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What is a Tapeworm?
A tapeworm is a flat segmented worm that attaches itself to the inside of its host’s intestine. They become a matter of great concern when that host is your beloved pet! Tapeworms consist of a head, with suckers, a neck and a body of multiple segments. The tapeworm’s ability to reproduce as a single organism makes it especially formidable as new segments are continually being developed in the neck.
These segments are cast off when they become mature and each mature segment contains a number of packets of eggs. Mature segments are then passed into the stool and they can often be spotted near the anus or on the fur of infected dogs and cats. Recently passed segments may move around, and when they have dried, they tend to look like dried grains of rice.
Tapeworm is a common intestinalparasite and while the thought of your pet infested with these parasites is a ghastly one, the good news is that in comparison to other intestinal worms, tapeworms cause the least amount of health concerns for your pet.
Many pets will have tapeworms without any symptoms, however, tapeworms do compete with your pet for nutrients and if they are left untreated, they can grow to such lengths that obstruct your pet’s intestines. Other symptoms may include poor condition of skin and coat, digestive upset, changes in appetite and abdominal discomfort. For these reasons, pet owners should guard against tapeworm and seek treatment if they suspect an infestation.
What Causes Tapeworm?
Tapeworms are very common in pets and even more common when fleas are involved. For your pet to get tapeworm they must ingest the egg of the tapeworm. As mentioned, the segments filled with eggs are dispelled along with fecal matter and they often stick to your pet’s fur from where they rub off into pet bedding and on carpets.
When dried, the segments dispel their eggs which are then swallowed by flea larvae, often lurking in the same area. This flea is now infected with tapeworm and all that remains is for your pet to swallow that flea to become infected. The flea is digested, but now that it has a new, more appropriate host, the tapeworm hatches and burrows into your pet’s intestine.
Other types of tapeworms are transmitted through small animals such as rodents. Like the flea, these small animals are merely carriers and the tapeworm cannot continue its life-cycle until the carrier is ingested by a larger animal such as a cat. Once in the intestine, the tapeworm hatches and attaches itself to the intestinal lining where it can start to reproduce and grow.
Tapeworms are generally diagnosed on description of the white segments found in the stool or on your pet. The usual stool test done to identify other types of worms is not very effective when looking for tapeworms as the chemical solution used in the test dissolves the egg packets making them undetectable.
Help for Tapeworm
The first action of treatment is to control the intermediate hosts – namely, the fleas. If your house and pet are flea-free then the chances of your pet getting tapeworm is diminished drastically. However there are treatments that can help to rid already existing tapeworm infestations and help to prevent them.
If your pet has tapeworms you veterinarian may prescribe a medication such as Praziquantel. Drugs such as these work by dissolving the tapeworm inside your pet’s intestine an unlike after treating roundworms, you generally won’t see dead tapeworms being expelled in your pet’s stool.
One treatment is effective enough to kill off infestation; however, sometimes a second dose is advised if the chances or immediate re-infection are high. Some vets advise that you manage the flea problem before coming back for a second dose, while others advise only coming back if your pet shows signs of re-infection. Keep in mind that these drugs do sometimes have side-effects such as nausea and because they are chemical based, frequent use can negatively affect your pet’s immune system.
Tips for preventing Tapeworm
- The number one preventative measure for preventing tapeworms is to get rid of fleas on your pet! Fleas are not always easy to control, but by keeping your pet and house flea-free, you can greatly reduce the chances of a tapeworm infestation.
- Eating raw meat is another common way that tapeworm is transmitted so make sure your pet eats only cooked meat.
- Make sure your pets have a healthy sanitation area. This includes cleaning litter boxes daily and regularly removing stools from the garden.
- Tapeworm can also be transmitted by smaller host animals such as rodents. The larvae lay dormant until the host animal is caught and ingested by a larger animal. If your cat is an avid hunter it is at a much greater risk of contracting a number of unwanted parasites. You can try a collar with a bell to discourage your pet from catching small animals.
- While humans can get tapeworm, it is rare and only likely to occur if they swallowed a flea or ate uncooked meat or fish. However, it is always important to practice good hygiene when cleaning litter trays or cleaning up after your pet as other parasites can infect people this way.