Tapeworms in Dogs Explained by SF Vets

What are tapeworms?

Tapeworms are flat intestinal worms that are made up of many small segments, each nearly about ¼ – ½” (3-5 mm) in length. Unlike roundworms that reside freely in the intestinal tract, tapeworms attach to the wall of the small intestine with the aid of their hook-like mouthparts.

Tapeworms belong to the cestode family of intestinal worms. The most common tapeworm of dogs and cats is Dipylidium canine. The mature or adult worms may reach up to 8 inches (20 cm) in length. The individual segments start to grow behind the head and move down the tapeworm as they slowly grow up, eventually being sectioned at the opposite end, either singly or in short chains. These sections, called proglottids, travel in the feces when an infected dog defecates. They are nearly about 1/8″ (3 mm) long and look like grains of rice or cucumber seeds. Sometimes they can be found walking on the hairs around the anus or on the edge of newly passed feces. As the tapeworm section dries down, it begins to be a golden color and ultimately breaks open, liberating the fertilized eggs into the surrounding. It is not like roundworms where dogs cannot be infected by eating fertilized tapeworm eggs. Tapeworms must first travel through an intermediary host (a flea) before they can infest a dog.


How do dogs get tapeworms?

When the affected eggs are released into the surroundings, they have to be absorbed by immature flea larvae in the surrounding. Once inside the larval flea, the tapeworm egg continues to grow as the flea matures into an adult flea. During grooming or with reaction to a flea sting, a dog can consume the tapeworm affected flea and completes the life cycle.


Are tapeworms harmful for my dog?

Tapeworms do not normally become the reason of severe health complications in dogs. Sometimes dogs will drag their bottoms on the ground, a way referred to as scooting, in order to relieve this irritation. Note that scooting can also take place for other causes such as impacted anal sacs.

In puppies, heavy tapeworm infestation can be severe. Lack of development, anemia, and intestinal obstructions can take place. Occasionally, the head of the tapeworm or scolex detaches from the intestinal wall; the complete adult tapeworm will then be passed in the feces or vomited up.

How is the diagnosis made?

Medical diagnosis is often made by noticing the white mobile tapeworm sections in the feces or crawling around the anus. They usually appear like grains of rice.

Tapeworm sections are only passed occasionally and that is why not identified on routine fecal inspection. If you see any sections, white or golden color, bring them to your veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis.


What is the cure?

With current available medications, a cure is reasonable and beneficial. The parasiticide may be fed either in the form of tablets or by vaccinations. It becomes the reason for the parasite to digest in the intestines so you normally will not see tapeworms traveled in the stool. These medicines are very safe and should not result in any side effects.


Is there anything else that should be done?

Flea control is crucial in the management and prevention of tapeworm infection. Flea control also includes treating the dog and the environment (for more information, see the Client Handout Flea Control in Dogs and Flea Control in Cats).Your veterinarian can suggest a safe and beneficial flea control for your pet. If your dog lives in flea-infested surroundings, re-infection with tapeworms may take place in as little as two weeks. 

Can I get tapeworms from my dog?

You cannot get tapeworms directly from your dog. Dipylidium canine, the most common canine tapeworm, requires flea as the intermediary host. A person must absorb an affected flea to begin to be infected with tapeworms. A few concerns of tapeworm infections have been accounted in children. Vigorous flea control will also eradicate any danger of children begin to be infected. 

Taenia breeds – These are tapeworms that are discovered by consuming prey or waste containing the infected larval phase. These are much larger tapeworms, often up to one yard (one meter) in length. Intermediary hosts consist of rodents, rabbits, hares and sheep. The intermediary phases grow hydatid cysts in several organs in the intermediary host. There are useful medications that will eradicate Taenia infestations in dogs. If your dog consumes prey such as rodents or rabbits, re-infection can take place with the passage of tapeworm sections in 6-8 weeks.


Echinococcus breeds – These are very small tapeworms, including only three or four sections, and are often less than 3/8″ (1 cm) in length. Intermediary hosts can be sheep, horses and sometimes man. In humans, the disease is referred to as hydatidosis, hydatid disorder, or hydatid cyst disorder, and ends up in cysts being shaped in the liver. The disorder is very rare in the United States but has been accounted in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Humans are affected by consuming polluted meat or by accidentally consuming eggs that have produced from the feces of dogs, coyotes or foxes harboring the adult tapeworm. Luckily, de-worming preparations, specifically those including praziquantel, are useful for eradicating this cestode from infected dogs.

Prevention of cestode tapeworm infestation also includes prevention of uncooked or partially cooked meat or meat by-products.