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The complete pet owner guide to tapeworm in dogs

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Tapeworms in dogs are a common problem. Your pet can easily pick up the tapeworm parasite, which will go onto develop into an adult worm inside their intestines.
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In fact, tapeworms can grow up to 16ft inside a dog!1
Dogs often won’t show signs of a tapeworm infestation, so it’s important to know how your pet might pick it up so you can take control of tapeworm.

  • 1. 1. Taylor MA, Coop RL and Wall RL (2007), Veterinary Parasitology, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing
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Happy dog standing in long grass with tongue hanging out and looking up
What are tapeworms?

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites, and there are several different types of tapeworm that can affect dogs. Infected dogs may not show any symptoms, but some may develop itching around the bottom, vomiting and weight loss.

The most common type of tapeworm in dogs is the flea tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum. Living in the dog’s gut, tapeworms feed off the food the host animal eats, reducing the number of nutrients available. Incredibly, a tapeworm has six sets of teeth that it uses to attach itself to the intestinal lining!

The flea tapeworm are long, flat, white worms , and can be up to 50cm long. They are made up from segments, which are shed at intervals and pass into your dog’s poop.

How do dogs become infected with tapeworm?

Dogs (and cats) become infected by tapeworm through an intermediate host, such as a flea, or hunting and scavenging other infected animals.

  • Ingesting fleas

The Dipylidium caninum tapeworm parasite is contracted through fleas, which act as an intermediate host, when flea larvae ingest tapeworm eggs. When a dog eats an infected flea, such as during grooming, the parasite settles in the dog’s small intestine. Here, the tapeworm is able to continue the next stage of its lifecycle, eventually maturing into a fully grown adult tapeworm. Wormers will interrupt this growth, that’s why it’s so important to stay up-to-date with treatment.

  • Scavenging

Other types of tapeworm can be contracted after scavenging from dead livestock, such as sheep or cattle, being fed raw offal, or hunting rabbits and rodents also pose a risk.

Four symptoms of tapeworm in puppies and dogs

Tapeworms feed slowly and a long time can pass before dogs show any outward symptoms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t spot them in your dog if you know what you’re looking for:

  1. Worm segments

As the tapeworm grows, some of its segments will fall off – sometimes to be seen in dogs’ faeces or crawling in their bedding. These segments may either look like moving grains of rice or, if they are dried out, hard yellow specks that can stick to your dog’s fur.

  1. Scooting action

If infected, your dog may ‘scoot’ around the floor, or bite or lick their bottom, to try to relieve the itching caused by the tapeworm segments. However, there are more common reasons for scooting, such as blocked or irritated anal sacs, or skin inflammation. Either way, your vet will be able to help.

  1. Vomiting

Your dog might vomit as a tapeworm grows inside them. Of course, vomiting in dogs can indicate a huge variety of problems, from eating something they shouldn’t to more serious conditions. If your dog vomits frequently or displays other symptoms such as diarrhoea, lethargy or inappetence, then see your vet as soon as possible.

  1. Weight loss

In a severe tapeworm infestation, your dog may lose weight, despite eating normally. This is due to the tapeworm feeding on the nutrients in the dog’s food. Weight loss can have a variety of causes. If there are no obvious reasons for the weight loss, such as increased exercise or a change in diet, then your dog should visit a vet.

How is tapeworm diagnosed?

Your vet will check for the presence of tapeworm segments on your dog’s body and in their faeces, so they may ask you to bring along a stool sample to the appointment. You may even need to provide more than one sample as tapeworm segments are not shed every time your dog poops.

Effective treatment for tapeworms

Viewed under a powerful microscope, tapeworms look like creatures from another planet and can be alarming, but they are easy to treat and remove.

Wormers like Drontal can be given as a tablet. Drontal is clinically-proven to kill every type of intestinal worm commonly found in UK dogs, including tapeworms, and it’s available without a prescription. All dogs can get intestinal worms, but regularly treating your dog with an effective worming product, at least every three months, gives you peace of mind to know your dog is happy and healthy.

Preventing future tapeworm infections

You can easily protect your dog from tapeworm.

  • Maintain a regular worming routine

There are a number of different tapeworm worming tablet treatment options available for dogs. Whichever one you choose, worming tablets only treat the worms currently in your dog’s body, so regular treatment is necessary. Stick to a regular worming schedule for optimal treatment.

  • Use regular flea treatment

Alongside a wormer, you’ll need to treat your pet for fleas to reduce the risk of picking up a tapeworm infection. You may want to use a flea comb regularly to monitor fleas on your dog, steering them clear of this unpleasant parasite. But one of the most effective ways to control fleas is to use a regular treatment. Advantage Spot-on  is an easy-to-apply, effective monthly flea treatment, which kills fleas within 24 hours, helping to protect your pet, family and home from fleas*.

  • Keep your house flea-free

You can’t always control the bugs that come in and out of your house and fleas can be a particular nuisance if they’ve found your pet to feed on and have started reproducing. To prevent a home infestation, ensure you treat all household pets with a flea control product. If you do spot a flea on your dog, you’ll need to act quickly because there could be flea eggs, flea larvae, and flea pupae, living all around your house. Vacuum frequently, wash your dog’s bedding on a hot wash and use a household flea spray in hard-to-reach areas.

Read more on fighting off a flea invasion in your home

  • Pick up after your dog

The rice-like tapeworm segments, which are shed in the faeces of an infected dog contain tapeworm eggs. By picking up your pet’s poop every time, you’re not only a responsible dog owner but you’re helping to cut the number of tapeworm eggs in the environment.

  • *. *Advantage kills adult fleas on the pet as well as flea larvae in the pet’s surroundings – such as carpets and upholstery
Can humans get tapeworm from dogs?

Although it’s rare, humans can also be infected by tapeworm, and they can cause serious health concerns in people. Humans pick up the tapeworm parasite by ingesting tapeworm eggs passed in dog’s faeces or less commonly by accidentally ingesting an infected flea. Children are most likely to be affected, which is why there is all the more reason to practice good hygiene and encourage hand washing after playing with animals and in the great outdoors.

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Happy dog and his owner on a walk
Did you know...?

One single tapeworm segment released in cat or dog faces contain around 53,000 eggs2.

Find out more about worming tablets for dogs.

  • 2. 2. Gregory GG. Fecundity and proglottid release of Taenia ovis and T. hydatigena. Aust Vet J. 1976 Jun;52(6):277-9
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