Those pesky tapeworms! …fight them now


With the number of cases of tapeworm infection in dogs on the rise, some know-how of the disease by pet owners is crucially called for. This is crucial not only for the safety and good health of one’s dog, but also to prevent communicability of the disease from the pet to his human counterparts.

The foremost thing to know about tapeworms is that they are not dangerous to your pet and are easily treatable. However, they can cause a whole lot of discomfort to your four-legged friend, so, it is advised to take proper precautions, conscious observation and care.What are tapeworms? Tapeworms are long, flat worms made up of multiple segments, each with their own digestive and reproductive systems. They get their name because their body and segments look fl at like a piece of tape. Tapeworms infect by attaching themselves to the dog’s small intestines by hook- like mouthparts and absorb nutrients through its walls.While an adult tapeworm may grow up to 8 inches (20 cms) long, the many small segments that it is made up of, are about 1/8 inch (3 mm) in length. As the tail end of the worm matures, the segments at the end breaks off and passes into the stool.
What are the main causes?
According to Dr. Pradeep Rana, in a majority of cases, fl ea infestation is responsible for tapeworms in pets as fl eas are the intermediate host. “When the eggs from the dried tapeworm segments get released into the environment, they get unknowingly consumed by fl ea larvae. As the fl ea develops, the tapeworm inside it also develops, until it reaches a stage where it is ready to infect a dog. This tapeworm is known as the Dipylidium Caninum and is the most common type to infect dogs,” he added.
The tapeworm then, as he further elucidated, gets transmitted to a dog when a dog accidentally swallows a fl ea that contains tapeworms or tapeworm eggs. This normally happens when the dog licks or itches himself with his mouth or being bitten and irritated by the fl eas apart from swallowing some of them. Thereafter, the fl ea gets digested in the dog’s stomach, hence releasing the tapeworms, which then attach themselves to the intestinal walls of the dog and begin a new life cycle.
The second type of tapeworm found in dogs, is known as Echinococcus which is rare to find. It is found in and transmitted usually by small animals such as rodents. So, if a dog eats, bites or sniffs an infected rodent or any other small animal, it is likely to get infected. Hunting dogs, therefore, are the most susceptible to get infected by the Echinococcus tapeworm.
What are the symptoms and effects?
Tapeworms are not very harmful to dogs. One reason being that the intestinal linings offer them plenty of nutrients, yet leaving enough quantity for the host. High performance dogs however, such as race dogs, may show a decline in performance because of the infection. “In other dogs, tapeworms may cause weakness and weight loss if they grow to large numbers in the body. Sometimes, the dog will also scoot or drag his rear side on across the ground due to the passed out segments, irritating the skin around that area,” Dr Rana told. Other symptoms that may be noticed in an infected dog include depression, digestive problems, mild diarrhea (may be streaked with mucous), abdominal pain and nervousness. In some rare cases, a tapeworm may move into the stomach, causing the dog to vomit the worm due to irritation in the stomach. It is then possible to view the several inches long worm which gets thrown out from the body. Dr. Rana further informed that, in some uncommon cases, the worm infestation may cause serious damage by forming cysts in the body, with the possibility of it being formed in the brain too.
How is it diagnosed?
Tapeworm infestations often go totally unnoticed. This is because tapeworms are usually not visible in the routine fecal examinations conducted by veterinarians, since their eggs are passed in packet like segments and are diffi cult to be seen during the inspection. One way to spot the eggs is by placing the dog’s feces in water and seeing the eggs and the segments fl oating on the surface.
The most common and effective way to diagnose tapeworm infection in a dog is by fi nding tapeworm segments, which look like fl at grains of rice, in the dog’s stool, around the dog’s rear side, or where the dog sits and sleeps. Veterinarians thus depend on the owners to identify and report tapeworm infection in their pets. “If in case your pet has a problem of fl eas, or if he has a history of having been treated for a fl ea problem, there are all the reason to check for symptoms of tapeworms as well,” advised Dr. Rana. He went on to explain that it usually takes up to three weeks after the carrier fl ea is swallowed, for segments to appear in a dog’s rear end or stool. At times, the segments can be passed out in small groups which are attached to each other, giving the appearance of a single long worm.
How it can be treated?
Treatment of tapeworm infection is fortunately simple and very effective. As Dr. Rana explained it, “A drug is administered either orally or by injection, which causes the tapeworm to dissolve within the intestines. The medication makes the tapeworms loose their protective layer and get digested within the system. As a result of the digestion, they are not seen in the dog’s stool.”
The next level in the treatment involves a thorough process of fl ea control. This includes measures which ensure that the dog, along with its indoor and outdoor environment, is made flea-free.
How it can be prevented?
The following measures, as described by Dr. Rana, if looked into and dealt diligently, will be highly advantageous in controlling and preventing fleas.

  • Flea control: This includes treating your dog for fl eas, apart from ensuring that its indoor and outdoor surroundings are kept free of fleas.
  • The use of contaminated bedding or carpeting can also prove fatal for your dog as it is where fl ea larvae tend to feast and come in contact with tapeworm eggs.
  • De-worm your pet regularly.
  • Keep away your pooch from smelling, eating or biting into animal carcasses and sniffi ng other animals’ feces.
  • Most important is to have your pet build a strong immunity system, which goes a long way in fi ghting infection and disease.

Communicability from pet to owner
Most of the cases are likely to involve children, who may accidentally consume fleas or flea larvae while playing on the fl oor or playing with a dog; in turn playing host to immature tapeworms. The infection generally causes cramping, discomfort, diarrhea and itching around the anus and, is not associated with any serious disease or disorder.
Yet another important factor to be noted is that there are certain species of tapeworms that use fi sh as hosts. Ensuring that food is properly cooked before intake is a wise thing to do to avoid any health problems, instead of blaming your innocent pets for causing you all the inconvenience. (With inputs from Dr. Rana, New Delhi.)