How to Prevent Your Dog from Getting Tapeworms

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Dogs will be dogs. Which means when they find something disgusting they either eat it or roll in it. If that 'something' happens to be feces or a dead rodent, there's a high likelihood of the dog picking up parasites. Of these, intestinal worms such as tapeworms top the list.

In the same way there are different dog breeds, so there are different species of tapeworms. The ones most troublesome to our pet pals are Dipylidium, Taenia, and Echinococcus species. These stringy fellows have a life cycle that involves a halfway host or 'intermediate' host, such as the flea, rodents, or large herbivores (depending on the tapeworms species.)

Apart from the yuck factor of your dog carrying these flat, ribbon-like parasites in their gut, tapeworms have health consequences. They steal nutrient from the gut leading to ill-thrift and dull coats in the dog. Also, their egg packets migrate out of the dog's anus, causing itchiness. All in all, tapeworms are unwelcome visitors who need to be shown the exit.

Deflea Regularly

The dog tapeworm, Dipylidium, hitches a ride inside fleas. The flea is the equivalent of a subway train, getting the tapeworm eggs from destination A to B. When the dog grooms and swallows the flea, he then becomes infected. It would be a neat trick if it wasn't so disgusting!

To protect your dog and prevent infection, take the following steps:

  • Deflea the Dog: Use a licensed preventative product at the recommended interval that kills fleas. Be sure to treat all the pets in the house with the appropriate products. This prevents the fleas merely relocating to a less clean pet.

  • Deflea the Environment:  Flea eggs can lie dormant in soft furnishing, cracks, and crevices for years. Beat them at the survival game by using an effective environmental insecticide so there's literally no where for them to hide.

  • Deworm the Dog: The glitch with deworming is that not all products work against tapeworms. Look for a product containing praziquantel or take your vet's recommendation.

Prevent Scavenging

From the humble mouse to a dead sheep, scavenged carrion is a potential source of tapeworm infection. For example, a mouse ingest a tapeworm egg (Taenia species), this develops inside its body to form an encysted tapeworm. The dog then eats the mouse which triggers the cyst to burst and the tapeworm to develop into an adult.

  • Vigilance: Prevent scavenging with a combination of supervision, obedience training, and removing opportunity. Try teaching the dog a "Leave it!" command, for when your dog spies that rotting carcass.

  • Clear Up: On a farm or smallholding, remove fallen animals and dispose of them safely, so there's less opportunity for scavenging.

  • Muzzle: When you can't be there all the time, consider muzzling the dog to control his indiscriminate dining habit.

Routine Preventatives

Tapeworms can lie dormant in a dog's soft tissue for many months to a year or more. Remember, one active tapeworm produces thousands of eggs, so it doesn't take much to create an infestation, which means regular deworming is essential.

  • Pyrantel / Praziquantel: This is the best drug for killing tapeworms. Many other dewormers only have activity against roundworms (for example piperazine) or a limited range of tapeworm species (fenbendazole). Thus, you may be deworming your dog, but not with a product that kills tapeworm

  • Regular deworming: Worming isn't a "Do once and forget about it" event, but needs repeating regularly. Typically, this means three to four times a year, or more often for farm dogs or those that scavenge.

Protecting your dog against tapeworm infection is a basic responsibility of every pet parent. Tapeworms soak up food from your dog's gut, robbing the latter of valuable nutrition. Not to treat against tapeworms means a dull, dry coat and a poor-doing dog. Oh, and add into the mix an itchy bottom when the tapeworm egg packets migrate.

There's no doubting tapeworms are gross, but they can also have a more serious side for human health. Whilst the tapeworm Echinococcus is not common, it can be passed to people and cause severe illness….so prevention is definitely better than cure.