Tapeworms

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The PetStuff Online Newsletter
Volume 1 Issue 5  September 10, 1999


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"Those Disgusting Tapeworms"

Nothing can compare to the disgust or repulsion pet owners experience when they find a slimy, white tapeworm segment stuck on their favorite easy chair or bed soon after the dog or cat gets up.  When we examine a pet we always peek under the tail to make sure nothing is sticking to the hairs around the anus.  This is the world of the tapeworms. Although they don't cause lots of damage in the pets, tapeworms sure are gross and disgusting to pet owners. Tapeworms are the worms we see!

The various species of tapeworms
You will notice in the images below that tapeworms use an "intermediate host" to accomplish transmission from one dog or cat to another.  There are three common species that affect dogs and cats: Dipylidium caninum which can infect dogs, cats and people uses the flea larva as an intermediate host; Taenia pisiformis which infects dogs uses the rabbit; Taenia taeniaeformis which infects cats uses the rat or mouse. To make a long story short, if you can keep your pet from eating fleas, rabbit, mouse or rat viscera it won't get a tapeworm. The intermediate host is required.

Life of the Tapeworm
In the images below I have labeled the scolex or head end of the tapeworm. The scolex has a little sucker and or hooks which grasp onto the wall of the small intestine of the dog or cat. Behind the scolex are individual segments joined together to form the length of the worm, much like a beaded chain. These segments are called proglottids. Each individual proglottid is a separate reproductive unit. They each contain ovaries and ducts leading to a tiny pore on their surface. Any number of proglottids can break free from the scolex and pass with the feces. We often see them mixed with feces - they appear as little white, rice grains if individual or if chained together they are flat appearing like a shoe-string. These individual units are mobile and can move around on the ground or worse yet on furniture in the house.   As they move they squeeze out little packets of 6 to 12 eggs all nicely cemented together. Flea larva love eating these eggs (a delicacy). The eggs are also laid on grass or vegetation and are consumed by rabbits, mice or rats. The egg hatches within the intermediate hosts and becomes an infective stage for dogs and cats.   When a dog or cat eats the flea or intestines of the rat or mouse the immature tapeworm scolex attaches to the wall of the small intestine and begins growing its' own chain of proglottids. The lifecycle then can repeat anew as the proglottids break free and pass with the feces.  The images below will make the lifecycle easier to understand.

TapeDipylidium.JPG (91468 bytes)

TapeTaenia.JPG (81184 bytes)

 

What are the signs of a Tapeworm infestation?
Most tapeworm infestations go totally unnoticed. We rarely ever know unless we find a segment on the couch or see them in the feces. In other cases, we can hear a "rumbly tummy syndrome" where the animal undergoes increased intestinal motility, cramping and sometimes gas. We can also see diarrhea streaked with mucous, but most of the time tapeworms don't cause problems that we are aware of.

How are Tapeworms diagnosed?
Unlike other intestinal parasites of the dog or cat, tapeworms don't lay eggs inside the pet.  For that reason, when veterinarians perform fecal floatations looking for parasite eggs, tapeworms are often overlooked. We usually have to see the segments stuck to the hairs around the anus, or in the feces or environment to diagnose tapeworms.

How are Tapeworms treated?
Most over-the-counter wormers won't affect a tapeworm.  In the "old days" it was rather difficult to rid a pet of tapeworms. Purgatives were used that caused violent contractions of the intestine in attempts to physically flush the worm free.  These were the wormers that caused severe diarrhea when administered; since they didn't get rid of the scolex they were very ineffective. The modern tapeworm medications work on a different principal.  They cause the tapeworm to lose their protective layer and they are simply digested.    We never see them pass; they just disappear.  Personally we use a medication called Droncit® to deworm dogs and cats.

How do you control tapeworm infestations?
Sometimes it is difficult to keep tapeworms from reoccurring over and over again. First of all you need to get rid of the fleas.  We use Frontline TopSpot to effectively rid the pet of flea infestations. This takes care of the Dipylidium species which uses the flea as an intermediate host.    Where we have problems is with the cats that are hunters. They often get the Taenia species which use the mouse as an intermediate host. With these pets, it is often necessary to prophylactically worm two or more times a year.

Can people get tapeworms?
Not generally.  On very rare occasions, children have been infected with Dipylidium species by swallowing a flea accidentally. It generally causes tremendous cramping and discomfort. Totally unrelated to dogs and cats are the tapeworms that people are getting from eating Sushi or raw fish. There are certain species of tapeworms that use the fish as an intermediate host. If food is cooked properly there is no worry.

Be Safe - Be Sure - Have Your Vet Check Your Pet's Feces for Intestinal Worms Twice a Year!

Next Week

September 17th - Demodex Mites & The Red Mange
September 24th - Sarcoptic Mange - You can get it!
October 1st - Anal Sac Disease & Scooting

A Little Pet Humor in Closing

Rules For Cats

Games
1. Catch Mouse: The humans would have you believe that those lumps under the covers are their feet and hands.  They are lying. They are actually Bed Mice, rumored to be the most delicious of all the mice in the world, though no Cat has ever been able to catch one. Rumor also has it that only the most ferocious attack can stun them long enough for you to dive under the covers to get them. Maybe YOU can be the first to taste the Bed Mouse.

2. Tube Mouse: This is a game played in the bathroom. Next to the Big White Drinking Bowl is a roll of soft white paper which is artfully attached to the wall so it can spin. Inside this roll is the Tube Mouse. When you grab the paper, the Tube Mouse will spin frantically as it tries to escape from you. When the Mouse is exposed, it dies of fright and stops spinning. But that's OK because you now have a great new toy to pounce on, play with and shred!    Part two of this game is to make the angry Human think the other Cat did it. This is related to another fun game, "Snowstorm", in which you try to make it look like a blizzard has occured in the room. You can track shreds all over the house for greater enjoyment. Be warned that this variant often results in the coming of the Vacuum Monster!

Rules for Dogs

Food
Bubbles in the bubble bath are not food.
Caterpillars are not crawling hors d'oeurves.
Dogs do not like jalapeno peppers. I am a dog.
For at least 24 hours prior to any road trip with my humans I will abstain from eating: Almond rocca from the cat box, any rodent (or portion there of), used Barbie beds, or anything that is apt to give me diarrhea.
I will desist from flipping the kitchen trash lid up each time I walk by to check for a snack.
I will not conspire with the cat to get the roast thawing on the windowsill.
I will not eat Duraflame logs. I already have enough fiber in my diet.
I will not get a mouthful of kibble and dribble it across the kitchen, dining room and living room floor just so Mom (who is reading in the living room) can see me eat.
When I am through eating, it is not necessary to turn my bowl on it's side.
When I drink water, I will remember to swallow.

Credits
Images used in this publication taken from Hill's Atlas of Clinical Anatomy, Published by Veterinary Medicine Publishing Company, Inc.   A publication donated to veterinarians by the Hill's Pet Food Company to teach clients about their dogs and cats in sickness and in health.   Hill's Pet Food Company produces Hill's Prescription Diets and Science Diet Premium Pet Food.

Have A Nice Weekend

Later,  Dr Dan