Fleas Pose Health Risk of Parasites
We all know what an annoyance fleas can be to our dogs and our lives in general, but did you know that fleas can present an actual health threat to your dog? Some fleas carry the parasite tapeworm and can easily pass it on to a dog when it ingests an infected flea. The most common tapeworm in the United States is the Dipylidium caninum, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but tapeworm infection is very common all around the world. Tapeworms will infect dogs when an infected flea is swallowed, usually while grooming or chewing as a result of flea bites. Once ingested, the tapeworm larvae develop into adults and attach to the inside wall of the intestines. The tapeworm continues to reproduce and it steals nutrition and food from the dog by feasting on anything that passes by.
The tapeworm can grow several inches or even a few feet in length. As it grows, segments break off in the stool and can sometimes be seen in bowel movements or crawling near the anus. Adult segments that make their way out of the dog will dry out and release eggs. The dried out segments are hard and yellowish in color, and they resemble a sesame seed or a grain of rice. They can also be found stuck to the fur near the dog's anus.
Tapeworms generally do not cause illness in infected dogs, but some dogs may have mild diarrhea or vomiting and show symptoms of mild illness. Dogs infected with tapeworms may scoot their bottoms on the ground or carpet when tapeworm segments exit because they cause anal irritation. Because tapeworms can live for a long time inside a dog, if they are left untreated or the dog is heavily infected, they can begin to suffer weight loss or weakness from the loss of nutrition. Diagnosis happens when moving segments are seen either near the anus of the dog (sometimes stuck in the fur) or on a fresh bowel movement. Because tapeworms are not usually found during routine veterinarian fecal exams, veterinarians generally rely on the dog owner to notify them of a possible infection. If you suspect your dog has a tapeworm, seek prompt medical treatment.
Treatment of a tapeworm infection is simple and effective: oral or injected medication will dissolve the tapeworm, which is then expelled naturally. Flea control and prevention is the best way to avoid a tapeworm infection. Be sure to treat the fleas on your dog, as well as those inside your house and outside in your yard. Prevent flea infestations in the future, and you and your dog will not have to worry about tapeworms either!
Photo Credit: Moyan_Brenn