Tapeworms are one of the most common types of worms seen in dogs and cats. They are parasites that live in the intestinal tract of infected animals.
How Do Dogs and Cats Get Tapeworms?
Tapeworms can be acquired by ingesting a host which is infected with tapeworms. Common hosts are fleas, rodents and other small prey items.
In the case of tapeworms carried by fleas, dogs and cats become infected when they groom themselves. Through grooming, it is not unusual for a dog or cat to ingest one or more fleas. Once ingested, the tapeworms then infect the intestinal tract of the affected dog or cat. This particular type of tapeworm is called Dipylidium caninum.
In the case of the other type of tapeworm (Taenia), the dog or cat becomes infected after ingesting an infected rat, mouse or rabbit.
Tapeworms are not directly spread from one dog or cat to another. An intermediate host is required. That intermediate host may be a flea, a rat, a mouse or a rabbit. However, the tapeworm cannot be transmitted without an intermediate host.
How Do I Know if My Dog or Cat Has Tapeworms?
If your dog or cat is infected with tapeworms, you will see the tapeworm segments around your pet’s anus, under the tail, in or on the feces, or left behind where your pet has been resting. The parasite segments resemble grains of rice.
The segments are actually known as proglottids. The adult tapeworm consists of a scolex (head) which attaches to your pet’s intestinal tract. Behind the scolex are numerous proglottids. Each proglottid is a separate reproductive unit and is filled with tapeworm eggs. Periodically, proglottids break off from the tapeworm and are passed in the feces.
What Symptoms Do Tapeworms Cause in Dogs and Cats?
Most often, other than passing the proglottids, tapeworms cause very few if any symptoms for the infected dog or cat. Occasionally, tapeworms may cause your dog or cat to scoot. In some cases, some diarrhea may also be seen.
Treatment of Dog and Cat Tapeworms
Tapeworms are easily treated in dogs and cats. However, many of the products used to treat other types of intestinal worms are not effective against tapeworms. Praziquantel is the most commonly used medication to treat tapeworms. It can be given orally or by injection.
Preventing re-infection of your pet with tapeworms can be problematic. If your dog or cat remains infested with fleas, or continues to hunt and ingest infested prey animals, your pet can easily reinfect himself.
Tapeworms in People
People can get tapeworms. However, they do not get them from dogs or cats. Becoming infected with tapeworms requires the ingestion of an infected host. In people, this may occur from eating infected fish (sushi) or other uncooked meat.
On very rare occasions, children may become infected with tapeworms after ingesting a flea. This, however, is unusual.
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