Thanks to inordinately heavy rainfall this summer, flea populations have exploded in our region. Unfortunately, along with fleas comes the additional scourge of tapeworms. Ingested by fleas, eggs of the common tapeworm then pass into your dog when they, in turn, ingest the afflicted flea. The eggs then settle in your pet's small intestine, where they hatch and become a thriving colony.
These parasites, scientifically known as dipylidium caninum, fasten themselves to the intestine walls and live off their canine host while occasionally shedding egg-containing segments. The segments end-up in your dog's feces, often appearing to be grains of rice with one distinct difference: they move! This usually is an owner's first inkling that an infection has occurred.
Although not life-threatening to your pet, tapeworms can be irritating and - more importantly - can be transmitted to humans by swallowing an infected flea. If you suspect your pet has been infected, see your veterinarian for tapeworm-specific treatment as soon as possible.
In addition to d. caninum, several other types of tapeworms can parasitize dogs and are much more dangerous to humans. Fortunately, these do not come from fleas, but rather from other infected animals or uncooked meat. Unlike d. canium, however, these can be transmitted through your dog's feces and can resemble their less-dangerous cousin. Until receiving a definitive diagnosis from your veterinarian, you should be extremely cautious and act accordingly.
The following list of do's and don't when you suspect your dog has tapeworms should help:
- Don't touch your dog's waste with your bare skin. Use plastic bags or latex gloves.
- Don't allow children to walk without shoes or play in areas your pet has defecated. All parents know how short the distance is between anything in the environment and a child's mouth.
- Do take your pet to the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment immediately.
- Do use regular flea and tick preventive on your dog.
- Do take steps to eliminate fleas from your indoor environment. If your dog comes into your home, be sure to check furniture and rugs for possible infestations. As long as they have places to live and breed, fleas can and will survive in your home. Remember: Flea preventive only works AFTER a flea has bitten your pet. Elimination of a flea population eliminates this annoying and painful event.
- Do consider taking steps to eliminate fleas from your outdoor environment. While virtually all pesticides pose some risks to living organisms (they're poisons, after all), this may be an option to consider in heavily infested areas.
Whatever the case, it's important to consider the risks inherent to tapeworm infestations and take action accordingly. Your dog will thank you.
If you enjoyed reading this article, please click the 'subscribe' button at the top of the page to be notified every time a new Knoxville Dog Health article is published.