Tapeworms can conjure up many images and thoughts of a ghastly
infestation. However, in comparison to other intestinal worms it is
probably the parasite with the least direct health problems. Although
they compete with the infected pet for the nutrients of ingested food,
they do not generally harm the host. Tapeworms, which include several
types, reside in the intestines of dogs, cats, humans, rats, mice, fish
and others animals. They consist of a head and a long flat body made up
of segments. This body can be several feet, if not more, long. Segments,
each having the ability to reproduce, are passed in the animal's feces,
leaving the head still attached to the animal's intestinal lining, where
it produces new segments. One of the worst case scenarios is that if
left untreated it may become so long that it obstructs the intestines.
As a general rule though, tapeworm infection may not cause any
noticeable illness in your pet, or it may show moderate signs of
infection. These symptoms may produce digestive upsets, excessive or
decreased appetite (depending on the pet), poor hair and skin coat
(possible balding, red areas especially on the rump and feet), weight
loss and vague signs of abdominal discomfort. But, what most owners
who've had a pet with tapeworms can tell you is that the first thing you
most likely notice is the 1/4 inch, whitish worms that may expand and
contract in your pet's stool. Or the cucumber seed-like or rice
grain-like dried segments in their pet's bedding area or clinging to the
hair around their butt. From a vet's observation, an owner will hedge on
taking a pet for treatment, vaccinations and tests for ailments more
serious than this parasite, but as soon as they see a segment in the
feces, that pet can't get into the office soon enough.
However disgusting it may be finding one of these segments, this is the
best form of diagnosis there is since the eggs may not be found upon
microscopic examination of the feces by your veterinarian. The reason
being is that the nature of the worm's ability to carry the eggs inside
the segments and are not laid in the stool as are other worm's eggs,
which is how most intestinal worms are diagnosed.
The good news is that tapeworms are not passed directly from pet to pet,
but require an intermediate host in which to develop. It is not
transmitted by direct contact but by ingestion of an intermediate host
either while eating or grooming. The bad news is that the common
intermediate hosts are fleas and small animals, such as mice, rats,
squirrels, and rabbits. Fish are the intermediate host for one type of
tapeworm, but this type is only occasionally seen in domesticated pets.
Treatment for the most common form of tapeworms in pets can be treated
by a single injection or oral dosage available at your local
veterinarian's office (over-the-counter medications are not effective
against tapeworms). Recent studies, stated by Ohio State University,
have shown that the efficacy rate is better in oral medication than in
the injectable, though both are acceptable forms of treatment. As you
may know, some animals especially cats, just don't like taking pills and
the quantity of pills needed for a large dog increases the expense. This
dose will destroy the tapeworms within 24-48 hrs that are in the body at
the time of dosage. Unlike other medication for different intestinal
worms that have to be redosed in two weeks, this does not, because of
that unique characteristic of the eggs being in the segments, thereby
killing the eggs at the same time.
Now, this does not mean that a pet will not get reinfected. In fact, if
you do not eliminate the intermediate hosts (fleas, etc.) then you may
experience the whole cycle again in as little as two weeks.
Control of the environment is the key.
1. Fleas must be eliminated from both the pet and the environment,
preferably before bringing them home from the vet.
2. Apply a flea control to your pet but check with your vet as to which
they recommend since improper or prolonged usage to most flea products
can cause health problems.
3. Don't forget to treat the inside and outside, especially the bedding
area with a flea control.
4. If your pet is a hunter at heart, don't allow them to eat small
rodents or raw fish.
5. For maintenance, use a fine tooth flea comb to inspect for infestation and to destroy
stragglers. Remember, even one infected flea can cause tapeworms. You
may find it useful to dip the flea comb in rubbing alcohol to stun the
fleas (unless you're very fast). Though this may not be advised for
6. A vitamin supplement may help your pet restore what nutrients
were lost to the tapeworms. Your vet may even give an injectable vitamin
to help boost a pet's system more rapidly.
Notify the Doctor if Any of the Following Occur:
* Your pet vomits or has diarrhea.
* Tapeworm segments are still seen after the prescribed treatment.
* Your pet continues to lose weight.
* Your pet continues to have hair loss.
Tapeworms are a frustrating and disgusting ailment because fleas are
usually involved. Perseverance usually pays off but it's not an easy nor
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