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!).
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.
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.
Learn about the ticks that cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever on this post.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!