As owners, we want our pets to live long, happy, and healthy lives. This means ensuring that they receive timely medical care when a problem arises and preventive care to prevent any potential problems. Our pets are susceptible to many diseases, injuries, and parasites. One such parasite is the tapeworm. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent this danger from ever harming your pet.
What Are Tapeworms?
The tapeworm is one of the most common intestinal parasites in dogs and cats. Though there are several types, the most common in pets are the Dipylidium caninum. These parasites were named tapeworm due to their flattened appearance which is much like a tape measure.
Also known as cestodes, tapeworms cannot live freely on their own. Instead, they must reside in the lower intestines of a host. Here they may grow from several inches to several feet in length. Tapeworms are made of many small segments that look like pieces of rice. Each of these segments contain packets of eggs. These segments break off and are passed through the stool where they are known to attach to the skin and to the hair around the anus.
Tapeworms are not directly infectious between cats and dogs. Instead, the animal must ingest a flea that contains tapeworm eggs in order to become infected. Dogs and cats can also become infected by ingesting rodents and rabbits that are infected with certain types of tapeworms (known as Echinococcus andTaenia), though this is less common.
There are two species of tapeworm commonly found in cats. These areDipylidium caninum and Taenia taeniaformis. Dipylidium canium (the most common of the two) is generally acquired when your cat ingests fleas and lice that hold immature tapeworms in their intestines. Taenia taeniaformis is acquired when cats ingest rodents, uncooked meat, raw freshwater fish, or other infested animal parts. Though uncommon,Dibothriocephalus latus andSpirometra mansonoides are also tapeworms which can be acquired by cats eating uncooked freshwater fish or water snakes.
The Canine Tapeworm
A wide variety of tapeworm species are capable of infecting dogs. Just as in cats, the most common isDiphylidium caninum. Dogs that eat rabbits and rodents may also become infected with Taenia pisiformis. Other tapeworm species capable of infecting canines are theEchinococcus, Mesocestoides, and Spirometra.
Tapeworm Symptoms in Pets
Though tapeworms are quite common, many pets do not seem to exhibit any symptoms at all when infected. Frequently, they act (and presumably feel) completely normal even in the most severe cases. If tapeworm symptoms are present, they are generally mild.
These parasites may survive by sucking the blood and nutrients from their animal hosts, but they do so very slowly and steadily. This generally does not cause a sudden and dramatic change in the pets behavior.
Free-roaming pets with access to freshly killed wild or domestic animals are at greater risk of developing a tapeworm infection. Animals with heavy flea and/or lice infestations are also at increased risk.
Tapeworm Symptoms Chart
|Intestinal disturbances||Non-specific signs of intestinal discomfort and pain are sometimes detected in animals and humans infected with tapeworms. Intestional irritation and diarrhea may also be caused by the spiky tapeworm grip.|
|Appetite changes||Some animals will refuse to eat or become picky eaters. This may be the result of nausea or abdominal cramping. In contrast, some animals develop ravenous appetites when infected with tapeworms. This is because they are competing with the parasite for nutrition.|
|Other physical symptoms||Body weakness, headaches, dizziness, and delirium. These have been described during human tapeworm infestations and are, therefore, believed to occur in animals as well.|
|Malnutrition||Large numbers of tapeworms in the intestinal tract of your dog or cat can result in the malabsorption of nutrients. Animals that do not received the nutrition that they need may lose weight, have poor growth, and be malnourished.|
|Poor coat quality||Severe malnutrition can result in decreased coat quality. This could mean thinning, coarseness, loss of luster, or brittleness.|
|Intestinal Blockage||Large tapeworm infestations can block the intestines in animals (particularly puppies and kittens). This an result in intestinal disturbances and even death. An animal with a massive infestation who is treated in a matter the kills off all the tapeworms at once can also suffer a blockage as the worms detach from the intestinal wall and flow down the intestinal tract all at once.|
|Perineal and anal irritation||This may cause your dog or cat to scoot or drag their bottom against the floor. The migration of tapeworm segments towrd the anus can result in itching and irratatio of the anal area. Your pet may respond to this by licking the area excessively or dragging and rubbing its bottom along the ground.|
|Fleas and lice||Tapeworm infestation is often associated with fleas and lice.|
Tapeworms in Humans
Though rare, tapeworms can pose a health risk to humans. Echinococcus in particular can infect humans if tapeworm eggs are accidentally ingested. Severe (and in come cases fatal) disease can then result. Tapeworms in humans generally develop into cysts in the lung, brain, liver, kidney, or eye, leading to severe organ damage. In addition, ruptured cysts can cause allergic reaction and death in certain individuals.
Tapeworm Treatment for Dogs and cats
The best tapeworm treatment for dogs and cats is to take preventative action. In most cases, fleas are directly responsible for tapeworm infestation. The control of fleas is, therefore, essential to preventing tapeworm infection. This means controlling fleas on your pet, inside your home, and in the outdoor environment. Other suggestions for reducing the likelihood of infection in your pet (as well as in other family members) include:
If you suspect you pet may be suffering from tapeworms, the best course of action is to seek the attention of your veterinarian. There are, however, may natural tapeworm treatments which you may also be interested in learning more about. The following list is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.
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