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Tapeworms: all you need to know

A tapeworm attaches itself to your pet’s intestines. They are long, flat worms with segmented bodies, each with its own reproductive organ. Pets that have a tapeworm don’t necessarily have any symptoms. You may not notice any weight loss or sickness and even though some may ‘scoot’ along the floor, this could simply caused by an itch or impacted anal gland. The most definitive way to diagnose your pet with tapeworm is through sight. 

When the tapeworm grows, some of the segments break off, which are about the size of a grain of rice, and pass into the animal’s intestines. You may see dried, white or cream colored segments in your pet’s feces, however some segments will be too small to see.

Tapeworms can also be passed onto humans, which is why it’s always important to be hygienic when dealing with your pet’s waste, and to be observant to any changes in your pet’s behavior that could show they’re uncomfortable.

How could my pet get infected? 
Tapeworm most commonly occurs when a pet swallows a flea containing tapeworm eggs or if they eat an infected animal.

Is there a way to prevent my pet from getting tapeworms? 
One of the best ways is to tackle flea infestation using a recommended flea removal treatment and to prevent your pet gaining access to prey animals.

What are the symptoms? 
While it can be hard to detect, poor absorption of food or diarrhea may occur.
How do I treat tapeworms? 
If you have detected tapeworm by finding segments in the animal’s feces or in the fur by their tail, your veterinarian will prescribe medication designed to kill tapeworms.

How do tapeworms attach?

The most common type of tapeworm (known as Dipylidium Caninum) is caused from swallowing an adult flea containing tapeworm larvae. This often occurs when a cat or dog grooms themselves or another animal. They can also pick up the parasite while scavenging, especially if they eat another animal or its feces. After it has been digested, the eggs hatch and attach themselves to the intestines, where they can grow to a staggering 28 inches in length.

As the tapeworm develops, small segments break off and get passed through the animal’s digestive system. These segments contain tapeworm eggs, which means they can soon find another host.

Even the most well-fed pets can scavenge. If you want to break the cycle you’ll need to keep your dog on a short leash and prevent him or her from eating anything from the ground, which we know is easier said than done!

Things to look out for

Even though we’ve said that symptoms can be minimal, the fact is that no one knows your animal like you do. Our pets often have a way of trying to communicate their discomfort and needs to us, so if you have an inclination that something may be wrong then it’s best to trust your instincts and investigate.

You can also keep an eye out for the following:

  • Licking or biting their anus
  • Irregular itching of their behind, perhaps by dragging or ‘scooting’ along the floor 
  • If your pet is losing weight, even though they are eating normally
  • Vomiting: this can be caused if segments make their way into the stomach 
  • White or cream ‘grain size’ segments on the fur, particularly by their tail, or in their bed
  • White or cream ‘grain size’ segments, or worms, in their stool 

If you are at all concerned, the best thing to do is consult your vet to get them treated as quickly as possible.

Diagnosis and treatment

Your veterinarian is likely to ask for a stool sample so that tapeworm can be diagnosed and confirmed. The test will find out if it they are in the anal sac, or in the feces. 

Once your pet has been diagnosed with a tapeworm infection, the goal of the treatment is to remove adult worms from the gut and prevent re-infection, which is actually much harder than you’d think.

To get rid of infection completely, the heads of all the parasites need to be destroyed, otherwise the process can begin again. We know that sounds like something out of a Terminator film, however it’s important to note that prognosis for both pets and humans is very good post treatment.

What’s the treatment? A prescription drug called Praziquantel is frequently used to treat tapeworms, but there are also other options such as medication in powdered form, which can be disguised in your pet’s food or tablets that remove multiple parasites at once. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for your pet.

It’s then your responsibility to administer the medication as directed by your veterinarian in order for the treatment to be a success.

Prevention techniques

Prevention is always better than cure and once you’re rid of those horrible worms you’re going to want to keep them at bay permanently. So, here are five easy steps you can take to help prevent re-infection to keep your dog or cat healthy and happy.

1. Check daily

The number-one rule of good dog care is to bag it and bin it. It’s not our favorite job; however in the days and weeks after your pet has been treated for tapeworm, take it as an opportunity to check their stools for any signs of white segments or worms.

2. Flea treatment

Get a flea treatment for your pet and eliminate any fleas or lice from their environment. Regularly check their fur for fleas, bites or any kind of irritation. This will help to significantly reduce the risk of ingesting fleas and your pet picking up another infection.

3. Keep your four-legged friend away from other hosts

We all love to see our dogs running freely in the field, or our cats out enjoying their independence before coming home and enjoying a contented snooze, however most dogs are prone to sniffing other animals and their stools and will often make a meal out of something less than delectable. Cats on the other hand can bring home more than you bargained for into the household.

Keep your dog away from such morsels, either by keeping them on the lead or by going on a different walk where they’ll have less opportunity for a mid-afternoon snack.

4. Put a lid on it

We’re talking about the garbage here. Keep their noses out of your trash by ensuring it’s contained and out of range for them. Any pet will find it hard to resist that left over chicken, so make sure they don’t have the option.

5. Check their bed

Whenever your pet wakes from a nap, or comes over for a pat look over their bed to see if you can spot any grain-like segments that may have shed from their fur. This is much easier on darker material, so it may be time for a new bed for your precious companion.

Preventing tapeworm can be a challenge and the symptoms can be hard to spot. Conduct regular and thorough checks on your pet and keep an eye on their bowel movements. It may not be pretty, but it’s the best way to keep those pesky visitors at bay.

This article is intended as an informative guide for pet owners, but is not a replacement for veterinary care. If you believe your pet may be infected with roundworms, seek professional advice from a veterinarian.

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