Tapeworms in Dogs

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Key takeaways

Tapeworms or Cestodaare a class of flat intestinal parasites commonly found in dogs. 

  • Dipylidium caninum is the most common species of tapeworm found in dogs and transmission occurs as a result of ingesting infected fleas
  • Dogs can become infected by other tapeworm species by eating rodents and other animals infected with tapeworms
  • Symptomatic cases are rare and usually only affect puppies and immunocompromised adults
  • When symptoms are present, they include lethargy, abdominal pain, scooting, and reduced appetite
  • Rarely, affected dogs may suffer from life-threatening complications such as intestinal blockages or severe liver disease
  • Diagnosis of tapeworm infection is commonly based on fecal testing and direct observation of segments in stool
  • The condition is treated with antiparasitic mediation
  • Prevention strategies include regular parasite and flea control, and avoiding raw meats and potentially infected animals
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A closer look: Tapeworms in Dogs


In adult dogs, tapeworm infection is usually non-life-threatening as the condition does not tend to cause severe health problems.

The most common type of tapeworm in dogs is transmitted through fleas. Staying up to date on vet recommended external parasite control is critical in preventing tapeworm infection and other flea-borne diseases.

Always consult a veterinarian before choosing external parasite control. Many products on the market are not effective or safe. Always inform an attending veterinarian of any other animals or children in the household, as some products are toxic to cats.

Most cases of tapeworms in dogs have no noticeable symptoms. The higher the number of tapeworms present in the dog's body, the more likely symptomatic infections are to occur.

Heavy infestation in puppies can lead to life-threatening secondary conditions such as anemia and intestinal blockages. Most tapeworm infections have a good prognosis with treatment.

Several species of tapeworms are contagious to humans. Humans become infected by:

  • Consuming contaminated food (raw meat is the most common source of tapeworm infections in humans)
  • Accidentally ingesting tapeworms eggs found in canine feces

Despite the non-life-threatening nature of the condition, medical attention is warranted as a number of tapeworms are contagious to other animals, including humans.

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Risk factors


Tapeworm infection is a widespread condition in dogs. Four main groups of tapeworms affect dogs.

  • Dipylidium caninum: The most common type of tapeworm in dogs.
  • Taenia species: less common than D. caninum. Taenia infection is more common in outdoor and hunting dogs.
  • Echinococcus species: rare in Canada and the United States.
  • Diphyllobothrium species: Infections in dogs are rare overall.

Severe symptoms of tapeworm infection are rare and generally only occur in puppies and immunocompromised adults.

Puppies with heavy tapeworm burdens can develop intestinal blockage or intussusceptions.

Rarely, dogs infected with Echinococcus tapeworms can develop a severe form of disease, characterized by large, parasite-filled cysts in internal organs (usually the liver or lungs).

Outdoor (especially those living in rural areas) hunting dogs, dogs living near waterways, those living in poor hygiene conditions, and those living near sheep are at an increased risk of tapeworm infection.

Possible causes


Dogs become infected by ingesting tapeworms that are transmitted via an intermediate host (e.g., fleas, rodents, sheep, or fish, depending on the tapeworm species).

Common routes of tapeworm transmission in dogs include:

Dipylidium caninum: infection occurs as the result of the ingestion of infected fleas while grooming.

Taenia species: Dogs become infected by ingesting carcasses of a number of animals, including rodents, rabbits, and sheep.

Echinococcus species: transmission occurs by ingesting infected rodents or infected sheep organ meat.

Diphyllobothrium species: Dogs become infected as a result of ingesting infected fish.

Main symptoms


Adult dogs rarely develop symptoms of tapeworm infection.

Testing and diagnosis


Dogs with symptoms of tapeworm infections, asymptomatic animals living with diagnosed animals, and newly adopted pets are advised for the following diagnostics to identify potential tapeworm infection:

  • Fecal testing
  • Fecal flotation
  • Identification of segments in the stool, anal area, or vomit.
  • Diagnostic imaging: X-rays, MRI, and CT scans are useful in identifying Echinococcosis cysts, if suspected.

Steps to Recovery


Most cases of tapeworms are easily treatable with outpatient deworming treatment (oral or topical medications). Dogs with symptoms may require additional symptomatic and supportive treatment (such as anti-nausea medications and nutritional support). Puppies suffering from intestinal blockages, and dogs infected with Echinococcus-induced cysts may require surgery.

Flea treatment and rodent control are crucial in treating and preventing reinfection of tapeworm infections.

In the majority of cases, prognosis for tapeworm infection is very good, with most dogs not presenting any symptoms at all.

While in most cases, dogs infected with Echinococcus tapeworms are asymptomatic, affected dogs can occasionally develop large tissue cysts and these individuals have a poor prognosis.

Even though the majority of tapeworm infection in adult dogs tend not to be a matter of concern, puppies and immunocompromised animals can develop life-threatening symptoms, and may have a poorer prognosis if not treated promptly.

Prevention


Flea control plays a crucial role in treating and preventing tapeworm infections.

Flea prevention strategies include:

  • Cleaning and vacuuming frequently
  • Washing pet bedding and toys frequently
  • Regularly checking for fleas on pets
  • Using vet-recommended flea-prevention products
  • Keeping pets on a leash when in rural areas
  • Discouraging hunting, especially in endemic areas
  • Keeping the household rodent free
  • Sanitizing areas that may have had contact with animal feces
  • Preventive administration of antiparasitic medication

Always consult a veterinarian before choosing external parasite control. Many products on the market are not effective or safe. Always inform an attending veterinarian of any other animals or children in the household, as some products are toxic to cats.

Are Tapeworms in Dogs common?


Dogs are highly likely to be infected with tapeworms.

Typical Treatment


  • Antiparasitic medication
  • Flea control
  • Rodent control

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