Tapeworms and Whipworms

Flea bites are bad enough by themselves, but did you know that the flea can also transmit tapeworms to your dog? The head of the tapeworm hooks onto a dog's intestine and begins producing a series of flat egg-filled segments, resulting in a single worm with a length that can vary from a few inches to several feet. The most common way of diagnosing tapeworm is finding these segments -- which look like grains of rice -- in the dog's feces or clinging to the fur around the dog's anus. Fleas eat the dried segments, and the eggs mature into larvae inside them. Then the flea bites your dog and the cycle begins again.

Since tapeworm eggs are shed in the segments, a fecal exam can easily miss an infestation. Younger dogs with tapeworm infestations may have diarrhea and vomiting. Some dogs with tapeworm infestations scoot (drag their rear ends on the ground), but it's more likely that they have another irritant such as an impacted anal gland. If you suspect a tapeworm, look for the segments in your dog's feces. Your vet can provide a deworming pill which kills the tapeworm. To prevent an infestation in the first place, make sure your dog is on a flea control medication,

He may also pick up tapeworm eggs from eating raw meat or infested rodents, so avoid feeding him the former and letting him "play" with the latter.

Whipworms are also named for their appearance. They're thin with a bulge at one end, and look like tiny whips. Dogs pick up whipworm eggs from the environment, as they're shed in the feces of other animals. The eggs hatch in their intestinal tract, where the worms latch onto the wall of the large intestine and start producing eggs all over again. Like other kinds of worms, whipworms typically only cause severe symptoms in young or immuno-compromised dogs. A heavy infestation may cause diarrhea, anemia, or weight loss. In rare cases it can lead to death.

Once again, treatment is a simple medication, usually repeated at least once to catch any recently hatched worms before they reinfect the dog. Since the eggs are shed in the infected dog's stool, prevention is a matter of common sense and common courtesy. Pick up after your dog and keep him away from the stools of other dogs. Regular fecal exams -- twice a year is best -- will catch a case of whipworms before it gets out of control.

In our last section, we'll look at two more common worms that may plague your pup: roundworms (yep, they're round) and hookworms (which literally hook onto the skin).