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February 2024

Tapeworms in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

CareHealth & Nutrition

Let’s talk tapeworms. More specifically, tapeworms in dogs. While it seems like a mundane subject, it’s essential pet owners are aware of these nasty parasites. They are often hard to detect, and depending on the type, can cause serious illness to your dog.

To help get you acquainted, we’ve answered some of the most common tapeworm questions, with some detailed explanations.

Read on to find out everything you should know about tapeworms in dogs:

  • Are tapeworms common in dogs?
  • Are there different types?
  • What do tapeworms look like?
  • What common symptoms of tapeworms?
  • How do you treat and prevent tapeworms?

Are Tapeworms Common In Dogs?

If your dog is not regularly wormed, then they are at high risk of contracting a tapeworm. However, it is found that tapeworms are more common in rural areas.

Are There Different Types Of Tapeworms?

The short answer is yes. However, the most common tapeworm a dog can contract is the flea tapeworm.

Flea tapeworm

As the name suggests, the flea tapeworm is spread by fleas. Dogs will get infected when they eat a flea that contains a baby flea tapeworm (e.g. while grooming/ biting at themselves).

Adult flea tapeworms live in a dog’s intestines. They can grow up to 30cm long and shed infective segments into the environment. Sometimes a dog can even pass out an entire flea tapeworm in its droppings! While some dogs can develop diarrhoea or an itchy bottom, most dogs infected with tapeworm don’t show any clinical signs.

While flea tapeworm can also pass to humans, it generally only causes mild disease such as diarrhoea and an itchy bottom.

Hydatid tapeworm

The Hydatid tapeworm is another tapeworm found in dogs in Australia, however, it is more common for this tapeworm to be found in rural and semi-rural areas. The reason it is particularly important to identify is because it can cause serious and potentially fatal disease in humans.

Like the flea tapeworm, the hydatid tapeworm also lives in a dog’s intestinal tract. Still, it very rarely causes any sort of disease in dogs, making it difficult for owners to recognise if their dog is infected. Eventually, these tapeworms will breed and lay eggs in the intestinal tract, which are then shed into the environment via a dog’s droppings – these eggs can be a deadly source of infection for humans if they are accidentally ingested (children are most at risk).

Hot Tip

Many Australians are diagnosed annually with ‘Hydatid disease’ (also known as human Hydatidosis). This is a particularly nasty, life-threatening disease where large fluid-filled cysts can form in various organs. Major surgery is often required to treat Hydatidosis in people.

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What Do Tapeworms Look Like?

Tapeworms look like a long, flat and somewhat segmented string. They can get incredibly long once growing inside their host, anywhere up to 30 centimetres. Once matured, individual segments of the tapeworm will be passed through the dog into the dog’s faeces. Once outside and in the faeces, they look like small grains of rice that will be mobile and moving.

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What Are The Tapeworm Symptoms In Dogs?

In other words, how do you know if your dog has contracted a tapeworm? As mentioned above, tapeworm symptoms in dogs present in very few ways the average person can detect, making preventative worming treatment even more important.

Here are a few signs and symptoms of tapeworms in dogs:

  • Itchy bottom, where your dog may try and scratch against surfaces
  • Diarrhoea can also occur if your dog has tapeworms, but not always
  • You may notice the tapeworms in dog poop (stool)
  • Weight loss can also occur if your dog has a large tapeworm infection (just ensure they are still eating the same amount to make the connection), as the parasite will end up eating away at vital nutrients
Hot Tip

A heavy infestation of tapeworm in a puppy is even more severe than an adult dog. It can cause the puppy physical developmental issues in growth, blockages can sometimes occur in the intestines, and there is the threat of anemia.

How Do You Treat Tapeworms In Dogs?

When it comes to finding the best way to treatment tapeworms in dogs, prevention is always key. However, here are some ways to prevent and treat these less than cute parasites.

Your worming schedule should look like the following:

Age Range Worming Schedule
2 – 12 weeks Liquid wormer every 2 weeks
12 weeks – 6 months Worming tablet every 4 weeks
6 months + Worming tablet every 3 months
  • Regularly worming your dog with a product that contains the active ingredient "praziquantel" to kill any adult flea and/or hydatid tapeworm living in your dog's intestinal tract.

Note: Many products which claim to treat intestinal worms don't actually cover tapeworm. A product must contain praziquantel to be effective against tapeworm.

  • Regularly treating your dog with an effective flea control product can help reduce the risk of flea tapeworm. Still, it is important to remember, that despite our best efforts, it easy to forget to treat our dogs for fleas. If this happens, then they can still become infected with flea tapeworm, which is why regularly de-worming your dog with a product that contains praziquantel is so important.
  • Regularly picking up and properly disposing of your dog’s droppings. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Sometimes we forget to do these simple things, but they are important. Making sure you do this will physically remove flea and hydatid tapeworm segments/ eggs from the environment, which then reduces the risk of your family becoming infected.

If you come across a tapeworm, you’ll find they are not easily forgettable, and so, it’s essential to stay on top of your dog’s worming treatments – it could save your pet’s life. Plus, it will also prevent the risk of accidental human ingestion of eggs, which is equally as serious.

If you want to know more about tapeworms in dogs, or concerned about the health of your dog, don’t hesitate to contact your local PETstock VET or the PETstock VET Chat.

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