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Identifying and Treating Tapeworms in Dogs

What to Do When You Think Your Dog Has a Tapeworm

Of all the parasites a dog can get, the tapeworm is commonly known for being one of the easiest to identify and treat. While it may cause your pet to experience some uncomfortable symptoms, a tapeworm generally doesn't cause very serious problems if the issue is treated appropriately. As with any illness, the sooner you get your dog treated, the better.

Tapeworms usually develop after a dog swallows a flea that's infected with the parasite's larvae. Once inside your dog, the larvae can mature and develop into the tapeworm that people are familiar with. The tapeworm's hook-like sucker mouth attaches to the walls of the dog's gut, where it will continue to feed and grow.

Tapeworms get their name because they have flat, segmented bodies that make it resemble a length of tape. Each segment of the tapeworm's body looks like a grain of rice, and they can grow anywhere from four to 28 inches long.

Signs That Your Dog May Be Dealing with a Tapeworm

As the tapeworm grows, some of its segments will break off and will be eliminated from the body in the dog's feces. Often, you will see the white, rice-like pieces throughout your dog's feces or in the hair around her bottom. If the worm dies and dries out before or after being passed, the segments turn yellow and hard. If the tapeworm segments end up in your dog's stomach, she will throw up and you may see a worm in her vomit.

Tapeworms can be irritating to a dog's bottom, so one of the most-common signs that a dog might have this parasite is a propensity for “scooting” her rear end along the floor. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Weight loss even when eating normally
  • Lethargy
  • Distended abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dull coat
  • Visual evidence of tapeworms

If you notice one or more of these signs, take your dog to the veterinarian for a complete physical examination. It also will help if you bring a stool sample with you so testing can be performed to look for signs of the parasite.

Treatment Options for Tapeworms in Dogs

Treatment for tapeworm is usually very effective and may include administering de-worming medications, according to the veterinarian's prescribed directions. After you successfully eliminate your dog's tapeworm infestation, you should practice preventive actions to help reduce your dog's risk of getting infected again. Prevention includes:

  • Applying a flea preventive to your dog;
  • Avoid letting your dog roam unsupervised;
  • Clean up after your pet, especially in public dog parks or when taking her on walks; and
  • Keep regularly scheduled veterinary visits.

Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any medications or supplements your dog is taking so your veterinarian can make the best treatment decision for your pet's unique case and help reduce the risk of a potential drug interaction.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.