Tapeworms are long, segmented flat worms that live out their adult lives in the host’s intestinal tract. Often there’s no obvious evidence of the presence of these parasites until one or more of the segments, sometimes still wiggling, shows up under an animal’s tail. Tapeworms may also be passed along with feces or may crawl out of the anus and trigger anal itching.
Tapeworm Lifecycle Basics
Tapeworms can be transmitted from one pet to another, but only through an intermediate host, typically a flea, louse, rodent or other animal. To get there, the worm eggs are passed out of an infected host into the environment and end up being eaten by an intermediate host. The eggs hatch and develop into larvae that are ready to move on to a final host. When a definitive or final host animal swallows a flea or rodent that’s carrying tapeworm larvae, the worms move into the host’s intestines and mature into adult worms that will eventually begin shedding eggs and repeating the life cycle.
Tapeworm Feeding Methods
Tapeworms attach themselves to the inner lining of the definitive host’s small intestine. They don’t have mouths to hold on with, but they have an arrangement of suckers and hooks that lets them latch on and bury their heads in the intestinal lining. When a worm is in place, the host’s partially digested food flows over him, and the tapeworm absorbs necessary nutrients through his skin. If the parasite steals enough food from the host, the animal may begin to show signs of illness or other problems.
Consequences of Tapeworm Infestation
Tapeworms can cause many problems for the host, but the seriousness of the trouble is directly related to the quantity of parasites present. In general, the symptoms of tapeworms are mild unless the infestation is severe. It takes fewer worms to cause problems in young animals than it does when infecting a healthy adult. Possible symptoms of a significant tapeworm infestation include poor coat or hair quality, diarrhea, abdominal pain, malnutrition, weakness and unexplained weight loss.
Getting Rid of Tapeworms
Tapeworms are not as easy to get rid of as many other types of parasites, and typically it takes prescription medication from a veterinarian to remove the pests. According to the PetMD web site, you’re wasting your money if you try over-the-counter medicines. Drugs such as praziquantel, fenbendazole or epsiprantel are commonly used to remove tapeworms. Controlling fleas and keeping pets indoors can help to keep them from getting infected.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats
- Pet Informed: Flea Tapeworm Lifecycle
- WebMD: Worms in Cats -- An Infection of Intestinal Parasites
- PetMD: Intestinal Worms in Dogs (And Cats) 101
- Drs. Foster and Smith: Pet Education -- Tapeworms
- University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine: How Do Dogs Get Worms?
- Duncan Smith/Stockbyte/Getty Images