Any dog or cat can be at risk for tapeworms. However, since it is most commonly transmitted through insects and contaminated feces, you can take steps to lower your pet’s risks by controlling fleas and other insects and by paying careful attention to where your dog or cat plays and walks.
Another Reason to Hate Fleas
In addition to causing skin irritation, itchiness, and great misery, fleas can give your pet tapeworms. Fleas are intermediate hosts for the most common tapeworm for dogs, known as Dipylidium caninum (the double-pored dog tapeworm). That means that the tapeworm uses fleas temporarily until they can settle into a permanent host like your pet. Inside many common fleas are eggs for the double-pored dog tapeworm. Dogs chase down an insect that’s living on their skin, and if they bite and swallow the flea, they ingest the tapeworm eggs as well. The eggs eventually hatch and the tapeworm (or tapeworms) attach to your dog’s intestines, possibly causing weight loss, vomiting, irritability, loss of a healthy coat, and other symptoms.
Transmission to Cats
Cats are not usually at risk for Dipylidium caninum. They are more likely to acquire the tapeworm Taenia taeniaeformis from rodents. They may also become infected after they eat the feces of an infected cat. Kittens can also get tapeworms from their mother.
Spending time outdoors -- whether running free in the woods or with other pets in a park or dog run -- may increase the chances that your dog or cat will get a tapeworm. In these situations your dog or cat may interact with pets that are infected or may have contact with insects and other animals that are intermediate hosts of various types of tapeworms.
In areas where dogs may be exposed to animals of prey such as rabbits and hares (or, in some instances, squirrels) pets may become infected by the Taenia pisiformis tapeworm. Farm and hunting dogs can be at risk for other types of tapeworms that are carried by rural animals such as sheep. Both cats and dogs that come into contact with raw food, especially organ meats and offal of animals, are also at greater risk for acquiring the tapeworm Echinoccus granulosus. This tapeworm can be passed on to humans and cause serious illness.
If your dog or cat falls into any of these high-risk circumstances, you should have them checked regularly by your veterinarian to be sure that you catch any tapeworm infestation early and start treatment as soon as possible.
More on Fleas
What Diseases do Fleas Cause?
What Does a Flea Bite Look Like?
Natural Flea Treatments
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.