Tapeworm infection in dogs is not particularly difficult to diagnose. The most common way to detect tapeworms is by fecal flotation. This procedure involves processing a fresh stool sample and examining the end-product under a microscope for tapeworm eggs, which are quite large and usually are readily distinguishable from the eggs of other intestinal parasites. Sometimes, a dog will have tapeworms, but the particular stool sample will not contain any eggs, or at least not enough eggs for the veterinarian to identify. This is called a “false negative” test result. In other words, the dog is infected with the parasite, but the test turns out negative. It is important to repeat fecal flotations several times, on different stool samples, to be sure that an initial negative result was not a false negative.
Another way to diagnose tapeworms is to apply a piece of cellophane tape to the dog’s anal area, gently remove the tape and then apply it sticky-side down directly onto a glass slide. The veterinarian will look at the sample microscopically to see what, if any, eggs or organisms are present. This procedure can be used to identify egg packets and eggs of certain types of tapeworms. Many times, dogs with tapeworms will actually have worm segments stuck to or crawling on the fur around their anus (this is called the “perianal area”), and in their feces. These actually are pieces that have broken off from adult worms, and they can be seen by the naked eye. Most owners understandably find it aesthetically offensive to see parts of these parasites crawling around on their dog’s anus, fur or feces. Fortunately, once they are diagnosed, tapeworms in dogs are not hard to treat.
If an owner notices that her dog has particles resembling white rice in its perianal area or in its “poop,” she should collect a fresh stool sample and consult with a veterinarian about appropriate treatment for tapeworms.