This article is designed to help you better understand your pet’s condition. This is not a substitute for a veterinary diagnosis; it intended for reference purposes and to supplement an existing diagnosis after a veterinary examination. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us at 740-432-5980. It is absolutely vital to have a veterinary diagnosis prior to following any of the instructions provided here.


Tapeworms are typically diagnosed by finding little white rice-like segments around your pet’s anus or in their feces.  These segments, known as proglottids, are not actually the worms themselves but they are tiny segments of a much larger worm (up to 50cm) living in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract.  Proglottids will begin to shed approximately 2-3 weeks after infection.

There are 5 different species of tapeworms but only 2 that we have to worry about in our demographic location and in small animals (dogs and cats).  The only way to tell exactly which species your pet is infected with is to examine their feces microscopically.  However both species are treated with the same drugs.

The most common species of tapeworm that we see (Dipylidium) can only be contracted through the ingestion of fleas.  This species of tapeworm has many life stages and its larval stage can only take place in the body cavity of the flea.  Therefore the tapeworm cannot exist within our pets gastrointestinal tract without first surviving its larval stage inside a flea.  If an infected flea is crawling on your pet and it itches they will likely turn and bite at the flea and will swallow it in turn and thus the developed tapeworm larvae is ingested and enters your pet’s intestinal tract.  This is the most common way our pets get tapeworms.  Even pets that have flea preventative on them may still ingest a transient flea that was on their body that had not yet been killed by the flea prevention.  This is less common, yet entirely possible.

The second most common species of tapeworms (Taenia) are mostly seen in cats or hunting dogs.  This species of tapeworm can only be contracted by consuming raw or undercooked meats: this can happen by feeding our pets undercooked meat products, or hunting and eating dead animals.  This species of flea requires the digestive system of either a rodent (ie: mice, rats) or a ruminant (ie: sheep, goats, deer, rabbits) to complete the larval stage of its life cycle and therefore cannot infect our pets through any other means than our pets consuming the parasites previous host animal.

A common complaint that we hear from clients is that they keep de-worming their pets but the products “do not work”.  While medication is available over the counter for tapeworms most de-wormer that can be purchased outside of a veterinary clinic is only labeled to treat roundworms and hookworms and will have no impact whatsoever on tapeworms.  Another common issue is that even if you keep de-worming your pet, if you do not practice adequate flea control, or prevent your pet from consuming raw or undercooked meats, your pet will continue to become re-infected, and you will begin to see segments again approximately 3 weeks after treatment.  The medication that kills tapeworms does not prevent them so the products we dispense to you absolutely do kill any existing tapeworms but only you can prevent your pet from becoming re-infected.

Another common question is that if one pet in the household is shedding segments, should all the pets be treated?  That answer is up to you.  Tapeworms cannot be spread directly from pet to pet, however if one pet has fleas it is likely that they all have fleas and therefore likely all may have tapeworms.  It is entirely possible for an animal to have tapeworms and not shed the segments through its rectum; so just because you do not see segments on one pet does not mean they do not have tapeworms.  However, if you are only seeing segments on your cat that likes to kill and eat mice and not seeing segments on your dogs that do not hunt or have fleas you are probably safe to just de-worm your cat and not your dogs because your cat cannot spread the worms to your dogs.  If you are unsure, keep in mind that it is not harmful to de-worm our pets even if they do not have worms.  It is actually good practice and good ownership to de-worm our pets periodically as a preventive measure, so de-worming out of sheer precaution is never a bad idea.

Guernsey Veterinary Clinic, Cassie Gombeda RVT

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Please feel free to call with any questions!  We want you keep our clients well informed and our patients healthy and happy!  740-432-5980

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