Tape Worms

Kelly Roper
Dogs and people can contract tape worms.

Mention tape worms and you'll see experienced dog owners wrinkle up their noses in disgust. These internal parasites can be the bane of existence for canines and their human companions. Let's examine exactly what they are and how they survive and thrive.

Tape Worms 101

General Description

Dipylidium caninum, the Latin name for dog tape worms, is a common parasite that lives the greater portion of its life cycle inside of a dog's intestinal tract.These worms grow rather long, with specimens reaching up to thirty-five inches in length. Each worm is comprised of a head and a series of flat segments. The head has a collection of suction cups and hooks the parasite uses to attach itself to a dog's intestinal lining where it feeds off blood and grows.

Life Cycle

Tape worms are most commonly contracted when a dog ingests a flea that is carrying the parasite's larvae. The larvae begin to mature as they enter the digestive tract where they dig their hooks in and set up housekeeping.As the individual worm segments grow and ripen, they are filled with eggs, and the sections closest to the tail end of the worm are shed into the intestines where they make their exit via the dog's feces. At this time, the segments are still active and work their way to the ground to deliver their load of eggs. The eggs may lie dormant for weeks waiting for the next host to accidentally ingest them, beginning the next round in their life cycle.

Detection

Tape worms aren't usually detected until they show up in a dog's stool. As previously mentioned, the sections may still be active and will wiggle around like tiny grains of rice.

Sometimes the worm segments will make their own exit from a dog's anus without the aid of a stool. They may be found crawling in the general vicinity under a dog's tail, or may appear to be dried grains of rice stuck in the fur.

Transference to Humans

Can humans contract tape worms from their pets? In a word, yes, although in most instances the infection isn't too serious. Children seem to be more susceptible to an infestation since they play outside, and are especially vulnerable if they play in sand boxes that are harboring fleas.

It's also possible for people to accidentally ingest worm ova the same way many dogs do - by ingesting a contaminated flea.

The transference of ova from dogs to people can take place in other ways such as:

  • Being licked on the face by a dog who has eaten an infected flea and still has some in its mouth
  • Petting a dog with eggs sacs in its fur and not washing your hands
  • Letting an infected dog sleep in your bed, offering the opportunity for egg larvae to be shed in the bedding

A person suffering from an infestation may experience abdominal cramping. A worm infestation is typically diagnosed by its presence in the feces, or less frequently, as a segment exits the anus on its own.

It's worth noting that a different type of worm may be ingested while eating raw fish, aka sushi. This is totally unrelated to dog worms.

Prevention

There are two main ways to prevent acquiring tape worms.

Sanitary practices will go a long way toward removing worm ova from the environment. Hand washing is a person's best defense against these covert little parasites. Vacuuming and washing surfaces your pet comes in daily contact with will also help crimp the tape worm's life cycle.

Flea prevention is another important method for warding off a potential infestation in both people and dogs. Keeping your dog well groomed will help reveal the presence of fleas much sooner, alerting you to the need for a flea bath. You can also be proactive by treating your yard each spring with an insecticidal dust or spray specifically formulated to kill fleas.

Treatment

For People

People infected with tape worms are commonly treated with a medicine called Niclosamide, administered by their personal physician. The medicine kills the worms which are then harmlessly shed out in the feces.

For Dogs

Most over-the-counter deworming medications have no effect on tape worms. In these instances, veterinarians typically treat a case of canine tape worms by administering a deworming product called Droncit.

Conclusion

Any type of intestinal parasite can slowly rob your pet of its good health. Be proactive and have your dog checked for worms on a semi-annual basis. This is the surest way of controlling an infestation before your dog's health becomes seriously compromised.

Tape Worms