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Tapeworms in dog poop are never a welcome sight for pet parents. Thankfully, tapeworms aren't as nefarious as they'd have you believe. Nevertheless, seeing them can cause concern and may leave you with a ton of questions. Here are some answers regarding tapeworms in dogs to help put your mind at ease.
What Are Tapeworms?
Tapeworms in dogs are long, flat, white worms that use their hook-like mouths (called the rostellum) to anchor onto the wall of a dog's small intestine. They survive on the very nutrients your dog is vying to absorb. Though pup parents only see the tiny segments that detach and expel in the stool (called proglottids), the typical tapeworm is over 6 inches (15.24 cm) long.
While tapeworms in dogs can be acquired through a variety of means depending on the species. For Dipylidium caninum, the most common tapeworm species in dogs transmitted via fleas. If your dog ingests the larvae of a flea that's infected with tapeworms, a tapeworm will begin to mature in their body. This tapeworm will then attach to the wall of their small intestine and begin shedding proglottids. On the other hand, the Taenia spp. of tapeworms are transmitted through ingestion of infected prey (primarily rabbits and other rodents).
An extremely rare species of tapeworm that could infect your dog depending on where you live is called Echinococcus multilocularis, which can lead to a disease state referred to as alveolar echinococcosis. Foxes, coyotes, cats and small rodents can also contract this tapeworm, but it only very rarely affects humans.
Do Tapeworms Make Dogs Sick?
Finding tapeworms in dog poop isn't the end of the world. In fact, veterinarians classify them as a mere nuisance. They don't cause dogs to lose weight, vomit or have diarrhea, and they don't leave any permanent damage behind after they've been treated. Heavy infections of D. caninum, however, are a sign that a dog has been exposed to a large number of flea larvae. When this happens, a pup will feel constantly itchy in response to the mature fleas slowly draining their blood. While nutritional depletion of patients is theoretically possible, this is rarely observed in practice.
Signs of Tapeworms in Dogs
Seeing evidence of tapeworms in dog poop or on your pup's backside — actually visualizing the proglottid segments — is the best way to diagnose whether or not your dog has this parasite. The standard microscopic fecal screening that vets use for other parasites doesn't typically yield results for tapeworm infections.
Though these parasites reportedly make some dogs itchy, any backside scratching in affected dogs is much more likely the result of a concurrent flea allergy than the presence of tapeworms.
Is Vet Attention Required?
Dog parents are urged to call their vets as soon as they observe tapeworms. Every vet practice follows its own unique protocols with respect to how dogs are treated and how their human counterparts are educated. Many hospitals will send a pup home medication, while others will require a consultation, stool check and/or physical examination.
Tapeworms will continue to recur unless efforts are made to control all of the parasites involved in the tapeworm's life cycle. If your pup gets infected, a vet can walk you through the actions you'll need to take and share insights on how to prevent future infections.
Treatment for Tapeworms in Dogs
The treatment for tapeworms is pretty straightforward. Most commonly, your pup will be given two doses of a drug called praziquantel two weeks apart. The goal of this treatment is to interrupt the life cycle of any parasites affecting your pup. Two doses will generally suffice in curing these infections, but they have a tendency to recur. That's because while tapeworms are easy to get rid of, fleas are harder to keep at bay. You must also maintain flea treatment and prevention to keep your pup safe from pesky tapeworms.
To prevent tapeworms from entering your dog's digestive tract, you'll need to both kill fleas and prevent them from infiltrating your pup's immediate environment. Newer generation flea products are capable of killing and preventing fleas with nearly 100 percent efficacy. Routine administration of these medications is necessary to truly prevent tapeworm infections.
Can Humans Get Tapeworms from Their Dogs?
Typical tapeworms aren't considered transmissible between dogs and humans. If you accidentally ingest a flea, however, there is a possibility that a tapeworm could establish itself in your body. Children are more likely to curiously consume fleas than adults are, so keep a close eye on kids who are playing with your pup.
If you or a loved one does contract a tapeworm, don't panic. Just as in dogs, tapeworms in people are highly treatable. You'll just need to give your doctor a call to get the proper treatment. For more guidance on preventing tapeworm infections, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Dipylidium infection resources.
Dr. Patty Khuly
Dr. Patty Khuly is an award-winning veterinarian known for her independent thinking, spirited pet advocacy, passion for the veterinary profession and famously irreverent pet health writing. Dr. K is an honors graduate of both Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MBA at the Wharton School of Business as part of the prestigious VMD/MBA dual-degree program. She now owns Sunset Animal Clinic, a veterinary practice in Miami.
Dr. K is a nerdy reader, avid knitter, hot yoga fanatic, music geek, struggling novelist and indefatigable foodie. She lives in South Miami with four dogs, countless cats, two rescued goats and a hilarious flock of hens. You can follow her writing at DrPattyKhuly.com and at sunsetvets.com.