Tapeworms are one of four families of worms (the other three are hookworms, roundworms and nematodes) that affect our pet dogs. A tapeworm infection in an adult dog can cause weight loss, fur deficiencies, and even an swollen belly, but some infected animals don't show many symptoms. However, a tapeworm infection can be very dangerous for puppies, as the worms can huddle inside the intestine and create a blockage. Your priority should always be to resolve the problem as quickly as possible, regardless of whether the infection occurred in an adult animal or a puppy.
Part 1 of 2: Diagnosing a tapeworm infection
Step 1. Find out if the dog is at risk of being infected
Some puppies are more prone to getting hookworms than others. To become infected, the animal must come into contact with an "intermediate" host. These transmission vectors can be fleas or pests such as rats.
- If the dog has fleas, there's a good chance he is also suffering from tapeworms. If he licks his body and swallows a flea, his digestive tract will break down the parasite's body and release the worms into the intestine, where they can grow into adult tapeworms.
- Likewise, a dog that is a hunter or explorer may end up contracting tapeworms when eating rodents, as the tapeworm larvae form cysts on their bodies. When ingesting an animal with one of these cysts, the dog will have a serious risk of releasing the worms that compose it in the intestine itself.
- A dog cannot be infected by the set of eggs taken from the anus itself, as these eggs need an intermediate host to reach the stage where they can infect dogs.
Step 2. Look for tapeworm eggs
The clearest sign that a dog has a tapeworm is finding sets of eggs near the animal's anus or where it sleeps. These eggs can be white, tan, golden, or gray, and can range from the size of a cucumber seed to a sesame seed.
- They are usually described as small grains of rice or sesame seeds. If the eggs have been newly shrunk, you may notice some movement in them when you look closely. As they get older, they dry out and become more like sesame seeds.
- This is explained by the life cycle of the tapeworm, as the adult worms in the animal's intestines can release these eggs (called proglottids) intermittently. These eggs then pass through the intestine to reach the animal's anus, where they are ready to contaminate the environment and become a source of infection for intermediate hosts (fleas or pests).
Step 3. Observe if the dog tends to drag its hindquarters along the ground
This migration of eggs causes irritation in the rectum and anus, causing an itch that causes some dogs to drag their butt along the floor. However, be aware that this practice can be explained by other reasons, such as problems with the anal glands or allergic skin problems.
Step 4. Take the dog to a veterinarian if you suspect a tapeworm infection
The veterinarian can check whether the animal is infected by examining a stool sample under a microscope and looking for tapeworm eggs. However, false negatives are possible because tapeworms do not release proglotids (the egg sets) all the time, but rather intermittently.
Part 2 of 2: Treating a Tapeworm Infection
Step 1. Deworm the animal
Tapeworms can be destroyed by deworming drugs that contain the active ingredient praziquantel. This drug causes the outer membrane of the tapeworm to become permeable, which causes nutrients to leave the tapeworm, causing the worm to die.
- Currently, a new drug has become available, Epsiprantel, which acts similarly to praziquantel but is not as widely used yet.
- Praziquantel is efficient in combating all species of tapeworms, which makes it an excellent dewormer option. However, a different drug called dichlorophene is more limited and will kill only two or three types of the main tapeworm species. Unfortunately, the species it does not kill is the Echinococcus, which in exceptional cases can pose a risk to human health. This makes dichlorophene an uninteresting option.
Step 2. Be aware that not all dewormers contain praziquantel
Therefore, always check the packaging and make sure it is present. Look for explicit statements that indicate the product is effective against tapeworms and check if praziquantel is among the active ingredients. Panacur, for example, is an example of a dewormer that only contains fenbendazole, which is not effective against tapeworms.
- The downside of praziquantel is that it is not effective against roundworms or other common worms, so many worm pills have more than one active ingredient. Drontal, for example, contains praziquantel and pyrantel, Milbemax contains praziquantel and milbemycin, and Prazitel Plus contains pyrantel, praziquantel and febantel.
- Also, be aware that there are many specific treatments for these other types of parasites that are very effective but do not work against tapeworms.
Step 3. Give the dog the correct dosage of medication
Most tapeworm medications are made in pill form. You will also need to accurately weigh the dog, so find a clinic to weigh the animal if you are not able to. Afterwards, observe the dosage instructions on the package to make sure the animal is taking the correct dosage.
- Remember that the medicine will kill all the worms the dog will have at the time, but it will keep the dog from re-engaging the worms.
- There is also an injectable form of praziquantel, Droncit. This injection can be painful, especially in the case of larger animals, which need a greater amount of medication.
Step 4. Follow the veterinarian's instructions for details on the duration of treatment and how often it should be done
The maximum time before the next deworming is controversial and may vary depending on the case. If the dog is part of a risk group (if it is a hunting dog or regularly catches fleas, for example) it is advisable to deworm it monthly. If it is a low-risk dog, such as a house dog that is regularly treated for fleas, consult your veterinarian.
Step 5. Avoid future tapeworm infections
A more important measure to avoid re-infection is to avoid contact with intermediate hosts. This can be done through regular treatment with flea products to ensure the dog does not carry intermediate hosts.