What is tapeworm?
A tapeworm is a parasite; a long worm that attaches itself to your dog or cat’s intestines using a system of suckers or muscular grooves. A tapeworm is long and flat and its body consists of multiple segments, each with its own reproductive capabilities. Tapeworms can reach four to six inches in length once in the intestine and each tapeworm can have up to ninety segments.
The worm grows new segments as it feeds off your dog or cat and produces sacks filled with many eggs that can end up gathering around your pet’s anus area. Although tapeworms live on the digestive system of an animal, they don’t have a digestive system themselves—they simply absorb nutrients through the skin.
The tapeworm isn’t very dangerous for dogs and cats like other worms such as the round worm, the hookworm and whip worm. They are known as the smart parasite because they don’t cause a great deal of damage to their host.
Due to the segmented nature of a tapeworm’s body, the head must be destroyed for the infection to be beaten. The type Dipylidium caninum is the most common tapeworm for both dogs and cats and is carried by fleas. Other types are the Taenia and Echinococcus species found in rodents, rabbits and even sheep.
It’s difficult for humans to become infected with Dipylidium caninum as an infected flea must be swallowed by the host. Some cases, however, have been known to occur in children.
Although tapeworms aren’t known for causing serious health problems among dogs and cats, largely the source of prolonged irritation, it’s important organise treatment as soon as you start to notice the symptoms.
You’ll notice your dog dragging their bottom along the ground. This is their attempt to address the irritation the tapeworm infestation is causing them.
Cats can behave in a similar manner, however this behaviour is much more common in dogs. Another sign will be biting of the rear end, seen in both dogs and cats.
Both cats and dogs can experience degrees of weight loss if there are significant numbers of tapeworms in the digestive system.
Sometimes a tapeworm will detach from the intestines and move to the stomach. If this occurs, the dog or cat will vomit a long flat worm several centimetres in length.
As the tape worm matures, segments carrying eggs will break off the end of the worm and may turn up in droppings or in the fur around the anus. These will look similar to small cream-coloured grains of rice.
While it’s important to notice the symptoms at home, proper diagnosis and treatment can’t begin until you visit your local veterinarian.
If you suspect that your god or cat has a tapeworm infestation it is very important to keep them away from children and other animals around the home.
If your pet’s in the habit of doing their droppings in the backyard, clean up all excrement and dispose of it thoughtfully.
Vets will usually observe the cream-coloured tapeworm segments found in your pet’s droppings or around the anus area to make a diagnosis. It won’t always be possible for the vet to see the segments because they aren’t excreted every bowel movement.
In some cases your vet will take a smear sample and observe it under a microscope, this will help them to determine the type of worm infestation.
If you do notice the symptoms mentioned above and have seen the rice-like segments in your pet’s faeces, then collect a sample and take it to the vet with you. This will help them to make a better diagnosis.
Treatment and management
Luckily, one the diagnosis has been made the rest is easy. Modern deworming medications are largely side effect free and will completely remove tapeworm infestations with a simple tablet or injection.
These medications dissolve the tapeworm in your pet’s digestive system, so you won’t be seeing anything passed through their faeces.
Because Dipylidium caninum is carried by fleas, the treatment of lice and fleas should also be carried out at the same time. This will help to prevent future infestations from occurring.
If the infestation is severe and persistent, your vet could proscribe a year-long program of return visits for treatment. This option is quite expensive but, when needed, it the best solution for your pet.
The best treatment is prevention. There are a number of things you can do to prevent your pet from becoming infested with tapeworms.
If your dog is doing their droppings outdoors in the backyard, make sure to clean it up at least once a week.
If your dog is socialising with other animals at the park or down the street, try to avoid wandering dogs or cats. If the other person’s dog shows any symptoms of tapeworm infestation, it’s time to say goodbye and move on.
If you live in the country, try to keep your dog from interacting with dead rabbits or the like. All sorts of nasties can be ingested and caught from these sorts of carcasses and dogs seem to just love getting amongst them.
Be sure to use the wormer that your vet has proscribed properly. If it’s a returning case and persistent in nature, take your pet’s droppings in for a faecal examination regularly.
Commonly affected breeds
Tapeworms affect all breeds of dogs and cats as well as other animals like cattle, sheep, pigs and even human beings.
Worms can lay thousands of eggs per day. Once you start to notice those worm segments around your pet it’s time to visit the vet.
You’ll never see a worm-like shape in your pet’s droppings unless the worm has fallen away from the wall of their intestines.
Tapeworms need an intermediate host in order to infect your pet. Fleas are the intermediate hosts for Dipylidium caninum and moose the intermediates for Taenia taeniaeformis found in cats.
Each of the ninety possible segments of a tapeworm is essentially an immature tapeworm, ready to separate and go on its merry way. It has its own reproductive organs and contains many hundreds of eggs.