As a dog owner, you've likely heard about tapeworms. They are tiny parasites that live in your dog's gut. They normally don’t cause serious problems and are easily treated.
Where Do They Come From?
There are different kinds of tapeworms, but the most common one is caused by swallowing a tiny infected flea. Fleascan carry the tapeworm’s larvae or babies. If your dog swallows it -- maybe while grooming himself -- an adult tapeworm can grow inside your dog's intestines.
Tapeworms are flat, white worms that are made up of tiny segments. Each part is about the size of a grain of rice. Tapeworms attach themselves to the walls of your dog's gut using hook-like suckers. Then they start to feed and grow.
A tapeworm can grow from 4 to 8 inches long. Chances are you won’t see the adult worm. As it grows, though, some of its segments fall off and pass through your dog's poop. You may see these tiny parts crawling near your dog's backside or on their bedding. You may also see them moving around in their poop.
These segments die and dry out. Then they’re hard, yellow specks that can stick to the fur around your dog's bottom.
Because they’re irritating, some dogs will scoot, dragging their bottoms across the floor, or lick their behinds a lot.
If those tapeworm segments make their way inside your dog's stomach, they can, though rarely, make your dog throw up. Then you may actually see a worm (maybe 5 to 8 inches long) in your dog's vomit.
If your dog has a heavy tapeworm infection, they may lose weight, even though they are eating normally.
Your vet will confirm a diagnosis after 1) seeing segments crawling on your dog or 2) seeing segments or eggs in your dog’s poop under a microscope. Sometimes several samples are needed since tapeworm segments and eggs are not passed every time your dog poops.
There are several safe prescription drugs that treat tapeworms in dogs. Your vet will choose the right one for your dog. These de-worming drugs can be given by tablet or as a shot. The medicine dissolves the worms, so you won't see them pass when your dog goes to the bathroom.
In most cases, you can prevent tapeworms with a few simple steps:
- Because fleas are the key cause, control them both on your dog and in your home and yard. Talk to your vet about flea spray, powder, collars, oral medication, or topical liquid treatments.
- Work with your vet to keep your dog on a de-worming plan.
- Don't let your dog roam unsupervised, especially in places where other dogs or animals have been.
- Clean up after your pet, especially in your yard and in parks.
It's rare, but people can get tapeworms from their pets. You have to swallow an infected flea. This most often happens in children. To be safe, always wash your hands after playing with animals and playing outside.