Tapeworms are a common parasite of dogs and cats. Most commonly transmitted by fleas, this parasite is also transmissible to humans (usually infants and children) who accidentally eat an infected flea. Treatment for tapeworm infection in pets is easy if the correct drug is used.
Symptoms of a Tapeworm Infestation
Most pets don't lose weight from tapeworms and aren't usually sick. However, the tapeworms must be treated to prevent the possible contamination of children in the home.
Most pet owners can recognize the telltale sign of a tapeworm infection in their dog or cat—the small white "sesame seed" or "piece of rice" segments near the animal's tail or on its bedding.
Tapeworms are flat like a ribbon and made up of segments called proglottids. The proglottids contain the tapeworm eggs. As the tapeworm grows, the proglottids eventually break off and exit via the anus. These off-white segments can range from approximately 1/4 inch when moist and moving to as small as a sesame seed after they become desiccated a few hours later.
Some proglottids are too small to be seen. When a dog or cat licks its anus and drags its hind quarters on the floor because of itching, the action may be a possible sign of a tapeworm infestation, although these behaviors often occur for other reasons.
Most Effective Tapeworm Medication
Unlike other intestinal worms that are killed with an oral wormer medication and passed out with the stool, tapeworms require a different medication.
The medication is called praziquantel, and it is sold without a prescription under many brand names. Consult your veterinarian for more information. This drug is available as a one-time single dose pill or as an injection for pets. The tapeworm dies and is digested. It is not usually seen in the stool after the deworming.
Most veterinarians will dispense this medication to current patients (those seen within the last 12 months) without an examination. However, your veterinarian may want to see your pet for an accurate weight, as this medication is dosed according to weight.
Control Fleas to Prevent Tapeworms
Flea control is essential to prevent tapeworms. Protect your pets, your family, and your home environment by learning how to effectively control fleas. Flea treatment for your pets isn't always sufficient to prevent all fleas. If your dog or cat lives inside, more fleas are in your carpet and on your upholstery than are on your pet. Vacuum frequently and wash bed linens at least weekly. There are many flea treatment options, including non-toxic diatomaceous earth, foggers and flea bombs, or treatments by a professional exterminator. Follow all instructions very carefully when using foggers and flea bombs. Remove all pets and people from the area, and cover all food in the environment before applying insecticide. This multi-pronged approach is necessary to control fleas.