Most dog owners are aware of tapeworms and roundworms as they are some of the most common parasites found around the world. Tapeworms and roundworms are the largest of the internal parasites and can be easily seen by the human eye, even without a microscope or magnifying glass.
Knowing what to look for as well as the importance of regular vet visits to check for roundworms and tapeworms is very important to your dog. Even healthy dogs can become fatigued or lose weight and stamina with infestations of either of these two parasites. Dogs that already have a health condition will become much worse if a parasite problem also occurs at the same time.
There are a lot of myths about tapeworms that have evolved over the years. Tapeworms are not typically contacted through the dog eating raw meat, rather the dog becomes infected when he or she eats fleas that have eaten tapeworm eggs. The flea is actually a host in the tapeworm life cycle, so by a dog eating an infected flea he or she will also ingest the tapeworm egg. In less common situations the dog can also become infected with tapeworms or tapeworm eggs by eating some type of rodent that is infected. Since most housedogs and companion dogs are not ratters and don't consume mice, rats and other vermin, it is unlikely that this is a common form of contact.
The different sources of tapeworm infestation in dogs will each produce a different species of tapeworm. Tapeworms that come from the dog eating infected fleas are Dipylidium caninum tapeworms while those that come from rodents and vermin as well as other mammals are of the Taenia and Echinococcus species of tapeworms. There are cases where the Dipylidium and Echinococcus types of tapeworms infect humans as a direct result of contact with infected dogs, however these are rare in most areas. Often the cross infection is with a child that has consumed the eggs of the tapeworm, not directly by contact with the infected animal per say.
Tapeworms have a head and a long, segmented body. When the tapeworm sheds segments they are seen in the stool and around the anus as grains of what appears like white rice. Sometimes these segments will elongate and move for a short period outside of the dog's body, then will harden and dry into a brown rice looking capsule. Often they are found on the dog's bedding or wherever he or she sleeps or spends time. They can be vacuumed or swept up and disposed of as they cannot infect anyone or anything unless directly ingested.
It may be hard to believe but most dog owners don't report any signs or symptoms of a tapeworm problem but they do notice the segments in the feces or around the dog's anus. Most dogs won't lose noticeable amounts of weight or have any significant changes in energy or activity levels. They also don't tend to eat more than they normally have. Of course if the dog is already ill this can change dramatically.
The best treatment and prevention of tapeworm infections is to keep your dog and his or her environment flea free. A routine monthly flea application will be the most effective preventative treatment, as will routinely washing and cleaning bedding, especially if there is more than one dog in the house. Over the counter wormers will not rid your dog of tapeworms despite their claims. The best option is to take your dog to a vet for a prescription wormer and follow up visit to ensure all tapeworms are out of the dog's system.
If you have been around dogs for any length of time, especially if you have cared for puppies, you will know what roundworms look like. These long, white spaghetti looking worms in the feces or in vomit can be up to approximately five to seven inches long and are very evident in heavy infestations. Typical symptoms in puppies include a bloated or "pot bellied" appearance, poor hair condition, weight loss and excessive deep coughing when the worms migrate to the lungs. Very serious and significant infestations can cause blockage of the intestines and death, especially in puppies that are already in a weakened condition.
Puppies can be infected before they are even born as the larvae of the roundworm can cross from the mother, through the uterus and into the developing puppies. In addition the larvae can also travel through the mother's milk to the puppies, infecting them after they are born. Puppies can infect each other when they eat contaminated feces left by their littermates. Since roundworms are so common a litter can keep re-infecting itself repeatedly if routine worming is not consistently practiced by the breeder. Larvae will also encyst themselves and remain in the dog's body for long periods of time, often accumulating in the tissue of the liver. Wormers will not kill or remove these encysted larvae; only the active worms in the intestines. This is another reason why routine, lifelong worming is critical.
Older dogs can also get roundworms, typically from ingesting vermin such as mice, rats, rabbits or other small mammals that are infected or from eating or drinking where an infected dog has also done the same. The eggs can attach to the dog's feet when they walk through contaminated soil, then are licked into the mouth during routine cleaning. Once the dog or puppy is infected the worms begin to lay eggs, with some eggs staying in the animals while others are passed out with the feces. The eggs that stay in the dog's body hatch, become larvae and then migrate through the body to the lungs. Here they mature, then they are coughed up and either expelled from the body or swallowed, continuing the cycle.
Humans are at risk of developing roundworm infestations resulting in a condition known as Visceral Larva Migrans. This is most typically seen in children that accidentally ingest roundworm eggs or larva and the larva migrate through the tissue, ending up in the eye. The larva then dies, resulting in permanent blindness. The roundworm responsible for this condition is Toxocara canis and is common in most areas. It is important to keep the dog wormed on a routine basis and keep all fecal material cleaned up out of areas where children play. Remember that the eggs can stay in the soil for long periods, so a child may play in infected soil months after the dog was there and still may be at risk. Sandboxes and loose soil are the worst areas for the roundworm eggs to be found, plus they are also places where children play.
Routine worming and checking for roundworms by your vet one or two times a year is recommended for adult dogs. Puppies should be wormed at 2,4, 6 and eight weeks and then once a month until they reach one year old. The vet should do a fecal check two to four times during the first year to confirm there are no eggs present.