Diagnosing Tapeworms in Dogs

Diagnosing tapeworms in dogs can be a rather tricky process. The largest problem with identifying tapeworms is that fecal testing is typically very inaccurate until tapeworms are actually seen in the feces. For that reason, it is important for dog owners to be informed about how to recognize tapeworms, as well as to understand how fecal testing can help to confirm a tapeworm infection.

Fecal Presence

It is by far more common for a dog owner to notice tapeworms in their dog before any type of laboratory testing will. While the tapeworm infection may have been present in the dog for some time, the first indicator is usually a visualization of the tapeworms themselves in the feces. Because tapeworms appear as tiny, rice-like particles in the feces, many dog owners may actually confuse the presence of tapeworms with undigested rice. Keep in mind, however, that rice is completely digestible in dogs, and it would likely never be apparent in its original shape or form.

In addition, tapeworms are segmented in nature, meaning that there are several segments to one entire tapeworm, and tapeworms can mature to be over 13” long. So, when these tiny, rice-like, moving particles are seen in the feces, what the dog owner is seeing is a segment of the larger tapeworm that has broken off. In fact, it usually takes at least 48 hours for these smaller segments to detach from the tapeworm, indicating that the infection can grow by serious numbers within that time frame.

Physical Signs

Tapeworms attach themselves to the intestinal wall of a dog and feed off of the food and blood supply from the dog. When this happens, any food that the dog ingests is being divided between himself and the tapeworms; therefore, it is not uncommon to notice a moderate-to-significant amount of weight loss as the tapeworm infestation progresses.

Another physical sign of tapeworm infection is general lethargy and excessive sleepiness. Again, both of these manifestations are attributable to the fact that the tapeworms are consuming a great deal of the dog’s nutrition and blood supply, thereby depleting the dog of his ability to remain energetic.

Fecal Testing

Fecal testing is the process of taking a fecal sample and analyzing it under microscopic conditions. Remember, however, that it takes at least 48 hours for the segments to break off from the tapeworm and become visually detectable. Prior to that 48-hour window, it is highly unlikely that the tapeworms would be detectable under a microscope because of how minuscule they really are; thus, most dog owners notice them in the feces before a veterinarian can even get a positive result from a fecal test.

Fecal testing used in combination with the visual presence of tapeworms and the outward physical signs is often the best way to make an accurate tapeworm diagnosis in dogs.