The most common dog tapeworm can also be known as the cucumber seed tapeworm or the flea tapeworm but they all describe the same type of worm. This particular tapeworm primarily affects dogs. Other animals which may be hosts include cats and foxes. The dog can be killed as a result of becoming infected by this type of tapeworm if it has not been treated in time.

Dipylidium Caninum

Dipylidium caninum is the most likely tapeworm to have infected a dog suspected of a tapeworm infection. Other types of tapeworm include E. Multiocularis Spirometra mansonoides, Echinococcus granulosus, Diphyllobothrium latum and the Taenia species. D. caninum larvae grow into an adult tapeworm which appears flat and segmented. Its growth can lead to the possible length of even as long as a few metres. The tapeworm attaches to the small intestine of dogs using its suckers.

The intermediate hosts of the common dog tapeworm are fleas and lice. The final or definitive hosts are then dogs, cats or foxes. However, it is more common for dogs to be the definitive hosts. It is via the fleas infected with the parasite that transmission occurs. If an infected flea is ingested by the dog, the dog will be likely to contract the disease.

The signs and symptoms of having become infected with the tapeworm include vomiting, diarrhoea and weight loss. If humans ingest an infected flea, they may also become infected. This means that the disease is zoonotic. Children tend to be more at risk from catching the tapeworm as they have an increased likelihood to touch animals and put their fingers in their mouth. However, it is very rare for humans to catch Dipylidium caninum.

Transmission of Dipylidium caninum

The flea from the Ctenocephalides species is an intermediate host and is the main cause of transmission. Dogs can catch the tapeworm if they ingest a flea which is infected with the hatched eggs of the parasite. The hatched eggs become the tapeworm once they are inside the intestine of dog where it adversely affects the animal. The segments at the end contain the eggs of the tapeworm and break off. The segments are known as proglottids. As the dog defecates the segments containing these eggs are passed in the faeces. It is here where the fleas acquire the eggs by feeding on the contaminated faeces. Thus, the cycle begins again.  

Other surfaces may transmit the infected fleas. These include food bowls, flooring, and bedding and even from fur during grooming. If the dog uses its teeth to scratch, lick or bite an area of its body infested with contaminated fleas, ingestion and therefore infection is likely to occur.

Signs and Symptoms of the Common Dog Tapeworm

Signs and symptoms generally only occur if the animal is greatly infected. Dogs with worms will often rub their back ends against the ground as though soothing an itch. The most well known and considered shocking sign or symptom is the observation of the tapeworm segments in the infected dog’s stool. These are described as rice grain- or seed-like in appearance and may or may not be seen to be moving. These may also be seen attached around the anus of the dog. The eggs themselves are rarely seen in the faecal matter as they are encased in the tapeworm segments. 

In more severe cases, any gastro-affected signs and symptoms presented will include vomiting and diarrhoea. A loss in appetite and weight may also result. The affected dog’s coat will also lose its condition and the stomach will become enlarged. The abdominal area may become sore. Despite all of this, many dogs are asymptomatic following infection.

Treatment of Common Dog Tapeworm

Tapeworm in dogs is relatively easy to treat, generally with oral medication or an injection which is given in one or two doses. Most treatments are effective and the dog experiences a successful recovery.

Medication, such as praziquantel, results in the digestion and thus destruction of the tapeworm within the dog. Flea and lice control is often a vital part of the treatment programme. This is done to reduce the chance of re-infection. This is because the tapeworm medication does not provide immunity to the animal against the parasite and the dog can easily ingest another infected flea.

Prevention of the Flea Tapeworm

Deworming dogs with worming medication is an essential part of the ownership of the animal. The wormers should be administered regularly. Flea control is also vital in the prevention of any tapeworm infections. Fleas can also be controlled in areas such as carpets or even outdoors by using specialised sprays. The instructions on these products must be followed for them to be effective in the eradication of fleas. Hygiene levels should always be highly maintained. Faecal matter should be removed and binned.

Diagnosis of D. caninum

Diagnosis of the infection is initially made by observing the clinical signs and symptoms presented. This includes the presence of segments in the infected dog’s faeces. Anal smears may also be used for identification. In addition, any history of the parasite having been in the dog or the area contributes to a positive diagnosis.

Prognosis of Common Dog Tapeworm

Tapeworms in dogs are easily treated and so the prognosis in these cases is very good. In very advanced or severe cases, and if the animal is left untreated, it is possible for fatalities to occur.


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