What are tapeworms?
Tapeworms are a type of intestinal parasite. Humans have their own species of tapeworms, but some tapeworms of dogs can also cause disease in people.
Flea tapeworm segments
What causes tapeworms in dogs?
Several species of tapeworms can infest dogs in Australia, although the prevalence is very low in the general dog population. The two most important species for Australian dogs are the flea tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum) and the hydatid tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus).
Tapeworm life cycle in dogs
The tapeworm life cycle always includes an intermediate host which varies depending on the species of tapeworm.
- Adult flea tapeworms live in the small intestine of infested dogs (or cats). Egg-containing segments are passed in the faeces. Fleas are the intermediate host, and flea larvae living in the environment ingest the tapeworm eggs. Another host (a dog or cat) can then become infested after ingesting an adult flea containing flea tapeworm larvae.
- Adult hydatid tapeworms are small and live in the dog’s small intestine. Worm segments containing eggs are passed in the dog's faeces and contaminate the environment. An intermediate host (grazing animals such as sheep or kangaroos) may then ingest the tapeworm eggs. Hydatid cysts develop in the organs of the intermediate host. Dogs become infested by eating raw offal (organs) which contain the hydatid cysts. Because of this, it primarily affects farm dogs fed raw offal or dogs which scavenge from carcasses.
Hydatid tapeworm (adult worms are 3-6 mm long)
Tapeworms in puppies
Both puppies and adult dogs can become infested with tapeworms. However, thankfully, they do not usually cause illness, even in young puppies. Puppies and older dogs can transmit tapeworms to people, so it’s important to take measures to protect your dog. Read on to find out more about how these parasites can be treated and prevented.
Tapeworm symptoms in dogs
There are usually no obvious symptoms or signs of tapeworms in dogs. However, some dogs with flea tapeworm may develop an itchy bottom which may cause them to rub or scoot along the ground. Scooting can also be caused by other things, such as anal gland problems, so it is best to consult with your vet. It may be possible to see segments of flea tapeworms in your dog’s stool or around the anus – they look like small, white grains of rice.
Can tapeworms be passed from dogs to humans?
People can become infested with hydatid tapeworm if they ingest eggs passed in the faeces of an infested dog. Hydatid disease in humans is a potentially serious condition caused by cysts that form in vital organs such as the liver, lungs and brain. Symptoms may include diarrhoea, unexplained weight loss, a swollen abdomen and fatigue. Humans can also become infested with flea tapeworm if they accidentally swallow a flea carrying the parasite.
Tapeworm treatment for dogs
Tapeworm treatment requires the administration of a deworming product which contains the active ingredient praziquantel, such as ParaGard Allwormer for Dogs®. Dogs at risk of hydatid tapeworm (those with access to raw offal or carcasses) should be treated with ParaGard Allwormer for Dogs every 6 weeks.
Preventing exposure to the intermediate host of the tapeworm can prevent tapeworm infestations:
- Flea tapeworm infestations can be prevented with rapid, effective flea control (e.g. with NexGard® for Dogs or NexGard SPECTRA® for Dogs). To control existing flea tapeworm infestations, use ParaGard Allwormer for Dogs.
- Hydatid tapeworm in dogs is 100% preventable if dogs are restricted from eating raw offal and from scavenging on carcasses. Dogs at risk of hydatid tapeworm (access to raw offal or carcasses) should be treated with ParaGard every 6 weeks.
How do I know if my dog has tapeworms?
There are usually no obvious signs of tapeworms in dogs. However, some dogs with flea tapeworm may develop an itchy bottom which may cause them to rub or scoot along the ground. Scooting can also be caused by other things, such as anal gland problems, so it is best to consult with your vet.
Do tapeworms go away on their own?
Tapeworms can live for years in a dog’s intestine and so it is important to treat infestations with an effective product such as ParaGard Allwormer for Dogs.
Are tapeworms harmful to my dog?
Tapeworms are not usually harmful to dogs, although some dogs with a flea tapeworm infestation may develop an itchy bottom which may cause them to rub or scoot along the ground. Flea tapeworm infestations can be prevented with rapid, effective flea control (e.g., with NexGard for Dogs or NexGard SPECTRA for Dogs). Hydatid tapeworms don’t cause harm to dogs but can cause disease in people. It is very important to prevent dogs from being infested by restricting them from eating raw offal or from scavenging on carcasses.
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