San Marcos Vet Speaks: Fleas and Tapeworms

Many people don’t realize that fleas are a host to several other parasites, the most common of which is tapeworm. Clinically tapeworms can be difficult to diagnose without actually seeing the proglottid because the eggs are encapsulated within the proglottid and are rarely shed alone in the feces. This makes them unlikely to show up on a fecal float. Also, most dogs and cats will be clinically normal. Occasionally pets may scoot, have difficulty gaining weight, and have loose stools or diarrhea. Most pets will simply have fleas, and then owners will see small rice-like granules on bedding or coming out of the anus. Prevention of tapeworm is as simple as keeping your pet on flea control that kills the adult flea year-round.

To better understand how fleas can cause tapeworms in pets it is important to understand the Tapeworm Lifecycle…

Let’s start with the dog or cat that is currently infected with Adult Tapeworms. Adult Tapeworms live in the small intestine of the host and can reach up to 60 cm in length. Adult tapeworms produce egg packets called proglottids which make their way out of the intestines and are passed in the stool. Proglottids are small (about the size of a grain of rice), and white in coloration. The eggs will finally be released into the environment to be eaten by the flea larvae. Within the flea larvae the tapeworm eggs will undergo several changes, first it will become a oncosphere, which will penetrate the flea intestine wall, and invade the flea body cavity. As the flea matures into an adult the tapeworm will became a cysticercoid. When the infected adult flea jumps onto the cat or dog host it causes the pet it itch and bite at the area where the flea is – causing the infected flea to be ingested by the host. The Cysticercoid then will travel into the small intestines, where it will reach maturity in about one month. It is possible for humans to become infected by tapeworms as well, however usually it is only seen in children.


Commonly Asked Questions About Tapeworms:

How did my pet get tapeworm?

The way pets get tapeworms is by ingestion of a flea that is infected with tapeworm while grooming, itching or biting at the area where the flea is. Once the infected flea is ingested it takes about 30 days for it to mature into the adult worm.

How do I know if my pet has tapeworms?

Tapeworms rarely cause clinical illness in dogs and cats, so usually we find out that pets have tapeworms by owners seeing small rice-like granules (the proglottids) crawling around the anus or on pet’s bedding.  In rare or very heavy infestations weight loss may occur. Some pets will also “scoot” because the proglottids are irritating the anal area.

Can people get tapeworms from their pets?

It is very rare for a human to get tapeworm, however it can occur. In order for a person to get tapeworm they must swallow the infected flea.

How is tapeworm treated?

Pets are given a simple dewormer called praziquantel that comes in either pill or injectable form. This medication should dissolve the tapeworms within the intestine, however it will not kill the fleas – so we also recommend that pets are placed on a flea preventative that kills adult fleas.

How can tapeworm infections be prevented?

Keeping your pet on flea control year-round should prevent tapeworms. According to the Center for Disease Control young children should not places soiled with animal feces, and children should always wash their hands after playing with pets.

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