We live on 13 acres in N. Texas so protecting Magic from parasites and tapeworms is job one!
This is the third installment in a series of blog posts covering dog parasites, and year round prevention, in which I’ve discussed fleas, heartworm and other common “buggy” pests. In today’s post, we’re looking more closely at tapeworm trouble (ew!).
Image courtesy of DepositPhotos.com
UNDERSTANDING TAPEWORM TROUBLE
Dogs can contract tapeworm from ingesting fleas during self grooming, or eating a dead animal. I remember our first Sheltie when I was a child was diagnosed with rabbit tapeworm (yikes!) because the horrible backyard breeder my parents got her from had simply tossed dead rabbits out to the dogs to eat.
Grass is the coolest spot to lounge but also offers fleas a place to dine on the dog.
Called proglottids, tapeworms are composed of segments linked together like a chain. The head of the tapeworm, called the scolex or holdfast, is equipped with hooks and suckers that are used to anchor itself to the wall of the small intestine. There is no mouth as such; in fact tapeworms don’t even have a digestive system. Instead, nutrients are absorbed through the segmented body.
The parasite continuously grows new segments that are added from the neck down. Adult worms continue to add segments as long as they live, sometimes attaining lengths of two feet or more composed of hundreds of segments.
Each proglottid contains both male and female reproductive organs. When mature, the segment produces up to 200 eggs. Segments furthest from the scolex are most mature, and once “ripe” they are shed from the worm’s body, and pass in the feces.
Once outside the body, each segment can move independently like tiny inchworms, but when dry they look like grains of rice. Infested dogs typically have segments stuck to the hair surrounding the anal area, or in their bedding.
Eventually, the segments dry and rupture, releasing the eggs they contain into the environment. Tapeworm eggs are eaten by the flea larvae, which then develops as the flea itself matures. When a pet nibbles to relieve that itch, she often swallows the flea and infects herself with tapeworm. The life cycle is complete in two to four weeks.
TAPEWORM MEDICAL CONCERNS
Tapeworms are rarely a medical problem, and are usually considered an unpleasant annoyance. The moving proglottids may cause irritation to the anal region, which may prompt dogs to excessively lick themselves or “scoot” their rear against the floor or ground.
Without treatment, however, massive tapeworm infestations potentially interfere with digesting food and/or elimination. Dogs suffering from flatulence (passing gas) may have problems with worms. Puppies may suffer intestinal blockage should too many worms become suspended the length of the intestinal tract. Also, the hooks of the holdfast can damage the intestinal wall. Diarrhea with mucus and occasionally blood may be signs of tapeworm infestation. Long-term infestation can result in an unkempt, dry-looking coat and generally unhealthy appearance, and reduced energy.
Using an appropriate paraciticide for year round prevention is one of the best ways to protect dogs from both fleas AND tapeworms.
GROSS ALERT!!! Check out the video, below, for a reminder of the types of worms your dog may contract.
Good bug protection isn’t magic–it’s common sense! (Image courtesy of DepositPhotos.com)
Ever wonder how to get rid of my dogs fleas, or other buggy intruders?
(whispering…a la Wizard of Oz)
Heartworms and tapeworms and fleas, OH MY!
Hookworms and roundworms and whips, OH MY!
Year round prevention of bugs? OH MY!
We’re….OFF to see the Wizard…
Hey, I couldn’t resist, y’all know about my theater background, and here in North Texas we’ve been dodging tornadoes lately.
Besides, when it comes to pet parasites, I just want to unleash the FLYING MONKEYS…except they’re liable to be plagued by fleas, too. Even flying monkeys deserve to be pest free, but there are still many pet parents who may not have all the facts about canine intestinal and external parasites and how to kick the bugs out. So…how much do YOU know?
THE TRUTH ABOUT FLEAS & HOW TO GET RID OF MY DOGS FLEAS
The flea’s flat body is armored with cuticle plates that make it nearly crush-proof, and the narrow profile promotes easy movement through fur. An adult flea can live from a few weeks to more than a year, but more typically lives about thirty days. Fleas set up permanent housekeeping on the pet, and stay there unless involuntarily evicted. However, adults represent only about 5 percent of the total flea population. The remaining 95 percent of the bug count is composed of immature life stages: eggs, larvae and cocoons.
Fleas are NOT cute…and nothing to laugh about. (Image courtesy of DepositPhotos.com)
After mating, female fleas store sperm to use as needed; a blood meal stimulates her to lay eggs. She can produce over 2000 eggs in thirty days, and up to 50 each day. Eggs typically fall from the host, and may remain dormant in the environment (the carpet or yard) for as long as six months. But normally, eggs hatch into tiny, maggot-like larvae within one to two weeks. They are virtually invisible to the naked eye, and subsist on the waste passed by adult fleas (sometimes referred to as “flea dirt), and other organic material.
