Far more commonly they are simply just easy riders that have suddenly come into a pet owner's awareness.
Let us single out and regard the infamous tapeworm, which our pets can easily acquire. In looking at the tapeworms which affect dogs and cats, we may illuminate some of the myths, fears and false perceptions about this type of intestinal worm in our pets.
Tapeworms are a very common, worldwide intestinal parasite of dogs and cats. Yet rarely, if ever, do our pets become debilitated in any way from tapeworms. Therefore ill health, weight loss, diarrhea, abdominal distention, scooting or vomiting are problems very unlikely to be due to tapeworms.
Tapeworms then, are usually just an incidental finding made either by the owner or their veterinarian, and almost never are the underlying cause of medical problems. They are not a family emergency.
In order to diagnose, eradicate and then to effectively prevent tapeworm infestations, we must look at the life cycle of the tapeworm to understand a few important things. Let's enter into the cycle at the point where our pets acquire a tapeworm.
By far most tapeworms are acquired by our pets when they ingest a flea. This will typically occur while our pets are doing their daily, routine self-grooming. And, this is not ingesting any old flea; it must be a flea which is carrying within it the microscopically tiny, infective stage of the immature tapeworm.
Only this form of the immature stage of the tapeworm, carried within an adult flea, is infective. This is the only stage in the tapeworm's life where it is able to attach onto the wall of the small intestine of a canine or feline host – your pet – and develop into a new tapeworm. One could gobble the adult forms of the tapeworm all day long and never get a tapeworm! Perhaps you will choose to accept this on faith. The adult tapeworm within your pet and the segments it releases are not infective!
Starting when the microscopic infective form of the immature tapeworm existing within a carrier flea is ingested, it attaches onto the wall of the intestine, and a young tapeworm begins growing and developing to become a chain of segments. The segments are called proglottids. These proglottid segments are each muscular capsules which contain hundreds of sticky little tapeworm eggs. Typically it takes a month from the time of the swallowing of a carrier flea until a tapeworm is established and developed enough to be an adult tapeworm.
The adult tapeworm can be thought of as being a 12 –18 inch long chain of proglottids. The oldest of the segments, those on the ‘tail' of the tapeworm, are released into the intestine to eventually emerge from the rectum by themselves. They also can emerge by riding along on the surface of a fresh stool. At this point the proglottids (segments) look much like a grain of rice that can squirm, changing shape and is able to move about. During the time after being “born,” these segments begin squeezing out the hundreds of tapeworm eggs within. Note that the adult tapeworm is usually unseen; it remains attached inside the host.
The released segments, now out in the dog or cat's environment, and the eggs within, are not infective to anyone. But they are a delicious meal (really!) to the pupal and larval fleas who consume the eggs. This is an important meal – this is when the tapeworm egg gets into a maturing stage of the flea. Hungry for tapeworm eggs, the flea pupae and larvae are living anywhere your pet goes: in the grass, in the rug, in the pet's bedding, on your furniture – as well as some that live in the fur coat of your pet. And, these areas are where the microscopic tapeworm eggs have dropped, having been dispensed by the contractions of the proglottid segments.
The pupal and larval fleas will develop to be adult fleas while, within, the delicious tapeworm eggs themselves will also be hatching and developing toward their pre-adult tapeworm infective stage. After a period of a few weeks, we have an adult flea, and within, the infective form of the immature tapeworm - able to hook onto the intestinal wall of your pet. Locked and loaded.
We have arrived. The set up is in place: adult fleas packing the infective form of the tapeworm within are now subject to being swallowed by your pet grooming itself. The cycle is complete.
In similar fashion, other of the less common types of tapeworms found in our dogs and cats are acquired by pets who hunt rodents or rabbits and then go on to consume the rabbit's or rodent's intestinal contents. These rodent and rabbit intestinal contents may potentially contain the microscopic infective form of the several other, less common types of tapeworms that can parasitize our pets who hunt and consume their kill.
The important common factor here as to how our dogs and cats can acquire tapeworms is to realize that to get a tapeworm infestation, our pets must consume the ‘intermediate host', an intermediate host that is infested with the infective phase /forms of the immature tape worm. Again, our pets must ingest an intermediate host that is a carrier - this is the required eating to obtain tapeworms.
This required eating concept is important, it informs us that dogs and cats cannot ‘catch' tapeworms from other dogs and cats; humans, particularly children cannot catch tape worms from your dog or cat: every pet that gets tapeworms has to go out and get it on their own, they must perform the very specific required eating.
All photos are owner submitted from the Humane Society of the United States Spay Day 2011 owner submitted Photo Contest
Woods Rafter Cat Image on Banner by Malcolm Riordan.