Tapeworms – FAQs

How do pets get tapeworms?

A tapeworm segment is a packet of eggs that a pet eats by accident when it is eating something else. The “something else” is an intermediate host for the tapeworm. There are two kinds of tapeworm, with different hosts. One kind lives in the gut of fleas. When the pet chews at the flea, it swallows the tapeworm eggs. The other kind lives in the gut and muscles of small mammals and birds. Pets consume these when they are hunting.

What are the symptoms of tapeworm infection?

Most animals that have tapeworms do not show many signs. They may become picky eaters because the worms make them nauseous. Most owners diagnose tapeworms by seeing them on their pet.

What do tapeworms look like?

Most tapeworms are seen as segments (which are individual egg packets) either stuck around the anus or crawling out of a fresh stool. When dried up, they look like small rice grains. Before they dry out, they look like small white balls of jelly that inch along.

Is “scooting” a sign of tapeworms in dogs?

“Scooting”, or dragging the anus along the ground, is a sign of the area being itchy. Tapeworms are not irritating, and so do not cause pets to be itchy. If you see this behaviour, it usually means that your pet has blocked scent glands they are trying to unplug.

Can I get tapeworms from my pet?

Since tapeworms are spread by consuming an intermediate host, it is highly unlikely for a person to develop tapeworms. It is possible to get tapeworm eggs on your hands and get tapeworms from putting your fingers in your mouth.                                              

How do you prevent tapeworms?

There are several medicines that will kill adult tapeworms that live in the intestine. The worms that are passed will be dead, but segments are full of eggs that could potentially hatch. You prevent reinfection by preventing exposure to intermediate hosts. Treat for fleas if there are any. If possible, keep your pet from hunting for mice and birds.

How often should I treat my pets?

Frequency of treatment depends on how often they are exposed to new worms. All tapeworm medicines kill the worms in the body, but do not persist to kill new worms that develop in a few more days. Pets that hunt all the time, or have a flea problem, should be treated every 2 to 3 months. Pets that are not obviously exposed should still be treated once per year. Talk to your vet about the level of risk for your particular pet.

Written by Morinville Veterinary Clinic