Larvae spin cocoons in about three weeks, where they mature into adults. From inside the cocoon, the flea’s antennae and bristles are able to detect body heat and odor, changes in light, touch and moisture, and even traces of carbon dioxide exhalation of a nearby host. This prompts the flea to emerge from the cocoon, and immediately snag a canine victim. The cycle from egg to adult takes only 21 days under ideal conditions. Meanwhile, all those immature stages can just hang around and wait for a good time to target your pooch.
Fleas in my bed mean bug bites for me, too! (Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC)
Dogs that come indoors for even brief periods will seed flea eggs in your house which, given time to mature, quickly turn your house into a flea hotel. Fleas lurk in dog beds, (AND PEOPLE BEDS!), upholstery, carpeting, and even in your car! Vacuuming may even help spread the buggy bounty to other rooms in your house. That turns flea problems from a “seasonal itch” into a year round hazard.
WHY DOGS NEED ALL YEAR PARASITE HELP
The weather is so mild here in Texas, that mosquitoes are year round pests, which makes canine heartworm disease a hazard all year long, for both indoor and outdoor pets. But the same is true if you live in cold northern states. Here’s why.
Dogs must be protected with a preventive heartworm treatment for at least 6 months after being last bitten by a mosquito, or you risk having heartworms develop. That’s because the medications can only kill the stages of a developing heartworm for the first ~3-4 months after a bite, and again once it becomes an adult by about 6 months after the mosquito bite.
That leaves a DANGER ZONE gap during which no drug is effective against these deadly parasites.
Magic deserves relief from parasite persecution! And…he can bring fleas INDOORS to my two indoor only cats. (Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC)
When an infected mosquito bites your dog in August, larvae are deposited upon the skin and gain entrance to the body through the bite wound left by the mosquito. The heartworm undergoes many more molts and development stages during the next several months, during which time it migrates inside your dog’s body. Learn about cat heartworm disease here.
Heartworm preventive can kill these baby worms during this migratory state, and prevent the parasite from reaching the heart and pulmonary arteries where it matures–it’s important, though, to treat a couple of months beyond the last mosquito bite of the season and on into the fall. But here’s the deal: how do you know the date of your dog’s last mosquito bite? Besides, that’s not how preventative is designed to work. Starting and stopping and missing the right timing risks your dog’s health.
Think about it. If you stop giving your dog preventive for half the year during the cold season, because you’re guessing mosquitoes aren’t around, you probably won’t kill the “baby worms” already percolating for potential havoc inside your canine buddy. In my part of the country (N. Texas), mosquitoes hang around even during the winter.
Because it’s so economical to prevent this threat, yet costs major $$ (and possibly your dog’s life) if you forget a dose, it’s really a no-brainer for me. Besides, getting in the habit of a healthy routine helps you remember and never forget to give your special dogs their preventative.
The best and easiest way to protect your dog is to never skip a dose because heartworm preventative is most effective against infections that occurred in the month prior to taking the medicine. I treat Magical-Dawg year round with preventive to keep him flea and heartworm free. What about you?
I take dog parasite treatment very seriously. Lots of pet parents want to know about wormed dogs. Magic and I used to spend a couple hours every day running and playing in the fields and rambling through the wooded areas of our thirteen-acre property. With the recent rain and warmer temperatures, the wildflowers and roses–as well as grass and weeds–have flourished. But so have the dog parasites including the ones you can see like fleas, tapeworms, roundworms and mosquitoes, and the hidden bugs such as heartworm, hookworms, and whipworms. What’s a caring pet parent to do to provide effective dog parasite treatment?
DOG PARASITE TREATMENT
Y’all know I’m a huge proponent of preventive care for our dogs and cats as well as a “less is more” approach. Heck, in the old days with my first GSD, we constantly fought the bug wars with weekly dips and sprays and powders and on and on. None were effective alone, and the cumulative effect potentially could poison the dog as well as the bugs. Allowing a dog to become infected first and then treat risked long term health damage or even death, yikes!
Today there are safer products that take care of the buggy smorgasbord in a single monthly treatment. Even the best dog parasite treatment won’t work, though, if it’s hard for you to use or if the application causes the pet distress.
I like the idea of giving Magic a single monthly treatment that prevents all of these issues at one time. We began the program last month and I was delighted to see that Magic takes the monthly chewy like a treat–he LOVES the flavor! For dogs that are hard to medicate, that’s an added benefit.
So, exactly what kinds of parasites are we talking about? Gather round–it’s quite a “herd” of bad guys, and here’s a round up of info from my DOG FACTS book.
