Tapeworms are a common, despite gross, internal parasite that affects cats and dogs. As you may be aware, there are a host of parasites that a pet can be susceptible to when not protected from them. While they may seem relatively harmless, they can cause health issues and become a risk to the people in the household, too. 

Let’s take a closer look at this form of worm and why your pet needs to be protected from acquiring them.

What Is a Tapeworm?

Tapeworms are long, flat parasites that are white in color. They have a mouth that has a hook at the end where they attach to their host. They reside in the intestines and feed on the nutrients in your pet. The most common species of tapeworm is Dipylidium caninum and they infect both cats and dogs, which can sometimes infect people in rare cases. Other species include Taenia pisiformis (dogs) and Taenia taeniaeformis (cats). Neither of these can be transferred to humans.

Tapeworms can become quite long, up to 20 inches. As a tapeworm matures, they break off into small, white pieces that resemble rice. Many pet owners first know tapeworm infection by seeing these pieces in their pets’ waste. 

Causes of Tapeworm

In most cases, dogs contract tapeworm by eating an infected flea. The same is true for cats, as they self-groom. Fleas feed off of infected animals, and then are ingested by cats and dogs who continue the life cycle. Other ways to contract tapeworm is when a pet eats an infected rodent or by ingesting the feces of an infected pet.

The signs of tapeworm can be subtle. There are few symptoms, other than the remains in the excrement or in vomit. Some pets will scoot the rear quarters across the floor while others may have unexplained weight loss, even though they are eating normally.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When a pet owner finds the white segments of tapeworm in their pet’s feces, the veterinarian will ask for a sample to examine under a microscope. 

Treating tapeworm relies on one of a few kinds of prescription medications that eradicate internal parasites. These de-wormers are safe and effective and can be administered at home.

How Can You Prevent Tapeworms?

  • Maintain your pet’s annual wellness examinations for parasite screening
  • Keep your pet on a parasite preventative, including flea, tick, and heartworm control
  • Use dewormers as directed and complete the prescription
  • Vacuum and clean your pet’s bedding regularly
  • Inspect your pet’s coat and skin weekly to look for evidence of fleas and other parasites

Would you like more information about tapeworms and how to prevent them? Please call the Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital team.