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Tapeworm in Dogs: Symptoms and Prevention

7 min read

Updated - Aug 24th, 2022

Key points

  • Tapeworms are long and flat segmented intestinal parasites that attach themselves to the intestinal walls of pets. 
  • Tapeworms can affect a dog’s overall health by causing serious gastrointestinal issues and discomfort.
  • The most effective way to treat tapeworm in dogs is with praziquantel, an anti-parasitic drug. 
  • You can help prevent your dog from contracting tapeworms by taking them to the vet for routine fecal tests and preventative care, as recommended by your vet. 

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that can be found in dogs. These long, flat, and segmented intestinal parasites can grow up to 11 inches in length and attach themselves to the intestinal walls of pets, causing serious gastrointestinal issues and discomfort. 

Whether you suspect your dog has a tapeworm or they’ve just been diagnosed, don’t panic – we’re giving you the lowdown on this pesky parasite. Here’s how to prevent them, symptoms to look out for, and how to get your precious pooch on the road to recovery.

Symptoms

Most dogs don’t show signs or symptoms of tapeworms, which can sometimes make this condition tricky to spot. However, recognizing the signs of tapeworms can help you catch infections before they become a bigger problem. As tapeworms grow, they release small white segments containing heaps of tapeworm eggs (proglottids) into your dog’s poop. Also noticeable on or around your pup’s bedding or rear end, proglottids look like moving grains of rice or hard white specks that can stick onto your dog’s coat. Tapeworms may also cause excessive vomiting and weight loss, but only in extreme cases. 

Tapeworm infection causes your dog’s bottom to itch, so you may notice your dog scooting around the floor or biting and licking their butt to try and relieve the discomfort. While these symptoms can also indicate other health concerns like needing their anal glands expressed, dogs infested with tapeworms can end up with blocked intestines, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and get to the vet right away.

Causes

Depending on their species and intermediate host, tapeworms in dogs can be spread in different ways. An intermediate host is an organism that supports parasites over the course of their life cycle, allowing them to reproduce. Tapeworms belong to the cestode family of worms, which include taenia, echinococcus, mesocestoides, and dipylidium caninum. Taenia and echinococcus species use small rodents (mice, rats, squirrels), rabbits, or large animals (deer or sheep) as intermediate hosts, while dipylidium caninum use fleas as intermediate hosts. 

While dogs can contract several types of tapeworms, the most common among them is dipylidium caninum. Dogs need to ingest the flea-carrying tapeworm larvae to become infested with tapeworms, so your dog won’t become infected by a tapeworm by simply eating poop. Typically, dogs get infected if they:

  • Eat fleas infected with tapeworm larvae
  • Eat infected animals 
  • Eat raw or undercooked meat

The tapeworm lifecycle only begins after a dog ingests the intermediate host. Once a dog consumes and digests a flea, the tapeworm larvae are released into their small intestine, eventually maturing into adulthood and hooking themselves onto your dog’s intestinal wall. Dogs may inadvertently ingest a tapeworm-infected flea, most likely during routine grooming or to soothe a flea bite. 

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will observe the white proglottids found wiggling in your pup’s poop or around their rear. Since they’re passed intermittently, it’s important for pet owners to monitor their pup’s bowel movements to detect early signs of tapeworm in dogs. If you do find tapeworms, make sure to bring a sample to your vet to receive a proper diagnosis. Dogs rarely vomit adult tapeworms, unless the tapeworms have migrated to their stomach. 

Treatment

The most effective way to treat tapeworm in dogs is with praziquantel, an anti-parasitic drug. Available in both oral and injectable forms, praziquantel causes adult tapeworms to detach so they can be digested as they pass through your pup’s gut, dissolving within your dog’s intestine. Because of this, you won’t see the tapeworms in your dog’s feces after treatment. But rest assured: praziquantel is a safe and effective medication.

Other treatment options for tapeworm in dogs include chewable forms of medication that can be sprinkled on food and tablets. Some combination parasite medication even treats tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms all at once. To ensure tapeworms are completely removed from your pup’s body, you should administer all of their medication. Even though praziquantel is available by both prescription and over-the-counter, it’s important to speak with your veterinarian to discuss proper treatment options and a safe dosage amount before administering the medication. 

