Tapeworms in Dogs and Cats
Did you know? Dogs and cats get Dipylidium Caninum, the common tapeworm, from ingesting a flea! Tapeworms are long intestinal worms that live in the small intestines of a dog or cat by latching on the intestinal walls with its suckers from the head (Scolex). These tapeworms will pass proglottids containing egg packets in the feces. These proglottids are rice grain-sized and can be wiggly when first released. They eventually dry and look like a dehydrated grains of rice. You may find either the recently released or dried segments on your pet’s hind end, on a pet’s bed or blanket, or on the stool.
In the environment, once the egg packets are released from the proglottids, a flea will ingest these egg packets and develop into the infective larvae stage call the cystercoids. The flea is an intermediate host and is needed to transmit the tapeworm to your pet.
A pet that has fleas will groom itself and unintentionally ingest a flea. Once ingested and inside the small intestine of the pet, the infective larvae will develop into an adult worm and grow to up to 60 cm in length and the life cycle continues.
If you see proglottids on your pet’s hind end, bedding or on the stool, call your family veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can prescribe a medication to kill tapeworms and prescribe flea medication. Strict flea control is the key to eradication. If the fleas are not controlled, a pet may continue to be re-infected by tapeworms.
Mild tapeworm infections usually do not cause serious illness, but heavy infections can cause vomiting, constipation or diarrhea. In young dogs, they can have a potbelly appearance and weight loss.
The risk to human infection is low but not impossible. Occasionally there are reports of children who are close with their pets that accidentally ingest an infected flea and develop Dipylidium Caninum.
Stringent flea control is best practice to prevent tapeworm infection. Finding proglottids on your pet can cause distress to your family and upset the bond that you have with your pet.