As you catch a glimpse of your dog's derriere, you may notice tiny, off-white objects that resemble wriggling grains of rice. These are segments of tapeworms. Tapeworms are common parasites that your veterinarian will be able to treat quickly and easily. By starting your dog on a monthly flea control product, you'll prevent future tapeworm infestations.
Life Cycle of a Tapeworm
Several varieties of tapeworms exist, but the Dipylidium caninium is the most common tapeworm to affect dogs and cats. These parasites require two hosts to complete their life cycles. Fleas serve as the intermediary host. If your dog has fleas, he is carrying larval fleas on his body. Flea larvae feed off of tapeworm eggs, and these ingested eggs begin to develop. The flea larvae and adult fleas carry the tapeworm. When your dog licks and bites at his coat to groom or relieve an itchy flea bite, he ingests the fleas. Your dog becomes the final host of the tapeworm as it grows within the small intestine. Egg-containing segments of the tapeworm shed periodically and pass through your dog’s anus, and the cycle begins all over again.
The Long and Short of Tapeworms
The adult tapeworm measures 5 to 8 inches in length. The body is segmented and flat. The head of the tapeworm hooks into your dog’s intestinal wall and absorbs nutrients, continually growing new body segments. The newer segments are those closer to the head, and the oldest segments begin from the tail end. These older segments each contain egg sacs. These segments break off from the rest of the tapeworm and are expelled through your dog’s rectum. They may slide out along with stool when your dog has a bowel movement, or they may pass as your dog relaxes or snoozes. Freshly passed tapeworm segments resemble grains of rice. They are white and able to move. As they dry up, they turn golden yellow and resemble toasted sesame seeds.
Evidence for Diagnosis
Fortunately, tapeworms generally do not pose any serious health threats to your dog as long as he receives veterinary treatment when you spot the evidence. Most dogs with tapeworms will not show symptoms at this point, so the only way to detect tapeworms is by observing for the telltale segments. These segments are the ricelike objects seen around your dog’s anus or on his coat under the tail. You may also find them on his stool when you carry out your duties of poop patrol, and you may see them in your furry friend’s bedding or on the carpet where he frequently relaxes. Once you have sited suspected segments, use a stick to carefully flick a couple of them into a plastic bag and present the specimen to your veterinarian for inspection and confirmation.
One Dose or Two
Luckily, tapeworms are among the easiest parasites to deal with. One of the most common drugs used by veterinarians is called praziquantel. Your vet may administer this by injection or by oral tablet, and he may call for a second dose to be administered three weeks later.
Worth a Pound of Cure
The most effective way to prevent future tapeworm infestations in your dog is to prevent flea infestations. Ask your veterinarian about the different flea preventative options available. For maximum flea control, be sure to place all pets in your family on a flea preventative. Since most products are formulated specifically for dogs or cats and dosed by weight, be sure to ask your veterinarian for a prescription for each pet to ensure safe and effective flea control for all.