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.
The Tapeworm Life Cycle
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 and Taenia), though this is less common.
The life cycle of a tapeworm can seem quite complicated. This is largely because it requires an intermediate host (flea) as well as one definitive host (dog and/or cat).The body of an adult tapeworm is made of hundreds of segments. These segments, called proglottids, vary in size and maturity. Segments nearest the head of the tapeworm are tiny and less mature than those at the end.
The tapeworm life cycle begins as segments are shed and voided from the body of the definitive host. These segments resemble rice or sesame seeds and contain eggs which are then eaten by flea larvae. Once inside the flea larvae these eggs hatch. As the flea develops into an adult, it will begin feeding on the blood of your pet. Fleas are then ingested while your cat and/or dog is grooming. Once the flea is broken down inside the stomach through the natural process of digestion, the tapeworm is released.The tapeworm then hooks itself onto the small intestinal wall of the definitive host where it begins to absorb nutrients through its skin. They typically develop into adulthood in 2 to 36 weeks and the cycle begins again.
Tapeworms are hermaphrodites. This means that they have both female and male reproductive systems. Fertilization is internal, however, the developing eggs do not hatch until they are eaten by a suitable intermediate host.
There are two species of tapeworm commonly found in cats. These are Dipylidium 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 and Spirometra 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 is Diphylidium caninum. Dogs that eat rabbits and rodents may also become infected with Taenia pisiformis. Other tapeworm species capable of infecting canines are the Echinococcus, 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
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.
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.
Large numbers of tapeworms in the intestinal tract of your dog or cat can result in the malabsorption of nutrients. Animials 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.
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.
You may ask yourself how someone can accidentally ingest tapeworm eggs. The primary mode by which humans have become infected with a tapeworm is through improper handling of animal feces. There have also been rare reports of children infected after accidental ingestion of fleas. Treatment to destroy and/or prevent tapeworms is critical to preventing transmission to humans.
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:
- Take your pet to the vet promptly if you suspect they have tapeworms
- Clean up after you pet, particularly in areas such as public parks and playgrounds.
- Do not allow children to play in areas that have been soiled with feces by your pet or any other animals.
- Teach your child to always wash their hands after playing with your pet and other animals.
- See you doctor promptly if you suspect your child has been infected.
Natural Flea Remedies
Because tapeworms are carried by fleas, recurrences are likely unless the overall flea problem is addressed.
- Garlic or sulphur - For dogs adding garlic or sulfur to meals may help keep them flea free.
- Black Walnut Hulls - Can often be found in capsule form at many health food stores. May repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes if given to your pet.
- Herbal Shampoo containing a combination of pine cedar, bergamot, rosemary, lavender, or juniper.
- Lemon Solution - When used to wash floors lemon solutions have been shown to successfully keep fleas away.
Natural Tapeworm Treatment For Dogs and Cats
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.
- Garlic - The anti-microbal properties of garlic are believed to be effective in fighting bacteria, infection, and internal parasites such as tapeworms. Adding powdered garlic to your dogs food may, therefore, be a great way to aid in dispelling any bothersome parasites such as tapeworms. Beware of using garlic with cats as it is said to be toxic by some. Others have successful used garlic with their cats without incident.
- Wormwood - This natural remedy should only be used under the supervision of an expert. Wormwood should only be used for very short periods of time and in very low dosages. It is believed to be a digestive tonic and use of the herb may expel tapeworms.
- Fennel - Believed to improve the immune system and to expel tapeworms
- Pumpkin Seeds - Freshly ground white pumpkin seeds added to your pets food is believed to aid in the expulsion of tapeworms.
- Oregon grape - A few drops of Oregon grape tincture in your pets food may help in getting rid of tapeworms.
- What Germ Oil - A teaspoon of wheat germ oil may improve your pet's overall health as well as aid in ridding them of tapeworms.
- Cloves - Cloves have strong antiparasitic, antiseptic, and antibacterial properties. A small amount of clover powder in your pet's food may aid in ridding them of tapeworms.
- Neem - Small amounts of neem powder in your pet's meal strengthens the immune system and helps eliminate tapeworms. Neem is believed to act as a parasite repellent.
- Cayenne Pepper - Small quantities of dried cayenne pepper powder is believed to eliminate tapeworms and prevent future infections.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 21, 2015:
Informative! You have covered the safety tips here for keeping pets at bay from the such parasites.
Anusha on August 23, 2013:
it may still be working. are you ayinpplg it at least 2 days before or after bathing or getthing them wet? this can decrease the product's ability to work.also if there are fleas in the environement you are going to see them on the dog until they are killed by the frontline. treat the environement they are in and see if that helps.i use frontline, never had any problems. until a new neighbor moved in with outdoor poorly taken care of dogs. then i routinely would see dead or dying fleas on my dogs. i bought some sevin dust and sprinkled it around my yard and that was the end of the flea problem.you can try advantage. my personal opinion is it left an oily residue on my dog's coats that frontline did not. the oily spot stayed for almost 2 weeks after application. it worked fine, but i did not care for the spot on their coats and the smell of it.VA:F [1.9.20_1166]please wait...VA:F [1.9.20_1166](from 0 votes)
Maxy on August 19, 2013:
Hi, I think you can consider these 2 sbeatsncus that commonly used as insecticides to treat flea:1) Fipronil, the active ingredient for Frontline(R) Top Spot(TM), is used as a topical insecticide. Available as a concentrated liquid and spray for the treatment of fleas and ticks for dogs and cats. It's used for a wide range of pests which can include the boll weevil, plant insects, mole cricket, cockroaches, and grasshoppers. It kills fleas on contact and is supposed to be effective on your cat for one month2) Imidacloprid, the active ingredient for Advantageae Flea Control, is used as a topical ectoparasiticide (flea adulticide but not ticks), in dogs, cats and rabbits. When used as a topical solution, it kills 98% to 100% of existing fleas on cats and dogs within 24 hours (>90% within 12 hours). It is applied as a spot between the shoulder blades (10 mg/kg) on dogs and as a streak on the back of the neck on cats. A 10% spot-on formulation has been used on rabbits infected with cat fleas.there are few more but these are among the safest insecticides can be used to animals or human (if in contact). Hope this answer will help.