Ewwwww! My Pet Has Tape Worms!
What are tapeworms?
Tapeworms are intestinal parasites of cats (and dogs). Because they are classified as cestodes, they belong to a different family of worms than hookworms and roundworms (called nematodes).
Occasionally, the mobile segments can be seen crawling near the anus or on the surface of a fresh bowel movement. These segments look like grains of rice and contain tapeworm eggs; the eggs are released into the environment when the segment dries. The dried segments are small (about 1/16", or 2 mm), hard and golden in color. These dried segments can sometimes be seen stuck to the hair around the dog's or cat's rear.
Infection is common and found throughout the world.
A less commonly found tapeworm, called Echinococcus, also occurs in dogs. Several types of tapeworms are known to infect cats; Dipylidium caninum is by far the most common.
What is the life cycle of tapeworms?Tapeworms are internal parasites, infecting all types of mammals, including humans and domestic animals. Their life cycles are very complex.
The segments, full of eggs, are passed in the feces. While warm, the segments are active, but as they dry, they break open and liberate the eggs inside. Either an adult louse or a flea larva
How did my dog or cat get tapeworms?By swallowing a flea infected with a tapeworm larvae.
This process begins when tapeworm eggs are swallowed by flea larvae (an immature stage of the flea). Contact between flea larvae and tapeworm eggs is thought to occur most frequently in contaminated bedding or carpet.
Next, the pet chews or licks its skin as a flea bites; the flea is then swallowed. As the flea is digested within the pet's intestine, the tapeworm hatches and anchors itself to the intestinal lining.Fleas are the intermediate host for the tapeworm. In other words, the tapeworm is unable to complete its life cycle without the presence of fleas in the environment. Regardless of whether the owner may have seen fleas, the pet must have ingested a flea in order to have tapeworms. Consequently, tapeworms are more common in environments which are heavily infested with fleas. Lice are also reported as intermediate hosts for tapeworms but they are relatively uncommon parasitesin the US.
A pet become infected with Echinococcus when it eats a small mammal, usually a rodent, that contains the worm. Foxes and coyotes (and the wild rodents upon which they prey) are important in the life cycle of this parasite. Dogs and cats may also become infected if they eat rodents carrying the parasite.
What kind of problems do tapeworms cause for the dog or cat?
Tapeworms are not highly pathogenic (harmful) to your dog. They may cause debilitation and weight loss when they occur in large numbers. Sometimes, the dog will scoot or drag its rear across the ground or carpet because the segments are irritating to the skin in this area. The adult worm is generally not seen, but the white segments which break away from the tapeworm and pass outside the body rarely fail to get an owner's attention!
Occasionally, a tapeworm will release its attachment in the intestines and move into the stomach. This irritates the stomach, causing the dog to vomit the worm. When this happens, a worm several inches in length will be seen.With few exceptions, these well-adapted parasites also cause little harm or inconvenience to their cat host. However, the sight of their segments crawling about the fur or on recently passed feces of a pet is not appealing.
Clinical signs may not always occur, but when present, they may include unthriftiness, depression, irritability, an unpredictable appetite, poor coat condition, colic and mild diarrhea. A heavy infestation may causse anemia or weight loss.
How is tapeworm infection diagnosed?
An infection with Dipylidium is usually diagnosed when the white, mobile segments are seen crawling on your dog or in the stool. Tapeworms are not usually detected by the routine fecal examination performed by the veterinarian. Because of this, veterinarians depend on the owner to notify them of possible tapeworm infection in the dog.
Echinococcus infections are harder to diagnose than the tapeworm caused by fleas because the segments are small and not readily seen.
In heavy infections, we may notice abdominal discomfort or nervousness in the animal. The animal may vomit and sometimes have convulsions. It is thought that the convulsions are due to toxins produced by the tapeworm. The active segments around the anal area may cause an animal to lick or 'scoot' on the floor.Since the current tapeworm medicines get both types of worm, it is really irrelevant which species of tapeworm your pet has.
Can I get a tapeworm infection from my pet?
Yes. For a person to become infected with Dipylidium, he or she must accidentally swallow an infected flea. Most reported cases involve children. The risk of infection with this tapeworm in humans is low. The most effective way to prevent infections in pets and humans is through flea control. A child who is infected will usually pass proglottids (or what appears as rice) in a bowel movement or find them stuck to the skin around the anal area.Another less common group of tapeworms, called Echinococcus, is of increasing concern as a threat to human health. These tapeworms cause serious, potentially fatal, disease when humans become infected. Infection with this parasite is harder to diagnose than Dipylidium because the segments are small and not readily seen. Trappers and hunters in the north central United States and south central Canada may be at increased risk for infection with this worm when strict hygiene is not practiced. Foxes and coyotes (and the wild rodents upon which they prey) are important in the life cycle of this parasite. Dogs and cats may also become infected if they eat rodents carrying the parasite. When eggs of Echinococcus are passed in the feces of the dog and cat, humans are at risk for infection. Free-roaming cats and dogs may need to be periodically treated with tapeworm medication. Rodent control and good hygiene are important in preventing the spread of this disease to humans. As with the more common tapeworm, infection with Echinococcus is infrequent yet possible.
My child has pinworms. Did they come from my cat?Tapeworms and pinworms look very similar. Contrary to popular belief, pinworms do not infect cats or dogs. Any worm segments seen associated with cats are due to tapeworms. Children who get pinworms do not get them from cats or dogs.
How are the tapeworms treated?
Treatment is simple and, fortunately, very effective. The most common treatment is praziquantel which is found in Droncit (from the vet by prescription) and
Tapeworm Killer Capsules (the generic form that is now over-the-counter and much less expensive.)
Control of fleas is very important in the management and prevention of tapeworm infection. Flea control involves treatment of your dog, the indoor environment and the outdoor environment where the dog resides.
If the pet lives in a flea-infested environment, reinfection with tapeworms may occur in as little as two weeks. Because the medication which treats tapeworm infection is so effective, return of the tapeworms is almost always due to reinfection from the environment.
The most important preventive measures are flea control and lice control. Numerous products are on the market which can be used for this purpose. It is recommended to not only treat the animals with both an insecticide and an Insect Growth Regulator but also the environment in an attempt to kill as many adult fleas and flea larvae as possible.Control of fleas is the cornerstone of preventing tapeworm infection. With the new and exciting flea control products which have become available, this is now much easier than in years past.
If the pet lives in a flea-infested environment, tapeworm infection can become re-established within a few weeks. This is very rarely due to treatment failure; in most cases, reappearance of tapeworms represents reinfection from fleas in the environment. Additional recommendations include:
Are tapeworms infectious to people?
Yes, although infection is not common or likely. A flea must be ingested for humans to become infected with the most common tapeworm of dogs. Most reported cases have involved children. The most effective way to prevent human infection is through aggressive, thorough flea control. The risk for infection with this tapeworm in humans is quite small but does exist.The tapeworms described here may be acquired by accidentally swallowing an infected flea (dog tapeworm) or eating a piece of uncooked infected meat.
Effective tapeworm control:
In summaryThe key to success in eradicating the tapeworm from your pet is to understand the life cycle, treat with Tapeworm Killer Capsules, and to understand that you have to eliminate the flea to eliminate the worm.
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