A Guide to Dog Tapeworm

Dog tapeworm is a common parasitical infection that, while easy to treat, can cause your dog much discomfort and lead to a weakened immune system and even to anemia. There are several types of tapeworms, and some are contagious to humans and cats, as well as other animals such as cattle. Here's what you should know about tapeworm infection in dogs.

Dog Tapeworm Basics

Tapeworms are flat and segmented. They have a head and neck, and their bodies consist of a number of segments. The tapeworm attaches itself to the wall of your dog's intestine by the means of suckers or muscular grooves in its mouth.

Each tapeworm segment possesses its own reproductive organs. New segments form constantly in the neck region, while old segments are cast off as they mature. These segments often contain large numbers of tapeworm eggs. Cast off segments may often be seen near the anus of an infected dog or cat; they may be moving if they are recently cast off and haven't dried out yet.

Dog tapeworms have a lifestyle that involves an intermediate host, usually fleas. Your dog contracts tapeworm when he swallows a flea that hosts the parasite. The adult tapeworms live in your dog's intestines, and absorb nutrients through their skin.

The most common types of dog tapeworm are:

  • Dipylidium caninum
  • Taenia species
  • Echinococcus granulosus and E. multiocularis
  • Diphyllobothrium latum
  • Spirometra mansonoides

Signs of Tapeworm Infection

Often, tapeworm infection is diagnosed solely by the appearance of tapeworm segments around the dog's anus. In severe infections, your dog's stomach may appear swollen and tender to the touch. The dog may appear anxious and may vomit. The active segments around the anal area may cause discomfort, and your dog may lick his anus excessively, or scoot his butt along the floor.

In very severe cases of dog tapeworm infection, your dog may display any of the following symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Dull coat
  • Lack of appetite
  • Low energy levels
  • Diarrhea and vomiting

Treatment and Prevention of Dog Tapeworm

Dog tapeworms are easily treated. The most common treatment is a drug called praziquantel. The dose is determined according to your dog's body weight and praziquantel cannot be used in pregnant dogs. The drug epsiprantel (Cestex) can be used, but isn't safe for puppies under seven weeks of age.

Prevention of dog tapeworm involves flea and lice control. Spot-on flea preventative can be very effective in preventing infection and re-infection. Treat your dog, and any carpets and upholstery in your home, for fleas to prevent reinfection.

Other Types of Intestinal Worms

Dogs can also become infected with the intestinal parasites roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm. These worms can cause internal bleeding leading to anemia, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal swelling and discomfort. Some types of intestinal worm infections can cause death, especially in very young dogs, and some, like whipworm, can be difficult to treat.

Roundworm infestation, if not treated, can lead to an intestinal blockage that could cause death. Hookworm infestation can lead to severe internal bleeding that could cause death. Roundworms and hookworms are also contagious to humans and can cause life-threatening infestations, especially in very young children.