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Tapeworms and Your Pet

How Does My Dog Get Tapeworms?

There are different types of tapeworms, but the most common ones in dogs are cause by an infected flea. Fleas carry the tapeworm’s larvae in them. If the dog eats or swallows it while grooming or itching the larvae can grown in side your dog’s intestines. Another way is if a dog eats the feces of an infected animal.

What are Tapeworms?

Cestodiasis is the medical term for tapeworm infestation. Tapeworms typically settle in the small intestine. Tapeworms are flat worms that are segmented, called progiottids. They consist of a head, neck, and then a number of segments. The head usually has suckers or muscular grooves that enable the tapeworm to attach itself to the animal’s intestine.

A tapeworm can grow from 4 to 28 inches long. Chances are you won’t see the adult worm. As it grows, though, some of its segments (about 1/8” or 3 mm) fall off and pass through your dog's poop.

Each tapeworm segment has its own reproductive organs. New segments are continually formed in the neck region of the worm while those at the end of the tapeworm are cast off as they mature.

How Do I Know My Dog Has Tapeworms? What are the Symptoms?

A tapeworm infection can be diagnosed by finding the moving segments, dried segments, and occasionally by seeing eggs in the feces if the segment had ruptured. These mature segments contain large numbers of eggs which are often grouped into packets. The segments may often be seen near the anus of the dog or cat. You may see these tiny parts crawling near your dog's backside or on his bedding. These segments may move if recently passed, or if dried, they look like grains of uncooked rice or cucumber seeds.

Sometimes, these segments die and dry out. Then they’re hard, yellow specks that can stick to the fur around your dog's bottom.

Because they’re irritating, some dogs will scoot, dragging their bottoms across the floor, or lick their behinds a lot.

If those tapeworm segments make their way inside your dog's stomach, they can make your dog throw up. Then you may actually see a worm (maybe 5 to 8 inches long) in your dog's vomit.

If your dog has a heavy tapeworm infection, he may lose weight, even though he is eating normally.

Your vet will confirm a diagnosis after one of these 2 things?

1) They will see segments crawling on your dog

2) They can see segments or eggs in your dog’s poop under a microscope.

Sometimes several samples are needed since tapeworm segments and eggs are not passed every time your dog poops.

I Keep Seeing Symptoms but Vet Check is Negative, Why?

Tapeworm segments are only passed intermittently, so there may not be any on the surface of the stool sample you bring in or the one your vet collects at the office. When they are there, these segments are on the surface of the feces, not mixed within it. So when your veterinarian examines the stool microscopically, it is rare for him/her to identify tapeworm eggs even if the pet is infected.

When you can’t bring in a well-preserved tapeworm segment you find at home or when your vet can’t find any when he examines your pet but you saw things that look like the things I described – just assume the pet has tapeworms. Luckily, the medication that removes them is quite safe.

What is the Life Span of a Tapeworm?

Untreated all tapeworms all have life cycles that include an intermediate host. These hosts include fleas, fish, and domestic animals such as dogs, cats, sheep and pigs. All of the adult forms of these tapeworms live in the cat’s or dog’s digestive system. It is interesting that tapeworms have no digestive systems themselves, but absorb nutrients through their skin.

What is the Treatment?

There are several safe prescription drugs that treat tapeworms in dogs. The most common treatment is praziquantel(Bilticide) which is found in Droncit and Tradewinds Tapeworm Tabs. Also used is epsiprantel (Cestex, but can’t be used under 7 weeks of age) and fenbendazole (Panacur, Safe-Guard). Fenbendazole only kills certain tapeworms, but is not very effective against the common tapeworm of pets. These de-worming drugs can be given by tablet or as a shot. The medicine dissolves the worms, so you may not see them pass when your dog goes to the bathroom.

If One Pet Has Them, Do All My Pets Need Treatment?

Not all pets in the household will have tapeworms. There are usually certain pets that are more efficient in catching fleas. Those are the pets that are more likely to get tapeworms. Not all veterinarians suggest that all the pets in the household be treated; but some do. That is because it is quite common to miss one infected pet in a multi-pet household, only to see the tapeworms return a month or so after treating only the one(s) on which tapeworm segments were seen. In really frustrating, persistent, recurrent infections, always ask about the neighbors pets. If your neighbor’s chainlike fenced yard is adjacent to yours and his pets have tapeworms, they will get to your pets eventually. You might often offer to worm the neighbors pets at reduced cost and keep your pet from re-infection, or have the concerned owner supply them with medication.

How Can I Prevent Tapeworms?

"Flea control is critical in the management and prevention of tapeworm infection."

The most important preventive measures are flea control and lice control. Numerous products are on the market which can be used for this purpose. It is recommended to not only treat the animals but also the environment in an attempt to kill as many flea larvae as possible.

If your dog lives in an environment with fleas they can re-infect with tapeworm in as little as 2 weeks. Since tapeworm medication is so effective, recurrent tapeworm infections are almost always due to re-infection from fleas and not from failure of the product.

There are monthly heartworm medications that also contain praziquantel. Sentinel Spectrum, Vethcal, and Iverhart Max are a few. Work with your Vet to pick the best option for your dog.

In most cases, you can prevent tapeworms with a few simple steps:

  • Because fleas are the key cause, control them both on your dog and in your home and yard. Talk to your vet about flea spray, powder, collars, or topical liquid treatments.

  • Work with your vet to keep your dog on a de-worming plan.

  • Don't let your dog roam unsupervised, especially in places where other dogs or animals have been.

  • Clean up after your pet, especially in your yard and in parks.

It's rare, but people can get tapeworms from their pets. You have to swallow an infected flea. This most often happens in children.

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