Recovery and care 

A one-time injection or dose of praziquantel will resolve tapeworm infections, but your veterinarian will most likely run a follow-up fecal test to ensure the deworming medication effectively removed the tapeworms. You should expect your dog to experience slight diarrhea after deworming, as the deworming medication paralyzes the tapeworms. 

Prevention 

The good news is that preventing tapeworms in dogs doesn’t require much except keeping up with routine preventive care like flea control and fecal testing. These are critical in managing and preventing tapeworm in dogs. It’s important to have your pup‘s fecal sample tested twice a year to detect intestinal parasites. If parasites are found, your veterinarian can recommend a safe and effective flea and tick control either by prescription or over the counter in topical or oral form.  

Flea control involves the regular use of flea prevention products for both your pup and their surroundings. This includes cleaning up your dog’s feces to decrease the chance of prolonging the tapeworm life cycle. If your pup lives or plays in a flea-infested environment, they have a higher possibility of becoming reinfected with tapeworms – and this may occur in as little as two weeks. If you have small children at home, make sure to have them wash their hands thoroughly before interacting with your pup, and avoid walking barefoot or letting them play in an environment that could be contaminated. If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, either in your backyard, in parks, or other public areas, it’s a good idea to prevent them from hunting rodents and rabbits that may carry intestinal parasites. 

What to expect at the vet’s office 

Your vet will instruct you to obtain a stool sample from your dog and bring it into the office so they can examine it under a microscope. If tapeworm eggs are found, your pup will be diagnosed with tapeworm and be prescribed deworming medication, as well as a wellness and recovery plan. Be sure to let your veterinarian know of any medications or supplements your pup takes so they can make the best treatment decision, reducing the risk of drug interaction and reinfection. 

The bottom line 

Tapeworms are bothersome yet common parasites that attach to a dog’s intestine with their hook-like mouths. While easily treatable, they can lead to severe problems if left untreated – especially in young, old, or immunocompromised dogs. Thankfully, tapeworms are preventable with proper routine care and the prognosis is good with early detection. 

FAQs

Does pet insurance cover tapeworms?

Pumpkin pet insurance plans reimburse you 90% of all eligible vet bills for unexpected accidents and illnesses including parasitic infections like tapeworms.

Pumpkin also offers a preventive care package as an add-on to insurance plans. This is not insurance, but an optional wellness package that can reimburse you for yearly fecal tests to detect and treat tapeworms.

Can you see tapeworms?

Tapeworm segments, also known as proglottids, may be visible in your pup’s stool or around their rear. They look like moving grains of rice or hard yellow or white specks that stick to a dog’s coat. 

Can humans become infected with tapeworms?

While it’s possible for humans to become infected with tapeworms, it’s not a common infection and won’t be contracted from your tapeworm-infected pup. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates fewer than 1,000 new tapeworm infections in humans each year. If a human does become infected with tapeworms, it’s most likely the result of eating contaminated or uncooked meats or accidentally swallowing a flea infected with tapeworm larvae. 

Is tapeworm in dogs dangerous?

Although tapeworm in dogs can cause serious gastrointestinal problems, tapeworm infestations generally aren’t considered life-threatening or dangerous. 

Did you know?

  • Tapeworm in dogs is a common problem, since pups can easily pick up the parasite which will then develop in their intestines. 
  • Tapeworms can grow anywhere from eight to eleven inches in length. 
  • Pumpkin Dog Insurance plans cover 90% of eligible vet visits – making it easier for you to say ‘yes’ to the best care possible if accidents and illnesses arise. Fetch a quote today!

REFERENCES
  • https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/tapeworm-infection-in-dogs
  • https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_multi_cestodiasis
  • https://www.smalldoorvet.com/learning-center/medical/tapeworms-in-dogs

Christina is a copywriter and a loving cat mom to an adorable Bombay named Zetta.