Cats and dogs can fall victim to a variety of intestinal parasites, often referred to as worms. Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms are some of the most common parasites your pet may experience. Roundworms and tapeworms can be seen without the aid of a microscope, but other parasites can only be seen through a microscopic lens. While there are some broad-spectrum deworming products available, tapeworms fall into a special category and often require a different dewormer than the product used to rid your pet of roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms.
What is a tapeworm?
Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that commonly affect dogs and cats, especially those who live outdoors and are exposed to rodents and fleas. These parasites are long, flat, ribbon-like worms that attach to the wall of the small intestine to gain nutrients from their host. Their bodies consist of several segments that attach to the head of the parasite, with each segment containing its own reproductive tract.
How do pets get tapeworms?
The most common way for pets to become infected with tapeworms is through eating fleas that are carrying tapeworm eggs. Dogs and cats who were strays and infested with fleas will likely develop tapeworm infections after being rescued and treated for fleas, which can be alarming to pet owners. Other, less common ways, for pets to contract a tapeworm infection is through eating rabbits, birds, or rodents, as tapeworms will harbor in these intermediate hosts.
What are the signs of a tapeworm infection?
As the tapeworm grows, segments break off and pass through the intestinal tract, appearing in your pet’s feces similar in size to grains of rice, cucumber seeds, or sesame seeds. Tapeworm segments may also attach to your pet’s hind end, under the tail, on the backs of the hind legs, or around the anus. As the segments dry out, they will look similar to small grains of white or cream-colored rice.
Did You Know?
Tip: Tapeworms appear similar to grains of rice, while roundworms look like strands of spaghetti.
While most intestinal parasites can cause bloody diarrhea and vomiting, tapeworms are relatively harmless. Tapeworms can cause your pet to be itchy, so she may scoot on the ground or lick her hind end. The most serious signs of tapeworm infections are itching and weight loss.
If you notice diarrhea or weight loss in your pet, take a fresh fecal sample to your veterinarian to check for parasites. Your veterinarian will perform a fecal analysis and search for the parasite eggs to identify what worm may be infecting your pet. Keep in mind that tapeworm eggs are often difficult to pick up on a fecal exam, and may give you a false negative result. Be sure to tell your veterinarian if you have noticed any grains of rice around your pet’s hind end, as this will help her make a diagnosis.
What dewormers work best for tapeworm infections?
Deworming products come in a wide variety of formulations—capsules, oral liquid, injectable, granules, chewable tablets, and topical applications. There are two drugs that can treat tapeworm infections, praziquantel and fenbendazole. While praziquantel only kills tapeworms, fenbendazole can eradicate tapeworms, roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms from your pet. Praziquantel is often found in combination with other deworming products, including heartworm prevention, to destroy multiple types of parasites. While you can get these products over-the-counter, speak with your veterinarian before using a product to ensure its safety for your pet.
How can I prevent my pet from getting tapeworms?
Prevention of tapeworms is relatively simple if your pet is on year-round flea control and does not hunt. But, if you have a fierce hunter of a cat, you may need to deworm her routinely with praziquantel. Many veterinarians recommend deworming pets who go outside at least quarterly to purge any parasites from their system.
The best ways to prevent your pet from getting tapeworms include:
- Control fleas on your pet, in your home, and in your yard
- Clean up your pet’s feces immediately
- Don’t allow your pet to wander near another animal’s feces while out walking
- Keep your dog away from dead animals
- Keep your cat indoors to prevent her from hunting
- Don’t allow your children to play in areas that may be contaminated with pet feces
- Teach your children to wash their hands after playing with a pet or outdoors
You can also get tapeworms indirectly through your pet. While children are most at risk because of their close contact with pets, adults can become infected as well. People can become infected with tapeworms through accidental ingestion of an infected flea or contaminated feces. Since tapeworms are a zoonotic parasite, proper prevention is even more important to keep your entire family safe.
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Parasites - Dipylidiium Infection (Also Known as Dog and Cat Flea Tapeworm). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.