Tapeworms are parasites that live in the gut and are fairly common in domestic dogs. Similar to roundworm, a tapeworm attaches its head to the intestine wall and feeds off nutrients. Once grown, an adult tapeworm’s body detaches from the head and floats directly into the gut where it feeds on eaten food. This can cause weight loss, malnutrition and discomfort for the dog.
There are many ways a dog can contract tapeworms. Like hookworms, a dog can become infected by consuming things found in regular surroundings like contaminated soil, faeces and water.
However, the most common cause is by fleas. Fleas sometimes carry worm larvae (worm eggs) and if your dog ingests fleas or flea eggs through grooming, then a tapeworm can find its way into the gut.
Once in a dog’s system and left untreated, a tapeworm can grow up to 28 inches in length.
Early symptoms of worms can be difficult to spot, but there may be some external signs to watch out for.
Tapeworm segments are tiny, fleshy and white and often the size of a grain of rice, though they may be bigger or smaller. These segments can get stuck to the fur around the dog’s anus or can be seen in the dog’s excrement. It is also worth checking bedding and other places where your dog sleeps.
Physical symptoms include:
If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms and you suspect that they might have worms then you should make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
Tapeworms are simply treated and easily preventable. Regular use of de-worming medicine is the best way to ensure that all types of parasitic worm, including roundworms and hookworms, won’t be able to thrive.
Commonly, a vet would recommend that de-wormer is given to your pet at the following times:
If your dog has already contracted tapeworms, then a short course of over the counter medication should be enough to rid the infection.
Here in the UK the most common de-wormer medications are tablets, liquids and spot-on treatments.
It is highly recommended that you always read the treatment instructions before administering it to your pet, as they often have specific requirements.
Tablets: Some tablets are flavoured, but it is common for owners to hide them in food or coat them in peanut butter.
Liquids: These can be dripped straight into the mouth.
Spot On treatments: These can be directly applied to the skin, usually on the back of the neck, and are slowly absorbed into the bloodstream.
De-wormers come in different classes based on the weight, age and breed of your dog. If you are unsure which treatment class is suitable for your pet, then you should always check with your vet.
Dogs Passing Worms to Humans
Infection in humans is possible by the accidental ingestion of worm eggs. This can happen by not properly washing hands after petting a contaminated dog or cleaning up faeces.
Tapeworms are often symptomless and difficult to spot. Checking your faecal matter for worm segments is a good indication if you have become infected, but also if you have diarrhoea, stomach pain and/or vomiting.
If you are concerned that you have tapeworm then you should make an appointment at your GP as immediately. They will likely prescribe a combination of anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory drugs. However, there are more complex forms of tapeworm infection which may require more serious treatments.