh stool sample with you.
  • Weight loss. In healthy adult dogs, weight loss from tapeworms usually occurs slowly over time.
  • Anemia, anorexia, and lethargy. These serious signs of tapeworm infection are generally only seen in young puppies with a heavy parasite load.
  • Intestinal impaction. In young, small dogs with big tapeworm loads, the parasites can actually become large enough to block the intestinal tract. Signs of this would include severe lethargy, vomiting, and anorexia.

Diagnosis of Canine Tapeworm Infection

Tapeworms are usually diagnosed when someone sees the proglottid segments in the dog's fur, around the anus, or on bedding. They look like grains of rice and may or may not be moving.

A veterinarian can look at the proglottid under the microscope to verify that it is a tapeworm segment and to identify which type it is.

Tapeworm eggs can also be found on a routine fecal flotation test. However, tapeworm eggs are large and heavy, so they sometimes sink out of the top of the sample, making them a bit harder to find on this test than other parasite eggs.

Treatment of Tapeworms in Dogs

Tapeworms are treated with a certain type of dewormer, praziquantel. The exact medication, type, and dosage should be determined by your veterinarian.

Prevention of Canine Tapeworms

If your dog has been infected by Dipylidium caninum, flea control is important in order to prevent constant reinfection.

Your veterinarian can help determine the best flea preventative for your dog and any other animals in your home, and you will need to clean the environment and possibly treat it, as well. You can learn more here: "Flea Control for Dogs."

If your dog has been infected by Taenia Pisiformis or Echinococcus, scavenging or hunting are the likely culprits.

Are Tapeworms Zoonotic? Can You Get Tapeworms from Your Dog?

The bad news is that humans can be infected by the types of tapeworms that dogs get. The good news is that people don't get tapeworms directly from their dog.

A person would have to get the tapeworm the same way the dog did: by ingesting a flea in the case of Dipylidium caninum or by eating an infected rodent or other host in the case of Taenia Pisiformis or Echinococcus.

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