Protecting Your Dog and Your Family Against Tapeworms
People sometimes joke that those who eat a lot without gaining weight must have tapeworms. While this is possible, tapeworms are no laughing matter.
Tapeworms are No Joke
People sometimes joke that those who eat a lot without gaining weight must have tapeworms. While this is possible, tapeworms are no laughing matter. Canine tapeworms can pose a serious threat to human health. For this reason, it is important for you to understand how tapeworms infect dogs, the signs of tapeworm infection and the dangers of these parasites to humans. To prevent infection, you need to keep your dog on a monthly preventative, such as Comfortis, Frontline Plus or Advantage, and stop your pet from eating prey animals that carry the parasites. By taking these steps, you can help to keep your dog and your family safe from tapeworm infection.
Tapeworm Life Cycle
Adult tapeworms live in your dog’s intestines where they absorb nutrients. These worms shed segments full of eggs that pass into the environment in the dog’s feces. Fleas, rabbits, sheep and other intermediate hosts eat the tapeworm eggs. Your dog can be infected with tapeworms by eating one of these intermediate hosts. The most common victims of tapeworm infection are pet dogs that do not receive monthly flea preventative treatment with a product such as Frontline Plus or Advantage. These dogs contract fleas that cause skin itching and irritation. This irritation leads dogs to lick and bite at the inflamed areas and ingest infected fleas.
Occasionally, dogs with severe tapeworm infections may have diarrhea, gas or abdominal cramps. They may also vomit material containing worms. Most commonly, however, you will not be able to tell that your dog is infected unless you find tapeworm segments in the hair around your dog’s anus, in the animal’s feces or in your home. When fresh, the segments resemble grains of rice. Dried segments are smaller and look like sesame seeds. You should be especially vigilant about looking for tapeworm segments on dogs at high risk for tapeworm infection. These include hunting dogs, dogs with fleas and dogs not receiving regular doses of Frontline Plus, Revolution or some other flea preventative medication.
Tapeworms and Human Health
While tapeworms often produce no symptoms in dogs, it is still very important for you to treat your dog if it has these parasites. This is because some canine tapeworms can also infect humans. The most common canine tapeworm, Diplydium caninum, infects humans who accidentally swallow fleas. Signs of infection by this type of tapeworm include nausea, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. If you suspect that you are infected with tapeworms, see your doctor right away.
Far less common in dogs and people is infection with tapeworms of the species Echinococcus granulosus. Dogs contract these tapeworms through eating the organs of infected sheep or other wild herbivores. Humans can contract the worms through contact with the feces of infected dogs. In dogs, these worms cause few symptoms. In humans, however, infection with these worms causes potentially fatal hydatid cysts. Because it is extremely difficult to differentiate between this type of tapeworm and Taenia pisiformis, a type of tapeworm that dogs contract by eating rabbits, tapeworms in outdoor or hunting dogs, especially in high risk areas, need to be taken very seriously.
Treatment for tapeworms involves ridding your dog of the current infection and preventing reinfection. Veterinarians usually use a medication containing praziquantel to kill the adult tapeworms in the dog’s intestines. Preventing future tapeworm infections requires you to keep your dog from eating a tapeworm host animal. To prevent Echinococcus granulosus infections, you need to avoid feeding sheep, goat or other wild herbivore meat or organs to your dog. In a similar way, preventing infection by Taenia pisiformis involves preventing your dog from eating wild hares or rabbits. Prevention of Diplydium caninum infections requires you to prevent contact with fleas. The easiest way to do this is to use a monthly flea preventative such as Frontline Plus, Comfortis, Revolution or K9 Advantage II. Because of the risks tapeworms pose to both canine and human health, preventing infection is the best way to keep your family and your dog safe and well.
Treating Tapeworms in Dogs
What is Echinococcus Granulosus?
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