How Does a Dog Get a Tapeworm From Eating Fleas?

by Betty Lewis
Scratch, lick, swallow: the path to tapeworm infection.

Scratch, lick, swallow: the path to tapeworm infection.

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Your pup doesn't mean to eat fleas; it just happens when he grooms himself. It's hard to believe something as tiny as a flea can harbor something that will grow up to 8 inches long, but without the flea, the tapeworm can't keep on keeping on. Fleas, one of a dog's major annoyances, are the vectors for tapeworm eggs.

Not Pleased to Meet You

In his adult form, the tapeworm is made of small segments, each about 1/8 inch long, and spends his life attached to your pup's intestinal wall. As the parasite matures, each segment, referred to as a proglottid, detaches off the chain, passing through your dog's digestive tract. That little segment is more than a piece of worm; it's actually loaded with tapeworm eggs.

Out of Your Dog and Into the World

You might spy what look like cucumber seeds or little grains of rice in your dog's bedding, or even moving around near his bottom. The proglottids enter the outside world by hitching a ride through your dog's poop. Eventually, the segments dry out, turn a golden hue, and break open, freeing their cargo of tapeworm eggs. The tiny eggs are dinner for fleas, who become intermediate carriers for the tapeworm when they ingest the eggs.

One Flea, Down the Hatch

You dog is minding his own business when a flea jumps on him. Of course, fleas bite and cause your dog to scratch, shake and lick for a little relief from the pests. As well, your dog licks himself as part of his daily grooming regimen. When he's taking care of his daily business, your dog doesn't notice -- or doesn't care -- if he's picked up a little extra protein in the form of a flea. Your pup only has to swallow one little infected flea to become the surprise host to a tapeworm.

No Fleas, No Tapeworm

The good news about the flea's role in tapeworm infection is that you can help your dog win the battle of the tapeworm. If your pup has an active tapeworm infection, the vet can prescribe a safe, effective parasiticide that will dissolve the parasite in his intestines. His bedding -- and any other places where fleas may have taken refuge -- should be cleaned thoroughly to ensure your dog doesn't become reinfected. The vet also can recommend an effective flea preventive, usually administered monthly, that will keep him flea-free.

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