The thought of a foot-long worm inside of your dog may make you cringe -- for good reason. These parasites steal sustenance directly from their host's digestive tract. Humans, dogs and cats can all become infested by tapeworms, but they are not actually directly contagious.
Tapeworms have flat, segmented bodies that can extend over 2 feet long, although many only grow to a few inches or less. Each segment contains a large number of eggs, which are released when it works its way out of its host's intestines via normal bowel movements. The worms don't necessarily have to die to produce eggs. Only the head and neck sections at the mouth-end of the tapeworm need to stay together for the worm to survive and regrow its segments.
The Flea Vector
Even when the worm's eggs are out in the open after being released from your pet's body, they are not a significant threat to you or any of your furry friends. The eggs must spend some time in an intermediary host to develop to the point where they can be transmitted. Fleas ingest eggs as they scrounge for food throughout the day, and they pass the eggs on to your dog as he eats them accidentally while grooming. Chances are you don't groom yourself with your tongue, so your chance of accidentally eating a flea is pretty low. Still, humans can become infested by these parasites by swallowing a flea during sleep or while eating.
Management and Prevention
Stopping the spread of worms in your home is as simple as managing the locla flea population. Treat your pet with regular doses of anti-parasite product, give him regular flea baths or equip him with a flea collar. Clean your house regularly, especially dark and dusty areas, to make it harder for them to reproduce. Your vet can prescribe safe treatment options for dogs infested with tapeworms. The medications is usually administered in multiple doses over the course of several weeks, which flushes out worms in intervals to catch those developing from earlier life cycle stages.
Fleas aren't the only animal that can actually serve as an intermediary host for tapeworms. While these tiny jumping annoyances are responsible for most transmissions, your pet can also get tapeworms by eating the flesh of infested animals. Rabbits are known to harbor eggs and transmit them to pets. You can prevent this method of transmission by preventing your dog from eating wild animals.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.