Tapeworms are an intestinal parasite that is seen in dogs and cats. There are two different kinds of tapeworms: diplydium and taenia. Diplydium is the most common tapeworm, and can only be gotten by ingesting fleas that carry the tapeworm larva. Taenia is less common, and pets can be infected from dead livestock, deer, rabbits, rats, or mice. Tapeworms grow as long segmented worms in the intestinal tract. As the worm matures, these segments break off and are released in the pet's stool, or are seen in the hair around the anus. The segments are short, flat, white and about the size of rice grains. They carry eggs which then hatch. The larva must be eaten by the intermediate host (fleas or wildlife). If a dog or cat ingests the intermediate carrier, they can become infected with tapeworms.
- Most infected individuals are usually unaffected - tapeworms do not harm the pet in any way as there are plenty of nutrients passing by to serve both the host and its tapeworm (tapeworms require very little nutrients.)
- Anal irritation
- Rarely, diarrhea or intestinal obstruction
The most common way of diagnosing tapeworms is from the owner seeing the segments. Occasionally eggs can be seen on a fecal float, but the eggs are not always being shed, so this is not common. A history of flea infestation aids in diagnosis, but is not necessary. Ingestion of one flea is enough to cause a tapeworm infection, and even animals on flea control may come in contact with a flea occasionally.
Treatment for tapeworm infection should be aimed at both the active tapeworm load and controlling the intermediate host (usually fleas).
Treatment involves a medication for the tapeworms given one to two times. Strict flea control or preventing the animal from hunting/eating wildlife is very important to prevent reinfection of tapeworms. Administer veterinary prescribed medication and be aware of reinfection with exposure to intermediate hosts.
Prevention of tapeworms involves controlling the intermediate host (fleas!) by treating both the affected animal and the environment.