Mention tapeworms and you'll see experienced dog owners wrinkle up their noses in disgust. These internal parasites can be the bane of existence for canines and their human companions. Let's examine exactly what they are and how they survive and thrive.
If you're not familiar with these worms, it can be helpful to review what they look like and how a dog contracts them, so you can protect your dog.
Dipylidium caninum, the Latin name for dog tapeworms, is a common parasite that lives the greater portion of its life cycle inside of a dog's intestinal tract. These worms grow rather long, with specimens reaching up to 28 inches in length. Each worm is comprised of a head and a series of flat segments. The head has a collection of suction cups and hooks, which the parasite uses to attach itself to a dog's intestinal lining, where it feeds off intestinal contents and grows.
Tapeworms are most commonly contracted when a dog ingests a flea that is carrying the parasite's larvae. The larvae begin to mature as they enter the digestive tract, where they dig their hooks in and set up housekeeping. As the individual worm segments grow and ripen, they are filled with eggs, and the sections closest to the tail end of the worm are shed into the intestines, where they make their exit via the dog's feces. At this time, the segments are still active and work their way to the ground to deliver their load of eggs. The eggs may lie dormant for weeks, waiting for flea larvae to ingest them, beginning the next round in their life cycle.
Detection of Tapeworms
Tapeworms aren't usually detected until the segments show up in a dog's stool. As previously mentioned, the sections may still be active and will wiggle around like tiny grains of rice.
Sometimes the worm segments will make their own exit from a dog's anus without the aid of a stool. They may be found crawling in the general vicinity under a dog's tail, or may appear to be dried grains of rice stuck in the fur.
Transference to Humans
Can humans contract tapeworms from their pets? In a word, yes, although it's fairly rare. In order for people to become infected, they would need to accidentally ingest worm ova the same way many dogs do - by ingesting a contaminated flea. Children seem to be more susceptible to an infestation, since they play outside and are especially vulnerable if they play in sand boxes that are harboring fleas and frequently put their fingers in their mouth.
A person suffering from an infestation may experience abdominal cramping. A worm infestation is typically diagnosed by its presence in the feces, or less frequently, as a segment exits the anus on its own. It's worth noting that a different type of worm may be ingested while eating raw fish, aka sushi. This is totally unrelated to dog worms.
What should you do if you or your dog contracts tapeworms? You'll need to see your human physician or take your dog to their vet in order to get a prescription for the worms. Treatment for both humans and canines involves oral medication, though the medicines are quite different.
People infected with tapeworms are commonly treated with a medicine called Niclosamide, administered by their personal physician. The medicine kills the worms, which are then harmlessly shed out in the feces.
Most over-the-counter deworming medications have no effect on tapeworms. In these instances, veterinarians typically treat a case of canine tapeworms by administering a deworming product called Droncit.
There are two main ways to prevent acquiring tapeworms:
- Hygiene: Sanitary practices will go a long way toward removing worm ova from the environment. Hand washing is a person's best defense against these covert little parasites. Vacuuming and washing surfaces your pet comes in daily contact with will also help crimp the tapeworm's life cycle.
- Flea control: Flea prevention is another important method for warding off a potential infestation in both people and dogs. Keeping your dog well groomed will help reveal the presence of fleas much sooner, alerting you to the need for a flea bath. You can also be proactive by treating your yard each spring with an insecticidal dust or spray specifically formulated to kill fleas.