How Tapeworms Affect Dogs
In most cases, dogs with tapeworms do not show many signs of discomfort or distress. Frequently, they act (and presumably feel) completely normal, even if they have a severe tapeworm infection. It is very common for owners to be astonished, and usually disgusted, when they find out that their dogs are carrying a heavy tapeworm load. While these parasites survive by sucking blood and key nutrients out of their canine hosts, they tend to do so slowly and steadily over a long period of time, without causing any sudden symptoms or dramatic changes in the dog. Certainly, dogs with tapeworms probably will lose weight over time, but it will happen so gradually that it will be almost imperceptible to their owners. It is unusual for dogs with tapeworms to show overt signs of intense abdominal pain or discomfort, even though it seems that those symptoms would show up in dogs infected with blood-sucking intestinal parasites.
Symptoms of Tapeworms
When symptoms of tapeworm infection do occur, they usually are nonspecific. Owners of dogs infected with tapeworms may notice one or more of the following:
- Anal and perianal itchiness (pruritus at and around the anus)
- Licking at the anal and perianal area
- Weight loss (despite maintaining a good appetite)
- Increased appetite (without weight gain)
- Poor hair coat (dull, dry, unkempt)
- Poor skin condition (dry, flaky)
- Abdominal distension
- Abdominal pain (less common)
Owners may notice tapeworm segments stuck to or crawling through the fur around their dog’s anus. These resemble grains of white rice or white sesame seeds. Affected dogs often scoot their bottom along the ground in an effort to relieve the itchiness and irritation caused by tapeworms. Uncommonly, heavy loads of adult tapeworms cause partial or total intestinal obstruction, which can be a true medical emergency.
Dogs at Increased Risk
Free-roaming dogs with access to freshly killed wild or domestic animals are at increased risk of developing tapeworm infection. Dogs with heavy lice and/or flea loads have a greatly increased risk of tapeworms, as well.