What are the symptoms of tapeworm in dogs?

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that can infect dogs and cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Tapeworm infection is common in dogs, especially in puppies. There are several species of tapeworms that can infect dogs, with the most common being Dipylidium caninum and Taenia species.

Tapeworms are segmented worms that latch onto the lining of a dog’s small intestine. Tapeworm segments filled with eggs will detach from the main body of the worm and pass in a dog’s feces, allowing the tapeworm life cycle to continue.

Dogs become infected with tapeworms when they swallow parasite eggs or ingest fleas or small animals infected with tapeworm larvae. Therefore, dogs at highest risk of tapeworms are those that hunt and eat raw meat or have flea infestations. However, any dog can become infected.

Tapeworm infection usually does not cause serious illness in dogs. However, dogs will show some signs and symptoms when infected. Recognizing the signs of tapeworms in dogs allows veterinary treatment to be sought to eliminate the parasites.

Signs and Symptoms

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of tapeworm infection in dogs include:

Tapeworm Segments in Feces or Around Anus

The most telling sign of a tapeworm infection is the presence of tiny, rice-like tapeworm segments in a dog’s feces or stuck to the hair around the anus. These small white pieces look like grains of rice or seeds.

These segments will break away from the body of the tapeworm and pass in the feces intermittently. These segments contain tapeworm eggs. Often dog owners will see the segments stuck to their dog’s fur. Dog owners may find dried segments around the home as well, which appear as yellowish dried rice pieces.


Dogs infected with tapeworms may scoot their rear along the ground in an attempt to relieve anal itching. The tapeworm segments around the anus can cause irritation.

Licking or Biting At the Rear

Similarly, dogs with tapeworms may often lick or bite at their hindquarters. This behavior again is related to itchiness around the anus where tapeworm segments accumulate.


Some dogs with an intestinal tapeworm infection may experience soft stools or diarrhea. This occurs as a result of irritation to the intestinal tract. Typically diarrhea due to tapeworms is mild.

Weight Loss

While tapeworms rob a dog of nutrients, weight loss in dogs is usually only seen when tapeworm infestation is heavy. Puppies with heavy tapeworm infections may fail to thrive and show stunted growth.

Dull or Dry Coat

Similar to weight changes, a dog’s coat may appear dull or dry with a severe tapeworm infection as nutrition absorption is impaired. However, this sign is not seen in all infected dogs.


In some cases, dogs may vomit up worm segments that are causing irritation to the stomach. Vomiting may also be seen in some dogs as a non-specific symptom of gastrointestinal upset related to tapeworm infection.

Visible Tapeworms

In rare cases, long, flat tapeworm bodies can be seen coming out through the anus or mouth of an infected dog. Typically only small tapeworm segments are visible in the feces rather than the entire worm.

When to See the Veterinarian

Dog owners should consult a veterinarian whenever tapeworm segments are visible in the dog’s feces or stuck to the fur around the anus. Diagnosis can be made by microscopic examination of the eggs contained in the segments.

Seeking prompt veterinary attention allows for appropriate deworming medication to be prescribed. Tapeworms can be easily treated with oral deworming products containing praziquantel or epsiprantel. These medications will eliminate the parasite from the dog’s intestines.

In some cases, follow up deworming may be needed to prevent reinfection. This is especially important if flea control is inadequate, putting the dog at risk of ingesting tapeworm eggs carried by fleas.

Regular veterinary checkups and stool examinations help detect early tapeworm infections before they result in anemia or malnutrition, especially in puppies. Routine deworming may be recommended for dogs at high risk of intestinal parasites.

While most tapeworm infections do not lead to serious complications, some symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea can cause dehydration in puppies. Severely infected dogs are also at risk for an intestinal blockage if a large mass of tapeworms forms. Prompt treatment minimizes health effects.

Causes of Tapeworm Infection in Dogs

Dogs can pick up tapeworms in several ways:


The most common source of tapeworm infection in dogs is through swallowing an infected flea. Cats are the definitive host for tapeworms, meaning the parasites mature into adults and reproduce inside the cat. However, flea larvae can become infected with immature tapeworms by ingesting tapeworm eggs passed in cat feces.

When dogs chew or bite at fleas on their skin, they can swallow the infected flea larvae. Once inside the dog’s intestine, the larvae develop into adult tapeworms that attach to the intestinal wall and start shedding segments.

Ingestion of Prey

Dogs can acquire tapeworms when they hunt and eat raw meat or infected prey, like rabbits, mice, rats, and squirrels. The larvae of certain tapeworm species develop in these small mammals. When dogs eat the internal organs of infected animals, they ingest the larvae, which then turn into adult tapeworms inside the intestine.

Contaminated Environment

Dogs may pick up tapeworm eggs when rooting through feces-contaminated soil or areas frequented by infected cats. The eggs can end up on a dog’s coat and are then licked off and swallowed. This is a less common route of infection but can occur in suburban yards, playgrounds, and public parks. Care should be taken when bringing dogs to any public places to prevent exposure.

Congenital Infection

Puppies can sometimes contract tapeworms congenitally from their mother during pregnancy. The larvae migrate through the mother dog’s circulation into developing puppies. These puppies are born already infected with tapeworms.

Flea Control Essential

Because fleas play such a major role in passing tapeworms to dogs, effective flea control is very important. Killing adult fleas prevents reinfection, while flea control products that also impact larvae stages in the environment can break the tapeworm life cycle. Veterinarians can recommend safe, potent prescription flea control products and appropriate tapeworm deworming schedules based on a dog’s risk factors.

