Tips to Spot and Treat Tapeworms in Dogs

Published March 3, 2022
beagle dog itching leg

Tapeworms are very common intestinal parasites seen in pets. Dogs get tapeworms after ingesting an infected flea. These parasites are long flatworms that live in a dog's intestines and break off into segments that look like small grains of rice. If you see what look like small flecks of rice in your dog's stool, they may have tapeworms. Aside from these rice-like segments, most dogs do not show signs of tapeworm infection, although they are still harmful to your dog's health. Pet parents should understand the subtle signs of tapeworms in dogs and ways to address treatment, which normally requires a visit to your veterinarian.

What Are Tapeworm Infections in Dogs?

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that live within an animal's digestive tract. These flat, segmented worms feed on partially digested food in the intestines and can grow 4 to 28 inches long. However, it's not often that dog owners see a complete tapeworm; these parasites break off into small segments called proglottids, which are shed in dog's stool. You might see one of these rice-like segments around your pet's rear or perhaps on their feces.

Signs Your Dog Might Have Tapeworms

Dogs with tapeworms often don't show any outwards symptoms. Don't rely on catching sight of tapeworms in your dog's poop. The only indication of worms may be dried proglottids segments on a dog's fur or in their bedding. However, if the infection continues without treatment, you may notice some of the following signs.

  • Dried segments resembling rice around the rectum
  • Worm segments in the stool
  • Licking or chewing at the rear end
  • Scooting their bottom on the ground
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Dull fur
  • Weight loss

Tapeworm Life Cycle

labeled tapeworm

Dogs become infected with Dipylidium caninum, the most common tapeworm species in pets, by ingesting fleas. All tapeworms must have an intermediate host where the immature worm develops before infecting a dog; the intermediate host for this particular worm is the flea. For pet owners to understand exactly how dogs become infected, it can be helpful to review the tapeworm life cycle.

  • Tapeworms living in an infected dog's intestines shed small segments that contain tapeworm egg capsules and are passed in the dog's stool.
  • An immature flea ingests the egg capsule, and as the flea develops, the tapeworm does, too.
  • The adult flea then jumps onto a dog to feed. When the dog chews or licks at the itchy site where the flea bit, they will unintentionally swallow the flea.
  • Within two to four weeks, the immature tapeworm within the flea will mature into an adult worm and can grow up to several feet in length.
  • The worm attaches itself to the inside of the intestine wall where it feeds on partially digested food, taking nutrients away from your pet.
  • The tapeworm then sheds segments with egg capsules that the host defecates out in their stool, and the life cycle continues.

Different Types of Tapeworms

There are several different types of tapeworms, including Taenia, Echinococcus, and Dipylidium. The main difference between these is which species they use as an intermediate host. Some use rodents, whereas others might use larger animals, such as sheep. While all these types can affect dogs, Dipylidium caninum, also known as the "flea tapeworm," thanks to its intermediate host, the flea, is the species most commonly seen in canines. It's usually not essential to identify the exact species of the worm in your pet because they are all treated with the same medication.

Treatment for Canine Tapeworms

dog getting injection medicine for tapeworm infection

The treatment for tapeworms involves two doses of a safe medication called praziquantel, given two weeks apart. It's usually administered orally but can also be given as an injection under the skin. The dose is based on your pet's weight. Speak to your veterinarian about obtaining a prescription for praziquantel or before giving any over-the-counter deworming medications.

Some monthly parasite preventions, such as Interceptor Plus and Iverhart Max, contain praziquantel and other parasiticide medications for routine deworming of tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, and other intestinal parasites. However, a dog can easily become reinfected with tapeworms after treatment, so preventive measures are necessary to break the cycle.

Natural Remedies for Tapeworms in Dogs

Some pet owners prefer to try natural remedies rather than medications. Pumpkin seeds reportedly contain deworming properties, including the compound cucurbitacin. Some people also believe owners can give pomegranate or beets to help expel worms. It's important to check with your vet before adding any new foods or supplements to your pet's diet.

Are Tapeworms Contagious?

It's very unlikely for a person to get tapeworms from a dog. Humans can become infected with Dipylidium caninum, but only if they eat an infected flea. Most of these cases have been recorded in children. However, cats can become infected with tapeworms in the same way dogs do.

It's also possible for a pet to become infected with tapeworms if one housemate has them, but they won't get it directly from the infected pet. Each animal still must ingest an infected flea to get the worms, but if one pet in the household has fleas, the others likely do, too. Have all pets in the household tested or treated at your vet's discretion.

Preventing Tapeworm Infections

Because dogs get tapeworms from ingesting fleas, the best way to avoid these worms is to keep your pet free of fleas. This involves using monthly prevention and addressing your environment. However, there are several other ways pet parents can prevent dogs from becoming infected with tapeworms.

  • Keep your dog and all other pets (even indoor cats) on monthly flea prevention.
  • Promptly pick up feces in your yard or public areas.
  • Keep pets away from wild rodents who could carry parasites.
  • Have routine annual or biannual fecal exams done to check for worms.
  • Practice proper hygiene for yourself and any children in the house.

Tips for Tapeworms in Dogs

While it might be alarming to find a worm segment on your dog or learn that they have tapeworms, the treatment for this intestinal parasite is very straightforward and effective. Still, the best way to protect your pet from the dangers of worms is prevention. Keep your pet free of fleas to prevent uncomfortable itching, flea allergy dermatitis, and tapeworm infection.

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Tips to Spot and Treat Tapeworms in Dogs