Tapeworms infection in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

What are tapeworms in dogs?

Tapeworms are flat, segmented parasites that live in the intestines of cats and dogs. They’re not like other common parasites such as hookworms or roundworms. One of the most common tapeworms in dogs is called Dipylidium caninum.

Tapeworms have hook-like mouths that help them attach to the wall of the small intestine. They can grow up to 11 inches long. As they grow, parts of the tapeworm break off into smaller pieces called proglottids. These look like tiny grains of rice or cucumber seeds, about half an inch long and very thin.

Sometimes, you might see these proglottids around a pet’s rear end or in their poop. They can move around a bit on the surface of fresh poop. When the proglottids dry out, they turn golden and split open, releasing eggs into the environment. One proglottid can have up to 20 tapeworm eggs inside.

How do dogs get tapeworms?

First off, a tapeworm egg needs to be eaten by a baby flea called a larva. Inside the larva, the tapeworm egg keeps growing as the flea grows into an adult. Then, when a dog grooms itself or gets bitten by a flea, it might swallow the flea without realizing it. When the flea is digested in the dog’s belly, the tapeworm egg is set free, hatches, and sticks to the lining of the intestine. That’s how the whole cycle finishes.

Unlike some other tummy bugs, dogs can’t catch tapeworms just by eating tapeworm eggs. The tapeworm eggs have to go through the flea first before they can infect a dog.

Does tapeworms dangerous for your dog?

Usually, tapeworms don’t cause big health issues in grown-up dogs. Sometimes, you might notice your dog scooting its bottom on the ground to ease irritation from the tapeworm segments. But scooting can also happen because of other problems like blocked anal sacs. If you see your dog scooting a lot, it’s a good idea to get them checked by a vet.

However, in puppies, having lots of tapeworms can be more serious. It might slow down their growth, make them anemic, or even cause blockages in their intestines.

What’s the treatment for tapeworm infection?

Treating tapeworms nowadays is easy and works well. The medicine, which can come in pills or as a shot, makes the tapeworms break down in the intestines. So, you usually won’t see tapeworms in the poop afterward. These medicines are very safe and don’t usually cause any problems. But not all tapeworm medicines are equally good. The best ones need a vet’s prescription.

Now, here’s an important part: if your dog lives where there are lots of fleas, they might get tapeworms again in just two weeks. That’s why it’s crucial to control fleas. This means treating your dog and the area where they live. If your dog keeps getting tapeworms, it’s usually because of fleas, not because the medicine didn’t work. Your vet can help you find the right flea control for your pet.

Can you get tapeworm from your dog?

You can’t catch Dipylidium caninum tapeworm directly from your dog because they need a flea in between. So, a person has to swallow a flea that’s infected with this type of tapeworm to get it. There have been a few cases where children got tapeworms this way. But if you control fleas well, the risk of anyone getting infected, especially kids, is low.

While Dipylidium tapeworm are the most common in dogs, there are other types too. These ones, called Taenia tapeworms, use mice, birds, or rabbits as their middleman. Dogs get these tapeworms by eating those infected animals. Medicine works well to get rid of these tapeworms too. But if your dog keeps hunting and eating prey, they might get reinfected in about six to eight weeks. So, it’s good to deworm them regularly if they hunt a lot.

Now, there’s another group of tapeworms called Echinococcus that’s a bit scarier. These ones can cause serious, even deadly diseases in humans. They’re harder to spot because their segments are tiny and not easy to see. People who trap or hunt animals in certain parts of the United States and Canada might be at higher risk of getting these tapeworms if they don’t keep clean properly. Foxes, coyotes, and the rodents they eat are all part of this tapeworm’s life cycle.

Dogs can also get Echinococcus if they eat rodents with the parasite. When a dog poops out Echinococcus eggs, people can get infected. In humans, it causes a disease called hydatidosis, where cysts grow in the liver. So, it’s important to treat free-roaming dogs for these tapeworm now and then. Controlling rodents and staying clean are big parts of stopping this disease from spreading to people. Like with Dipylidium tapeworm, it’s rare but possible for humans to get infected with Echinococcus.