Tapeworm Infection in Dogs

As a professional pooper scooper, I am always observing dog waste for signs and symptoms of illness. If I suspect something is wrong, I alert my customers so they can take their dogs to the veterinarian for treatment.

On several occasions, I have observed white specks in dog waste. The specks, often the size of a grain of rice and eggshell in color, sometimes wiggle upon observation. These are tapeworm segments known as proglottids. As the adult tapeworm matures inside the intestine of dogs, it releases proglottids. Proglottids are egg packets. When the packet dissolves in the environment, it releases the eggs into the environment.

If you didn’t already know, tapeworm infection is actually a sign of a flea infestation. You see, the flea is the intermediate host for the Dipylidium caninum tapeworm. Infection occurs when your dog accidentally swallows a flea containing the parasite. You might be wondering, How on earth could my dog accidentally swallow a flea? It is easier than you think.

Fleas are blood-sucking parasites. The females require a blood meal before they can lay eggs. As fleas bite your dogs, your dog becomes very itchy. Have you ever watched your dog nip or bite when scratching a flea bite? Sure you have. When a dog uses its teeth to scratch a flea bite is exactly the time an unsuspecting flea gets swallowed up in the jaws of your canine.

If you have more than one dog, the first course of action is to determine which dog has tapeworm. If you visit your veterinarian, they can give you a small device designed to obtain a fecal sample, or you can simply use a plastic baggy and take samples from each of the dogs into the vet clinic for analysis. After a short microscopic examination of the stool, your veterinarian can tell you which dog is infected with tapeworm. **Please note, fecal analysis does not always provide a definitive diagnosis.

Next, your veterinarian will likely prescribe medicine designed to kill the tapeworm. A couple treatments are usually necessary, spaced two to three weeks apart.

While you’re waiting on the tapeworm infection to clear from your dog’s system, the next course of action is to address the flea problem. Most veterinarians will recommend a monthly flea preventative. These usually come in packs of three droppers that you apply between the shoulder blades of your dogs. Certain products are capable of killing fleas, ticks, and eggs of both parasites.

As for home care, you will need to vacuum your carpet. Immediately following, take the bag out of your vacuum, place it in a trash bag, and place it outside in the trash bin. You’ll want to repeat this process several times over the next 90 days to ensure that all of the fleas and eggs have been removed from your carpet.

In adult dogs, tapeworm infection is usually asymptomatic. You will not notice anything unusual except for maybe a few small segments of tapeworm in a fresh stool. Tapeworm segments look like flat grains of rice or cucumber seeds. This is usually the only observation necessary to determine tapeworm infection.

In small puppies, however, you might observe a pot-bellied appearance. Anemia and intestinal blockages could also occur, meaning that tapeworm infection is more severe in puppies than in adult dogs.

For more information on tapeworm infection in dogs, be sure to check out the following web pages:

Veterinary Partner – Tapeworms

VCA Animal Hospitals – Signs of Tapeworm Infection in Dogs

AAVP – Dipylidium caninum


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