Out of the two common species of dog tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum, the flea tapeworm and Echinococcus granulosus, the hydatid tapeworm), the flea tapeworm is the most common type of canine and feline parasite that reside in a pet’s intestines.
Like all parasitic worms, dog tapeworm requires an intermediate host. In the case of flea tapeworm, fleas act as the intermediate host. Fleas ingest tapeworm eggs from the feces of the infected dogs and transform them into cysts. When the dog accidentally ingests an infected flea while licking his coat, the cysts hatch into tapeworms and mature inside the body of the dog.
Once ingested, the eggs develop into adult tapeworms. An adult tapeworm is made up of grain-sized segments. These segments are attached together, and a grown tapeworm can measure up to 28 inches in length. The head segment clings to the intestinal wall, and the remaining segments hangs in the enclosed area of the gut.
In most tapeworms, the rear segments break away from the others intermittently. These pass into the environment through stools.
However, flea tapeworms are rarely excreted through stools, and a routine fecal examination is unlikely to confirm the prevalence. Flea tapeworm segments that pass out in feces stick to the anus of the dog and look like moving melon seeds. Sometimes a dog may vomit out several inches of the tapeworm segments. Owners should be watchful of these symptoms since the veterinarian will depend upon such reports to arrive at the proper diagnosis.
Symptoms of tapeworm in dogs are mild and usually do not cause too much discomfort to the dog. Severe infection may cause irritation at the tail, especially when the segments are passed in the stool. Excessive rubbing of the bottom by a dog is an indication of severe tapeworm infection. Heavy infection may also cause weight loss over time.
Fleas and ticks are two external parasites that dogs can bring home. In such cases, humans who come in close contact with the infected canine can also get infected. If a dog is infected and he shakes himself vigorously (something that most dogs do pretty often) close to humans in the house, it can be potentially dangerous for the family members and cause the infection to transfer.
With tick-borne disease having reached a widespread stage in some areas, it is important that fleas be controlled to prevent a similar situation. Humans run the risk of infection from hydatid tapeworm by other means. But the flea tapeworm can be caused only if an infected flea is swallowed. Preventing tapeworm infection involves controlling fleas, keeping a clean environment and maintaining proper hygiene.