Pets and Tapeworms

One More Reason to Use Flea Prevention

Tapeworms, a type of parasite, are flat worms that consist of a head, neck and a number of individual segments that have reproductive systems of their own. The most common type of tapeworm found in cats and dogs is called dipylidium caninum, according to peteducation.com. Tapeworms can grow to be eight inches long, consisting of several segments that can be about 1/8 inch long.

How Did My Pet Become Infected?

Tapeworm

Dogs and cats get tapeworms by swallowing a flea that contains tapeworm eggs. Contact between flea larvae and a tapeworm egg is thought to occur most often in contaminated bedding or carpet. The dog chews or licks its skin as a flea bites, and the flea is swallowed. As the flea is digested within the dog’s intestine, the tapeworm hatches and anchors itself to the dog’s intestinal lining.

Health Implications of Tapeworms

While tapeworm infection might not cause noticeable illness in pets, symptoms may include digestive upset, change in appetite, poor hair and skin, weight loss and signs of abdominal discomfort.

So if your pet doesn’t show symptoms, how will you know he has tapeworms? The easiest way to tell that your pet has been infected is by examining his stool. The segments that make up the tapeworm break off and are passed through the pet’s digestive system. The segments are white and mobile, and thus can be easily spotted upon examination of the pet’s stool. Tapeworms closely resemble rice when dried or maggots when fresh and still alive.

While it may seem gross to look for this, it is important, as tapeworms are not typically detected in a routine fecal examination performed by a veterinarian. This is because tapeworm eggs are found within the segments passed by your pet. For the eggs to be released, the segment must break open. This usually happens once the segment dries. Fleas in the environment then feed on the eggs and dried segments.

Even though your pet might not seem sick because of the infestation, tapeworms compete with your pet for vital nutrients, so detection and treatment is key.

Tapeworm

Treating Tapeworms

Fortunately, tapeworm treatment is simple and effective. Once tapeworms are detected, take your pet to the veterinarian. The veterinarian will likely prescribe medicine (dewormer), given either orally or by injection, that will kill the tapeworm. Multiple treatments may be recommended as your pet may have infected himself again if there is an ongoing flea population at home.

Preventing Tapeworm Infection

To avoid re-infection, or to prevent infection in the first place, follow these tips:

  • Control fleas:  Apply a flea control to your pet. Check with your vet to see which kind is best for your pet.
  • Brush your dog: Use a fine-tooth flea comb to inspect for infestation.
  • In an extreme case of recurring infestation leading to malnutrition, a vitamin supplement might help restore nutrients lost to the tapeworm. Talk to your veterinarian about this option.