PARASITE RISKS FOR DOGS
FLEAS: There are more than 250 kinds of fleas in the United States, but the cat flea Ctenocephalides felis afflicts pets most often. With the exception of pets living in mountainous regions exceeding elevations of 5000 feet, or dry areas like deserts that are inhospitable to fleas, every dog is at risk for flea infestation. Fleas thrive in warm summer weather, but because most dogs spend time both outside and indoors, fleas carried into homes often set up housekeeping (yikes!), and afflict dogs all year long. You may see flea “dirt” (black specks which are digested blood) caught in the fur, and allergic dogs may scratch incessantly. Adult fleas on a dog account for only 5% of the bug population, with the other 95% consisting of eggs and immature fleas living in the environment. Fleas also transmit other parasites, like tapeworms.
TAPEWORMS are ribbon-like flat worms that live in the intestines. There are several varieties, but Dipylidium caninum is seen most often in cats and dogs and can pose nutritional problems interfering with food absorption. Immature worms must spend developmental time inside an intermediary host before being able to infest your dog. The flea serves this purpose. Tapeworm eggs are eaten by the flea larvae, which then develops as the flea itself matures. When a pet nibbles to relieve that itch, she often swallows the flea and infects herself with tapeworm. You’ll likely see the white inchworm-like segments or dried ricelike debris near the dog’s bottom or in the stool. Some kinds of tapeworms even affect people, making it even more important to keep dogs parasite free. Learn more here.
HEARTWORMS are one of the “invisible” but most deadly parasite affecting dogs, and are type of roundworm called Dirofilaria immitis that belongs to a group of parasites termed filarids. Adult worms live in the pulmonary arteries and right heart chambers, and can damage the heart muscle and interfere with its function. An intermediate host, the mosquito, is necessary to transmit the disease to dogs. The life cycle takes about six to seven months.
All dogs can get heartworm disease, but those exposed more often to mosquitoes—outdoor dogs living in close proximity to mosquito breeding grounds like swamps or standing water—are at highest risk. Common signs are coughing, shortness of breath, and reluctance or fainting during exercise. Eventually the dog becomes weak, listless, loses weight, and may cough up blood. Severe signs of late-stage disease are congestive heart failure, including labored breathing and edema. The condition may result in sudden collapse and death. Nearly 300,000 dogs in the U.S. contract heartworms each year–and it doesn’t have to happen.
ROUNDWORMS are one the most common intestinal parasites and most puppies are born with them. Roundworms are passed in the stool or vomited, and look like masses of spaghetti. Infected pets often have a pot-bellied appearance. There are several types of roundworms, technically called nematodes. Puppies may be infected before they are born when immature worms the mom-dog harbors migrate to the uterus. Puppies may also contract roundworms from nursing the mother’s infected milk. The parasite can also be contracted when a puppy or adult dog swallows infective larvae found in the environment, or by eating an infected host like a mouse or bird. Children also can be infected, so keeping dogs worm free with products like Sentinel Spectrum also keeps kids safe.
HOOKWORMS are another common intestinal parasite you won’t see in the stool because they grow to less than half an inch long and usually must be diagnosed by finding eggs with microscopic examination of a stool sample. Depending on the species, they suck blood and/or take bites out of the wall of the dog’s small intestine (ouch!), which can result in severe bleeding. All dogs are susceptible, but puppies are at highest risk. Although adult dogs may become immune to the worms after several bouts of infection, that doesn’t necessarily clear all the parasites and dogs can still get sick. There are several kinds of hookworms. The highest incidence of disease is found in southern states. The higher humidity and temperature conditions provide an ideal environment for the parasite.
WHIPWORMS are thin, two to three inch long thread-like intestinal parasite worms that narrow at one end like a whip. All dogs are at risk, but puppies may be more profoundly affected. Dogs contract the parasite by ingesting eggs found in the soil. Eggs can live for five years in the soil of cold climates. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), “Whipworms are found in as many as 14.3% of shelter dogs sampled in the U.S. and 10% of dogs presented to veterinary teaching hospitals.” Some lucky dogs live in states with a much lower incidence of this nasty critter. Check out this CAPC parasite incidence map to see the risk factors for your dogs (and cats).
The whipworm parasite feeds on blood by burrowing into the wall of the intestine. Dogs infected with whipworms often are also infected with other parasites, such as hookworms, and the combination can be devastating. A heavy worm load of whipworms may cause diarrhea, vomiting, anemia and weight loss, and such dogs typically have a rough coat or “unthrifty” appearance. In severe cases, dogs can die.
The first step in protecting your dog from these common parasites is to schedule a veterinary appointment to diagnose and treat any resulting health concerns. Then the doctor can also recommend and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
How do you keep your dogs (and cats) safe in your “bug wars?” Have your pets ever had a bad experience with parasites? How did you know? What signs did you see? And what did you and your vet do to get your furry wonder well again? Do tell!