Diagnosing Tapeworm Infection

Diagnosing a tapeworm infection is often straightforward based on visualization of worm segments passed in the dog’s feces or seen stuck to fur around the anus. However, specialized fecal tests may be recommended to identify the tapeworm species and check for other internal parasites like hookworms or whipworms.

Physical Examination

A veterinarian will first perform a physical exam of the dog. Symptoms like coat dullness, weight loss, diarrhea, or vomiting may be noted. The anal area will be checked for any signs of worm segments stuck to the fur. The veterinarian may be able to visualize segments in recent stool samples. Enlargement of the abdomen could signal a heavy parasite burden.

Microscopic Fecal Exam

A fecal flotation test allows microscopic identification of tapeworm eggs. A small stool sample is mixed with a solution that causes parasite eggs to float to the top for better visualization. This helps identify the tapeworm species to select the right dewormer. Other intestinal parasites may also be found with fecal testing.

Adult Worm Identification

If an entire tapeworm is passed or vomited up by the dog, the veterinarian can identify the species based on size, shape, and other morphological features. This aids in prognosis since some species like Echinococcus are zoonotic parasites.


Radiographs (x-rays) or ultrasounds of the abdomen may be taken if signs suggest a heavy parasite infestation or intestinal obstruction from a tapeworm mass. Imaging can reveal the outline and burden of the parasites in the intestinal tract.

Tapeworm Treatment and Prevention

Thankfully treating tapeworm infections in dogs is typically simple and effective with a single dose of deworming medication. Prevention involves flea control and limiting access to infected prey animals.

Oral Deworming Medication

Praziquantel and epsiprantel are highly effective medications that kill tapeworms in dogs with a single dose. These prescription-only treatments can be formulated as tablets, chew treats, or suspensions. The medication causes the tapeworms to dissolve and detach from the intestinal lining.

The dead worms then pass out of the dog’s system in the feces. A follow up fecal exam may be performed 2-4 weeks later to check the treatment efficacy. Repeat deworming is sometimes needed if flea control is inadequate.

Flea Control

Complete flea control is imperative to prevent tapeworm reinfection. This includes treating the dog and home environment. Veterinarians recommend fast-acting prescription products like oral afoxolaner, topicals with fipronil or selamectin, and collars containing flumethrin. Over-the-counter flea collars and sprays tend to be less reliable in protecting against fleas.

Regular flea treatment should continue year-round or at least during warmer months depending on climate. Consistency is key to breaking the tapeworm life cycle. Removing fleas promptly prevents larvae development and stops tapeworm transmission.

Sanitation Measures

Good hygiene and sanitation measures should also be taken to prevent environmental contamination with tapeworm eggs:

– Promptly remove dog feces from the yard and public areas
– Discourage hunting and eating of wild animals like rodents
– Prevent access to areas frequented by strays and feral cats
– Regularly clean the home and wash dog bedding
– Bathe and groom dogs regularly
– Clean up any visible worm segments right away

Routine Veterinary Care

Annual wellness visits allow veterinarians to routinely screen dogs for intestinal parasites. Puppies should be dewormed every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age, then monthly until 6 months of age. Adults at high risk, like hunting dogs, may need more frequent stool screening and deworming.

Routine flea and tick prevention aids greatly in reducing tapeworm transmission. Tapeworm treatment can often be incorporated into regular preventative care for optimal health.

Are Tapeworms Contagious to Humans?

Tapeworms are species-specific parasites, meaning dog tapeworms do not infect humans. However, humans can accidentally ingest tapeworm eggs and potentially develop other forms of tapeworms. Children are at highest risk through exposure to contaminated soil.

Dipylidium caninum

The common dog tapeworm Dipylidium caninum only infects dogs and cats. Humans do not act as hosts. Rarely, humans ingest infected fleas carrying Dipylidium larvae. These tapeworms fail to develop past the cysticercoid stage inside the human intestine.

Echinococcus Species

Echinococcus granulosus and Echinococcus multilocularis tapeworms have slight zoonotic potential. These tapeworms use other species like sheep or rodents as intermediate hosts. Humans can act as accidental intermediate hosts and develop hydatid cysts. However, direct transmission from dogs is uncommon.

Taenia Species

Taenia species of tapeworms like T. pisiformis, T. hydatigena, and T. taeniaeformis use wild animals like rabbits or rodents as intermediate hosts. Humans can ingest eggs shed by dogs infected with these species and develop tapeworms themselves.

However, properly cooking meat prevents transmission. Freezing meat at -4°F (-20°C) also kills Taenia eggs. Proper handling and preparation of meat prevents human infection.

Prevention Steps

To prevent potential tapeworm infection, humans should take precautions when interacting with dogs and contaminated environments:

– Wear gloves when handling or cleaning up dog feces
– Wash hands thoroughly afterward
– Avoid ingesting undercooked meat or game
– Do not drink untreated water from streams or ponds
– Keep dogs on a deworming program
– Administer flea control regularly
– Seek medical care if tapeworm segments are found

Children should be supervised around dogs and taught proper hygiene. Following basic sanitation guidelines helps protect humans from zoonotic parasite transmission.

While tapeworms can be bothersome for dogs, prompt treatment and prevention helps to avoid infection and keep dogs healthy and comfortable. Tapeworms are easily managed with the right deworming medication, flea control, and routine veterinary care.

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