Tapeworms and other intestinal worms are parasitic organisms that can have a direct impact on your dog’s health and wellness, as well as of course being totally disgusting to look at!
Every dog owner knows that worming their dog regularly with the appropriate product to deal with intestinal worms is important, but aside from checking the calendar and dosing your dog when necessary, many dog owners don’t give the question of worms any further thought, and providing that your worming product is effective, this is totally fine!
However, unlike flea and tick treatment products, pill wormers for intestinal parasites do not have a protective effect that remains in the body after treatment; wormers will only target and kill worms and larvae that are present in the body at the time of worming, meaning that your dog can theoretically pick up a worm infestation just a few days after their last treatment.
Regular worming should protect your dog and eradicate any worms that might be present quickly enough to prevent a large problem from developing, but it is still a good idea to learn a little bit about tapeworms, one of the most common and invasive intestinal worms in dogs, and how they can affect your dog.
Read on to learn more.
While the word “tapeworms” is a catch-all title that would seem to imply one type of worm, there are actually a whole range of different tapeworm species, and in fact, different types of meat and fish may even have their own specific form of tapeworm!
Tapeworms are flat, white or beige-looking worms that can grow very long, and have a segmented appearance to their bodies. All of the different tapeworm species look the same, and wormers designed to eradicate tapeworms will be effective on all of them.
Some of the most common species of tapeworm infestations that dogs may contract include:
Dogs can be infected with tapeworms by a variety of different methods, including eating meat that carried tapeworms or tapeworm larvae, swallowing fleas that have consumed the eggs of a tapeworm, or from contact with infected dogs or ground that has become infected with tapeworms via dog faeces.
Tapeworms latch onto the lining of the intestine by means of suckers along certain areas of their segmented bodies, and when the tapeworm is destroyed via worming, this kills the tapeworm and causes them to detach from the intestinal lining and pass out of the dog via the faeces.
Tapeworms are part of the cestode family of parasites, and all of the species named above, plus certain others, can affect dogs. The most common species of tapeworm that dogs carry is Dipylidium caninum, which is a canine-specific type of worm that affects dogs more commonly than any other mammal.
Dipylidium caninum worms can grow up to 8” long, which may sound large but is significantly smaller than some other species, which can reach lengths of well over 2ft! As the tapeworm grows ever larger, segments of the body will drop off and pass out of your dog’s system in their faeces, measuring around an eighth of an inch each, and looking similar to individual grains of rice. However, the journey of the tapeworm does not stop when it is passed from the system, as each shed segment will dry out and produce fertilized eggs, which can then be consumed by fleas before infecting another dog.
This is part of why good flea treatment protocols should be used in combination with worming; while flea treatments do not eradicate worms, they do eradicate the fleas that help to spread them!
In order for tapeworms in the dog to be transferred to humans, the larvae must be processed via the body of a flea, and as humans are unlikely to inadvertently eat fleas, catching a tapeworm infestation from your dog is possible, but not common. If you or members of your family are diagnosed with tapeworms, it is much more likely that they were caught from eating undercooked meat than by means of transmission from your dog.
A dog infested with a lot of tapeworms will likely display a voracious appetite, but be unable to maintain their weight. They may also suffer from vomiting and diarrhoea, and you may well be able to see the rice-like tapeworm segments in your dog’s faeces. Tapeworms can cause your dog’s rear end to be itchy, and so scooting or dragging the butt along the ground to relieve the irritation is also common, although this symptom may also indicate an impaction of the anal glands.
A large worm count that is not properly treated can actually make your dog very sick, as long term exposure to worms can lead to them perforating the intestinal wall, and spreading larvae to other areas of the body, including the brain.