Cestodes, commonly called tapeworms, are intestinal parasites found in just about any type of pet, including reptiles, birds, gerbils, horses, and companion animals such as dogs and cats. They do not cause any serious disease, but will absorb your dog’s nutrients and could indicate an underlying flea problem.
Signs & Symptoms of Tapeworms in Dogs
- Small white "rice grains" visible in the stool or around your dog’s anus
- Excessive licking around the anus
- Itchiness due to flea infestation
- Variable appetite
- Weight loss in severe cases
Causes of Tapeworms in Dogs
Tapeworms are flat worms with segments that attach themselves to the dog’s intestinal wall and continue to grow segments, each with its own digestive and reproductive system.
The most common species of tapeworms that infect dogs and cats are:
- Dipylidium caninum
- Taenia species
- Echinococcus granulosus and E. multiocularis
- Diphyllobothrium latum
- Spirometra mansonoides
Tapeworms are spread when your dog ingests a flea or louse that has in turn ingested a tapeworm egg. The egg turns into an immature form inside the insect’s gut, and once ingested by your dog, will become an adult. It is possible to get tapeworms from eating infected dead animals or prey, such as rodents. Hunting dogs in a rural setting are most susceptible to contracting tapeworms this way.
Diagnosis of Tapeworms in Dogs
Diagnosis begins with a complete history and a physical exam. Your veterinarian will most likely do the following:
- Physical Exam - It is sometimes possible to see tapeworm segments in and around the anus or in your dog’s stool.
- Fecal Floatation - This test is used to determine the presence of parasite eggs in your dog’s stool. It involves taking a small fecal sample from your dog using a lubricated fecal loop. The feces are then put in a small container with a solution that will allow most of the fecal matter to sink and the parasite eggs to float. A slide is then made of the floating material and examined under a microscope, looking for for tapeworm eggs.
Treatment for Tapeworms in Dogs
Your veterinarian will likely give your dog an oral or injected praziquantel medication, such as Droncit. Two other drugs are epsiprantel (Cestex) or fenbendazole (Panacur). Usually only one dose of medication is needed to treat the tapeworms. Your dog will be placed on a flea preventive as a measure for future prevention.
Prevention of Tapeworms in Dogs
To prevent a tapeworm infestation in your dog:
- Regular fecal exams can help detect infestations early.
- Tapeworm infection is easily prevented by keeping your dog on a flea preventive.
Though it is extremely rare, it is possible for you to contract tapeworms from your dog. Ingestion of infected fleas or adult lice can lead to tapeworm infections in humans, though it is most common in young children.