Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tapeworms and Pets: All You'll Ever Need (and want) to Know

For some reason, parasitology was probably my favorite class in college. Why? I don't know. There is so much more to worms and other parasites than people probably ever care to know. In fact, many people have a lot of misconceptions about worms and their pet's health. One of the most common things I used to hear people say when their cat or dog was sick was "I think he has worms." Given your pet's symptoms, the chances are probably not. Worms are not the source of every sick pet's problem!

What do you mean I have worms!? 
Photo via Andrea Schaffer


What do tapeworms look like?


Today, I wanted to talk about tapeworms a little bit. They are one of the most common parasites found in domestic pets, particularly cats and dogs. They are also probably one of the only intestinal worms you will ever be able to visually see without needing a microscope. Their appearance is similar to that of a grain of white rice. If you see tapeworms, you aren't actually seeing the entire worm but rather just a segment of the worm. These tapeworm segments that you see are basically egg baskets. Most tapeworm infections in pets are diagnosed by visually seeing the tapeworm segments.

A tapeworm egg as seen under a microscope.
Photo via Joelmills

How does my pet get tapeworms?


So now that you know how to identify whether or not your pet has tapeworms, I'm sure you're wondering where they come from. The answer is pretty simple, or I'll at least try to keep it that way. Pets get tapeworms from ingesting an infected flea. This is likely to happen when your pet grooms themselves. Any pet that has a flea infestation should also be dewormed for tapeworms.

Here's how the life-cycle works in a nutshell. Your dog or cat swallows an infected flea. The tapeworm then forms and grows into an adult in your pet's gastrointestinal tract. The tapeworm segments or "egg baskets" I mentioned earlier are shed when the pet has a bowel movement. Sometimes these segments get stuck around your pet's butt or attached to long pieces of fur. Flea larva then consume the tapeworm eggs contained in the egg baskets. A cyst forms in the developing flea. Wild animals can also carry infected fleas. Your pet grooms itself and consumes that flea. 21 days later, a tapeworm forms in the GI tract and you can start the cycle all over again.

Should I make a trip to the emergency hospital?


My recommendation is no. Tapeworms are not life-threatening and are more gross for you to look at than anything. Sure, they can have detrimental effects on your pet's health if left untreated for a long period of time, but they are no reason to rush out to the emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. 

The tapeworms thrive by getting nutrients from the food that their host eats. Your pet could be missing out on some nutrients from their meals, but chances are that it's not really affecting their overall health. 

To get rid of tapeworms, a simple one time dose of medication can be given in either oral or injectable form. The injectable form is known to sting, so the pill may be a better option unless your pet refuses to be medicated by mouth. 

In order to prevent tapeworms in the future, a veterinary recommended flea prevention should be given to your pet. Some flea preventions today even include a tapeworm dewormer in them. 

If your pet is vomiting, has diarrhea, won't eat, is lethargic, losing weight, etc. chances are that the problem isn't worms. Getting an over-the-counter dewormer probably won't fix their problem and you should take them to a veterinarian to be seen. 

Photo via Vagabond Shutterbug

I know they are gross to look at or think about, but at least you can take comfort in knowing that tapeworms probably aren't going to kill your pet. 

35 comments:

  1. Shivers, just the thought of having worms is yuk..BOL Humom gets me and the furball stuff from the vets. Great post :) xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

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  2. We are both wormed religiously. Yikes peeps remembers all that stuff from zoology at uni. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly.

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  3. I'm pretty sure Cupcake's heartworm medicine also contains medicine for other types of worms. Hopefully, tapeworms is one of them. Ick!

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    1. Usually it doesn't contain tapeworm medicine. There are some that do though, maybe it's one of them.

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  4. It was nice of you to enlighten pet owners to the fact that worms are not life threatening...they are a pain in the rear (no pun intended!!) for pets and their humans both! Because worming has become so easy to do these days it makes sense for all pets to be dewormed if you even suspect that your pet has them, unlike the old days when worming your 4 legged angel was really a chore! Thanks for another very informative blog! We at Kitty Kanteen always look forward to reading and responding to your articles, they are always top notch and right on the money! Love to all in Texas!! Charmaine & Kitty Kanteen

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    1. Thanks again Charmaine! These types of worms aren't really life-threatening anyways. There are some pretty funky ones out there though that are scary. Thankfully, they are very rare.

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  5. frank lee we loves werms...knot onlee R they grate for catchin trout, but salmon, perch, sea bass N flounder & mackeral two !!

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  6. Easy got this worms as he ate the poo of sheeps. I was very scared as I saw this ... Thanks for the information, specially for the pic of the egg, I never saw such a thing (ok, not really a easteregg) :o)

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    1. LOL - no definitely not an Easter egg! Their eggs are REALLY large, compared to other worm eggs though. Still microscopic though.

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  7. I'm soooo glad I waited until AFTER lunch to read this! :) Great info to know however, it gives me major willies! Definitely passing the knowledge along!

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    1. Lol - yea, I'm sure the title tipped you a little bit.

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  8. That is so interesting to know. A little icky but definitely fascinating.

    Piggy kisses,
    Katie and Coccolino the mini pig

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  9. One time at work mom met a big lab who pooped out about a billion tapeworm segments all over the hospital floor. Blech! No one there had ever seen so many at once! She almost died of grossness cleaning this mess up =P

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  10. Yokes! That was good info but not pleasant to think about!

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  11. Thanks for the info, Ann. My dog likes to eat...gross out time...bunny fecal matter. So I worry about parasites. So far, so good, though. My vet says that we're probably in for some nasty flea season this year because of the warm winter. Yikes!!!

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    1. I'll believe the nasty flea season...

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  12. Yikes... I don't have a tapeworm and I hope I never will...

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  13. Woof! Woof! We are familiar with this as when we lived in HI it is very common. One reason I was not able to mingle/socialized with other dogs. It is sad and many dog owners should be very aware of this. Golden Thanks for the information. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

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  14. ...and humans can get them too...scary thought. EWWW.
    Good thing we get checked regularly (and are indoors kitties)!

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    1. Yea I know! Thankfully they aren't very harmful... still kinda gross though ;P

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  15. Now THIS is a useful post. Thank you very much. Mum says thanks for doing short paragraphs they are much easier to read MOL!!

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    1. I try to make my stuff easy to understand and read for everyone!

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  16. Very interesting! Thank you!
    Purrs

    P.S.: I hope I never get those!

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  17. I have had to pick tape worms off the floor - and my cat's... umm... caboose - before. Ick!
    Thanks for the low-down on what's happening 'behind' the scenes! :)

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    1. Hehe, I've been in the same boat... less than ideal!

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  18. Speedy had pin worms when we got him we had to worm him,so gross

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    1. My daughter just had those a few months ago unfortunately... gross indeed!

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  19. now you can buy Trade Winds tabs OTC and they are effective at getting rid of these worms!

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  20. De-wormers of any type won't be effective for your pet, but find a dewormer product that includes tapeworm.

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    1. Thanks Leanne - you're perfectly right! The name of the de-wormer that kills tapeworms is called praziquantel.

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