Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Fleas and Tapeworms, like peas and carrots

by User Not Found | Jun 23, 2013


Parasite—an organism that lives in or on another organism, known as the host, to receive nourishment in order to survive. 

Disgusting right?  But also fascinating….like it or not, most people know that owning a dog means putting up with these things, but humans can get them too.  Let’s talk about Tapeworms, no come on, it will be fun, I promise.  Oh, but you might want to put down that morning coffee and breakfast.

An adult tapeworm has a “face” with hooks and suckers used to attach to the intestinal wall.  Tapeworms have no digestive system, they rely on their host completely, hence the name parasite, to get nutrients.  The body of the tapeworm is nothing but segments, sometimes thousands, that are nothing but sacs of egg and sperm.  Wait, here’s the creepy part.  In the early 19th and 20th century, “sanitized tapeworms” were actually being sold to help women maintain a slim figure.  The pills were sold and then ingested and then bam, weight loss (well not exactly), but in those days instead of believe everything you read on the internet, it was believing everything you see on TV.  Now I don’t know about you, but after that description of a tapeworm, I think I would rather stick to eating less and going for a few more walks during the week.

Let’s rewind for a minute.  Let’s say our dogs aren’t ingesting tapeworm eggs so they can keep their slim figure, well then how exactly are they getting a tapeworm infection.  Tapeworm eggs are actually ingested by flea larvae.  As the flea develops, so does the tapeworm and when the flea is an adult, the tapeworm is mature enough to infect your dog.  This is the ONLY time it can infect its host….so even if your dog ate some other dog’s poop that had tapeworm eggs in it, they could NOT get a tapeworm.  The egg must develop inside a flea.  This is good news……more on that later. 

By now you have probably figured out that the dog actually has to ingest a flea to get a tapeworm.  That’s not a hard task considering how much our dogs lick and chew on themselves for regular grooming and to itch, especially when they have a flea bite.  Once the infected flea is ingested, the body of the flea helps the tapeworm larvae survive thru the dog’s digestive system so that the egg can make it all the way to the intestine.  This is where those hooks and suckers in its mouth come in handy.  They latch on to the intestinal wall and because it doesn’t have its own digestive system, absorbs things like sugars and carbohydrates, from food that has already partially been digested by its host.  As it grows, it begins to produce segments filled with eggs that eventually break off and leave your dog’s body in the feces. 

Ok, Katie you are so right, that was fascinating (insert sarcasm here), now tell me how to keep those disgusting things out of my dog and how do I know if my dog has a tapeworm?

Tapeworms can cause a variety of intestinal issues, like nausea and abdominal cramping, but it’s pretty unlikely that our dogs are going to tell us about that.  Watch for them to lose interest in their food or become picky or fussy about eating…that’s usually an indication of cramping or nausea.  If they have a lot of tapeworms, they might become ravenous trying to eat enough because they are competing with the worms for nutrients.  Malnutrition is a big sign, not just from the tapeworms but also from the flea infestation which usually accompanies tapeworm infection.  You’ll also see it in your dog’s coat, thinning, dulling and brittleness of hair. Sometimes diarrhea and what is known as scooting can occur.  You know when your dog drags his butt across the living room carpet?  Sometimes this can be a sign that his rectal area itches and he may have tapeworms.  The little egg sacs can crawl and at times will crawl right out on their own.  The sure fire way to know your dog has tapeworms is that you will see them in your dog’s poop.  They look like little grains of rice and are often moving, yep crawling.  I often receive pictures from our fosters about various medical issues with their dogs, but this one was a first for me.  Our foster was taking care of a new dog that had just come in and she noticed worms in his stool.  Since he was being “dewormed” with medication but she was still seeing them and they were “moving”, she sent me this video to ask what to do.  Brace yourself.


Sure enough, these are tapeworms.  And since the normal deworming meds don’t cover tapeworms, we had to get her pup an additional medication to take care of the tapeworms too.

Remember when I said earlier your dog cannot get tapeworms from ingesting an egg?  That means that if your dog turned around and ate his own poop (or another’s) with these little crawlies in it, he would NOT get a tapeworm.  These crawlies have to be eaten by flea larvae, so still a good idea to pick it up!  Oh and don’t forget to wash your hands.   Ok I think I have thoroughly disgusted you now.

PREVENTION!  SOME heartworm medications cover tapeworms.  The drug for prevention of tapeworms is called praziquantel.  Not all heartworm medications cover it, so check yours to be sure.  If you don’t have a big flea problem, maybe switching heartworm medications just to cover tapeworms isn’t worth it.  But talk to your vet about which worms are the most important to cover for your dog in his/her lifestyle.  Tapeworms can be treated, so if your dog isn’t on a prevention but contracts a tapeworm, you can see your vet for this medication to treat the infection.  Many times, this isn’t a worm that your yearly fecal check at your vet will identify (remember there are no eggs inside the dog), so please be sure that you keep a look out for any problems with your dog’s feces in the backyard, on walks, at the dog park, or wherever you may be.  Poop can tell you a lot about your dog’s health….oooooo, I sense another new topic!

Special thanks to our foster for the great poop video!



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