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DrBarchas.com is free resource for people with pets. Searchable articles are available on diseases, behavior, symptoms, and medical treatments for dogs and cats. Photo galleries contain submitted pictures of pets and people.

About Eric Barchas, D.V.M.

Eric Barchas, DVM is a veterinarian who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, emergency medicine, hospice and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile.

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The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.

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Tapeworms in Cats and Dogs

Animals Affected

Dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens.

Overview

Tapeworms are parasites of dogs and cats.   They live in the intestines and, although they rarely cause clinical symptoms or disease in pets, they rob their hosts of nutrients.  Tapeworms are aesthetically unpleasant.

The most common type of tapeworm is spread by fleas. Pets contract this species of tapeworm when they swallow fleas in the process of grooming.  Other tapeworms are spread through improperly prepared food.

Tapeworms are relatively easy to prevent and to eliminate.  Keeping pets free of tapeworms is important for the health of pets, as well as that of humans who come into contact with them.  Tapeworms can spread to humans in some circumstances.

Symptoms

Tapeworms rarely cause pets to feel sick, and some pets with tapeworms will show no outward signs of  infestation.

  • Shedding of tapeworms segments in the feces is the most common symptom of tapeworm infestation in pets.  Owners often notice the segments in bowel movements, around the pet's anus, or on bedding.  The segments are small pieces of the worm, and they look like grains of rice or, when dry, like sesame seeds.
  • A pet that is infested with tapeworms may experience itching or irritation of the anus.
  • Diarrhea is an infrequent symptom of tapeworms.

Risk Factors and Prevention

  • Fleas spread the most common type of tapeworm (called Dipylidium) in dogs and cats.  Therefore, animals who do not receive proper flea control are at increased risk of infestation.
  • Other tapeworms (called Echinococcus) also can be contracted from raw meat. Animals whose diets contain improperly prepared raw meat can develop tapeworm infestations.  Pets that hunt and consume prey animals can contract tapeworms.
  • Dogs who eat feces may contract Echinococcus tapeworms.

Complications

Tapeworms rarely cause illness in pets.   However, they parasitize nutrition from the pets. This can lead to failure to thrive, grow, and maintain a proper body weight. Tapeworms may lead to diarrhea or obstruction of the intestines.

Tapeworm segments are mobile can lead to significant contamination of the house and environment.

Tapeworms can spread to human beings.  Children are especially at risk.  Humans contract Dipylidium tapeworms by eating fleas.  Humans can develop infestations with Echinococcus tapeworms by eating the parasite's eggs.  These eggs are found in the feces of infested pets.

Diagnosis

Tapeworm infestations usually are diagnosed by observing tapeworm segments in feces, on bedding, or around the anus.

Diagnosis occasionally is made through microscopic evaluation of a specially prepared sample of feces.

Treatment

Praziquantel (Droncit®) is the most frequently used medicine in the treatment of tapeworms.  In many cases, a single dose of praziquantel will clear tapeworms from a pet. The medicine can be given orally, topically (as a part of Profender® deworming agent for cats) or by injection.

Proper flea control should be implemented to reduce the risk of re-infestation.

Follow-up

Pets stop shedding tapeworm segments soon after receiving effective treatment.

If the source of the tapeworm infestation (fleas or raw meat) is not eliminated, the chances of re-infestation are high.

Miscellaneous

Although tapeworms rarely cause disease in pets, they can lead to significant contamination of the house and can spread to human beings.  Because of this, keeping pets free of tapeworms should be a priority for owners of dogs and cats.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM. All rights reserved.

The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.