Tapeworms: What You Need To Know

What are tapeworms?

Tapeworms are long, flat worms that live in the intestine. Adult tapeworms can reach several inches in length and look similar to a white piece of ribbon or tape. They have a head with hooks that attach to the intestinal wall, and a long body made up of individual segments called “proglottids”. These egg-filled proglottids are what detach from the worm’s body and are shed in the feces.
How are tapeworms transmitted?

The species of tapeworm that most commonly affects cats and dogs is called Dipylidium and is spread by fleas. When a flea carrying the tapeworm larvae is swallowed by the pet while grooming, the pet then becomes infected with the tapeworm.

Other less common species’ of tapeworms are usually transmitted when the animal eats infected raw meat, whether that is from an improperly prepared raw food diet or from hunting and eating prey animals that are infected.


What are symptoms of tapeworm infection?

Surprisingly, tapeworms rarely cause any significant symptoms in our pets. Diarrhea is not often seen with tapeworms. Sometimes, a pet with tapeworms may seem to have an itchy or irritated bum. A severe infestation could potentially cause weight loss or poor growth, although it is not common.

The most common way of discovering your pet has tapeworm is simply by finding it in their feces. You will notice what looks like little grains of rice in the feces but are actually small tapeworm segments full of eggs that move around. When dried up, they appear more like little sesame seeds. Sometimes, you find them on their bedding or actually stuck to their bum as well. If you see something that you are unsure of, you can always bring in a sample to the vet clinic and a veterinary professional can confirm if it is a tapeworm segment for you.


How are tapeworms treated?

Tapeworm infections are very easily treated with anti-parasitic medications, also known as “dewormers”. It is important you speak to your veterinarian about the proper one to use because not all dewormers treat every type of worm and there are many on the market that only treat for roundworms, not tapeworms.


How do I prevent my pet from getting tapeworms?

The best way to avoid any run-ins with tapeworms is to have all of your pets on proper flea prevention and discourage them from eating any raw meat. If you have an outdoor cat, a hunting dog, etc. perhaps consider regular deworming in the spring and the fall. Talk to your veterinarian about the best prevention plan for your pet!


Can I get tapeworm from my cat or dog?

Although very rare, it is not impossible! You would have to ingest a tapeworm egg. If you keep your pets flea-free, you aren’t at risk for accidentally ingesting an infected flea. Handle and dispose of your pet’s feces properly to avoid any tiny chance of having tapeworm eggs in your home and environment. Just like with roundworms, children are more at risk because they are more likely to inadvertently ingest a tapeworm egg.

It should also be mentioned that while this wouldn’t have any relation to your pet having tapeworms, make sure you always fully cook your meat before eating it. Humans are much more likely to end up with tapeworms from eating improperly prepared raw meat than from being in contact with their pet.


Written by Stephanie, RVT