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Have you noticed a flat half-inch long worm or longer crawling from your dog or cat's anal area or have you noticed what appears to be dried rice or cucumber seeds on the coat of your pet in the perineal area (body area surrounding the anal, and vaginal openings)? Then your pet may be suffering from an infection with tapeworms.
Two types of tapeworm affect dogs and cats; Dipylidium caninum and Taenia species. Dipylidium is the more common type of tapeworm found in dogs and cats. Adult tapeworms of either species are found in the small intestine of their host.
Dipylidium worms will shed small segments called proglottids (packets of 20 to 40 eggs) in the stool. Once in the environment, these proglottids are consumed by flea larvae. As the flea larva matures, so does the egg of the tapeworm, eventually developing into its infective form called a cysticercoid. The dog or cat will ingest the flea while grooming itself. The cysticercoid will then emerge in the pet's small intestine where it attaches to the wall of the small intestine and an adult worm develops. Dipylidium may become zoonotic if a person ingests a flea containing the cysticercoid.
This is occasionally seen in children when pets are severely flea infested. The prevalence of Dipylidium depends on the severity of a flea infestation in a particular area.
Taenia pisiformis tapeworms are spread via small mammals and birds rather than fleas. Dogs and cats shed the Taenia proglottids in their feces and other mammals pick up the tapeworm cysticercoid by ingestion of the eggs. The eggs hatch in that small mammal where the tapeworm cysticercoid migrates into the body organs usually the liver and forms large fluid-filled cysts. The dog or cat becomes infected by hunting and consuming the liver containing the larvae. The larva then develops into an adult tapeworm which attaches to the intestinal wall of the new host. Dogs most commonly pick up Taenia from infected rabbits or squirrels while cats obtain it from affected mice.
Most people identify tapeworms as a segmented flatworm located on top of a stool sample, crawling out of the anal area, or on the coat of the perineal area. Proglottids are shed intermittedly and will therefore not appear on every stool sample. Routine fecal exams may not diagnose a tapeworm infection due to intermittent shedding.
Clinical signs of infection may be nonexistent. Scooting and pruritis around the anal area are common complaints with tapeworm infection. In most cases, the infection is fairly benign and owners just notice the tapeworm segments passing out in the stool. Young puppies or kittens may have fatal infections if they become impacted.
Tapeworms may be prevented through vigilant flea control and prevention of opportunistic hunting in pets. Due to the importance of environmental treatment for fleas, retreatment for tapeworms at 3 to 4 week intervals may be necessary.
Drugs used to treat tapeworms include: praziquantel, epsiprantel, and emodepside. Praziquantel is found in Drontal® Plus for Dogs, Drontal® for Cats, Droncit® Canine, Droncit® Feline, and Profender® all marketed by Bayer Animal Health. Epsiprantel is used in Cestex® manufactured by Zoetis Animal Health and Profender®, contains emodepside in addition to praziquantel marketed by Bayer Animal Health.
1. Roundtable Discussion. "Tapeworms Overlooked, Underdiagnosed and Undertreated", Virbac Animal Health. 2006. 2. Kazacos, Kevin. Dealing with Tapeworms in Dogs. Managing Parasite Threats Today. Vol. 2. Bayer Parasite Solutions. Pp. 12-13.