The most common tapeworm infection in dogs and cats in North America is the Dipylidium caninum. Tapeworm is highly infectious and can be passed through the feces, by eating uncooked meat or through the pet swallowing a flea infected with tapeworm larvae while grooming themselves (see Getting Rid of Fleas for more information on flea control and prevention).
Tapeworms are flatworms that can grow up to 28 inches in length although they are more commonly between four and ten inches long. Their bodies are made up of many small section called proglottids that can break off as the worm matures. Proglottids contain eggs and when the outer shell dries, it splits to release the eggs into the environment. These are then seen in the feces or crawling around the pet’s anus, looking much like grains of rice. It is a common way to diagnosis the infestation and most people are unaware of the problem until they see the proglottids.
Because the proglottids transport the eggs out of the dogs, the eggs do not end up in the feces like most types of worms. This means that veterinarians are not able to diagnosis an infection by the usual microscopic analysis and must rely on owners to identify the problem.
Does My Dog Have Tapeworms?
The physical symptoms of a tapeworm infection are often hard to notice as well. Weight loss may occur with a heavy infestation and some animals will become listless.
Thankfully, there is a low incident of tapeworm infections being transferred from a dog to a human however, it is not an impossible situation (human infestations are more often caused by eating undercooked meat that is infected). It would be necessary to ingest the tapeworm eggs either from swallowing an infected flea or from handling and then ingesting the eggs through their fecal matter. Both are very rare occurrences and as long as you wash your hands after cleaning up after your dog, the chance of infection is slim to none.
Tapeworms infections are treated the prescription drug Drontal which is effective in killing all the major roundworm and tapeworms. It is a well-tolerated drug by most dogs and can be administered even if no proglottids have been seen but the vet suspects a tapeworm infection because of unusual weight loss in the pet.’
The best ways to prevent a tapeworm infection in your dog are controlling flea infestations, cleaning up well after your pet especially in playgrounds or parks where kids could be playing, keep your kids out of areas where there could be feces and for everyone in the family to wash their hands after being outdoors or handling animals.