Tapeworms are another type of intestinal parasite and along with roundworm, hookworm and whipworm, this flat, segmented worm can be found in dogs, cats, humans and many other species worldwide.
The most common species of tapeworm is Dipylidium Caninum. The medical term for a tapeworm infestation is Cestodiasis.
It’s important to know what worm we’re working with, so if you find anything abnormal in your dog/cat’s stool or vomit it’s important to keep the worm to take to your veterinarian or have a picture readily available. We know they are disgusting to look at but bringing this to your vet is important in recognizing the species in order for the right treatment to be prescribed.
How are tapeworms transmitted?
Dogs and cats can get tapeworm by ingesting a host that is harboring tapeworm eggs which is most often an adult flea. This can happen such as the pet self-grooming or grooming another dog or cat in the household. Other transmitters of tapeworm eggs can be birds, rabbits, or rodents. Once the egg is digested, the tapeworm egg will settle in the small intestine, which will then develop into an adult.
Adult tapeworms are made up of many small segments that are the size of a grain of rice (often mistaken for rice) and are called proglottids. These proglottids break off and end up in the stool of your dog or cat. The segments you’re seeing in the stool contain tapeworm eggs which in turn, will begin the cycle all over again.
Can you tell if your pet has tapeworms?
The proglottid segments can sometimes be seen crawling near the anus or on fresh feces. These eggs are released into the environment when the proglottid dries out which can then get stuck to your pet’s fur.
Sometimes your pet may scoot their bum across the ground, rug or any other “rough” surface to relieve some of the irritation caused by a tapeworm infestation. You may also note they are constantly licking or biting at that area, but this can also be a sign of other medical conditions. Occasionally pets will vomit tapeworm segments.
While tapeworms are not entirely harmful, your dog may start to show signs of weight loss if they are heavily infected.
Fecal testing is the recommended test to detect tapeworms in your pet. Treatment will depend on if the test is negative or positive, and your veterinarian will discuss the best treatment option for your pet.
As with most intestinal worms, we ask ourselves the questions of if they can be passed to humans. While the answer is yes, the risk is low as we’d have to swallow an infected flea or accidentally ingest feces that is carrying the egg. Children are the most prone to the infection as they are playing outside in the grass, parks and other areas that dogs are in contact with.
The best way to avoid tapeworms is to keep your pet free of fleas. You can do this by:
- Controlling fleas; yearly prevention is key
- Immediate treatment if positive for tapeworm
- Clean up after your pet uses the washroom
- Do not allow your children to play in areas dogs are known to frequent for the washroom
- Always wash hands, especially children