Recognising tapeworm symptoms in your dog
Tapeworms commonly infect dogs. Because these parasites can live in the intestine for a long time before you notice any health problems, be sure to look out for these warning signs and catch an infection early. Tapeworm symptoms include:
Several different types of tapeworms can infest your dog, including the Taenia and Echinococcus species, but the most common, Dipylidium caninum, is contracted through fleas that carry the worm larvae. A dog can ingest these infected fleas when grooming. These worms attach themselves to the wall of the dog's gut and grow up to 60cm long! In the gut they feed slowly on your pet's intestinal contents, competing with your dog for nutrients.
Dogs often do not show detectable symptoms for a long time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spot them if you know what to look for.
Good to know: Some tapeworms that infect dogs, for example the hydatid tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus) can cause serious disease in people. Dogs are infected with hydatid tapeworms when they eat offal/meat from infected animals such as sheep or even kangaroos. Never allow dogs to eat offal, and treat dogs regularly with an effective allwormer to minimise this risk in hydatid tapeworm areas (check with your vet).
Signs of tapeworms in dogs
As the tapeworm grows, segments containing heaps of eggs will be released into your dog’s faeces. They may also be seen around your dog’s bottom, or in their bedding. These segments may look like moving pieces of rice or, if they are dried out, hard yellow specks that can stick to your dog’s coat.
If infected, your dog may scoot around the floor or bite or lick his bottom to try to relieve the itching caused by tapeworm. However, remember that dogs scoot for many reasons, such as blocked or irritated anal sacs or skin inflammation. Take your dog to the vet to understand what may be causing his discomfort.
As the tapeworms grow inside your dog, they may cause vomiting. You may see segments of the worm or the entire worm in the vomit. Of course, vomiting can indicate a variety of other problems, from indigestion to more serious conditions. If your dog vomits frequently or displays other symptoms, such as lethargy or severe diarrhoea, see the vet without delay.
In cases of heavy tapeworm infection, your dog may lose weight despite eating normally. This is due to the tapeworm feeding on the nutrients in the dog’s stomach.
Like vomiting, weight loss can have a variety of causes. If there are no obvious reasons for the weight loss, such as increased exercise or a change in diet, then your dog might need to visit a vet for assessment.
Preventing and treating tapeworm
Although tapeworms can cause alarming symptoms in your dog, they are easy to treat and remove. Worming medications like Drontal® worming tablets and chewables quickly kill worms lurking in your dog’s gut.
Of course, like most infestations, prevention is better than cure, and there are a number of steps you can take to keep your dog safe from tapeworms. The best way is to maintain a regular flea treatment schedule, using a spot-on or collar, or an oral medication.
By not letting your dog roam unsupervised, you can also prevent him from contracting Taenia or Echinococcus tapeworms from hunting rodents or rabbits, or from scavenging dead livestock such as sheep or cattle.