Published on March 23rd, 2018 | by Debbie Martin
Revolting facts about tapeworms you should but may not wish to know
While the most obvious sign that your pet has tapeworms is irritation around the anus, often indicated by your pet dragging or rubbing their behinds along the floor or aggressively licking their anus, sometimes there are no symptoms at all. However, serious tapeworm infections can cause your pet to become very ill and lose weight quickly.
Now is prime time for tapeworms as we experience milder winters and more and more pets are traveling abroad with their owners on holidays. The sharp increase in the number of urban foxes, who are a hot bed of disease and infection, are also to blame for introducing these parasites into your dog’s environment. Obviously, tapeworms are disgusting but do you know just how revolting they can be?
Food, fleas and faeces; the ways to catch tapeworms
There are many ways your pet can be infected with the parasites. The most common way pets get infected with tapeworms is by ingesting a flea which is also infected, but there are other ways to catch the parasite. Undercooked or raw meat, usually beef or pork, can contain tapeworm eggs and can be the cause of an infestation. Similarly, if your pet’s food is contaminated by faeces they can catch tapeworms. Your pet can also catch tapeworms by being in close contact with another animal or person who is also infected. In order to prevent a tapeworm infestation, regular treatment for fleas is just as important as worming treatment.
From egg to worm
Once your pet has ingested a tapeworm, it can take anywhere up to 30 days for a tapeworm egg to hatch and mature into a tapeworm, capable of latching on to the intestinal wall and producing fertile eggs of its own. This is why three-monthly worming treatment is often ineffective, you should be treating your pet much more frequently in order to disrupt the life cycle of the tapeworm.
Not too easy to budge
The head of a tapeworm, called the scolex, is covered in tiny suckers and hooks which enable it to grip onto the lining of the digestive system with tremendous strength. This is the most distinctive part of a tapeworm and one of the reasons they can be so hard to get rid of. The head of a tapeworm is rarely seen as, even when they worm has been treated and died, the head often remains attached to the hosts intestinal lining such is the grip of the evolved hooks and suction pads.
Disgustingly, the longest tapeworm ever seen was roughly the length of a London bus at a recorded length of 8.8m. Obviously, this worm was a rather large one off, but tapeworms can grow to extraordinary lengths if left untreated, making your pet feel uncomfortable and putting them off their food. For example, taenia hydatigena tapeworms, which are the type which infect dogs, can grow to a length of 5m. this may seem unlikely when you look at your pet but like us, their intestinal systems are longer then their body and a tapeworm can growth to fit the entire length.
They don’t need another tapeworm to reproduce
A single tapeworm has both male and female parts and so they do not need another worm in order to create fertile eggs. Ingesting a single egg can cause a large infection as that one worm can create many more eggs which your pet may also ingest. A tapeworm is made up of several segments which are called proglottids. These some of these segments are male and some female. The male proglottids fertilise the female proglottids which then produce eggs. These egg-filled female proglottids then detach from the tapeworm and are passed out through your pet’s anus, usually in faeces. You may see these segments in the fur around your pet’s anus or in their faeces or bedding which is often the first sign you notice that your pet has tapeworms. The female segments containing the eggs are then ingested by either your pet or another host and the cycle can start again.
They’re much older than you think
Not only do tapeworms have a much longer lifespan than you may think, they have been on this planet much longer than we have. A single tapeworm can live up to 30 years, which is the same age as the oldest dog in history, meaning a tapeworm can survive in your pet’s gut for the rest of your pet’s life if untreated. Tapeworms are also ancient. They have been around and infecting animals for millions of years. In 2013, a tapeworm was found in the fossilised faeces of a 270-million-year-old shark. That predates the first dinosaurs by 27 million years. Tapeworms are crafty and hard to get rid of so regular treatment for your pet is essential.
The worst part yet!
Each proglottid, or segment, of a tapeworm has muscles which are functional. This makes for the most revolting tapeworm fact yet. These functional muscles meant that the segments of the tapeworm can crawl. Detached proglottids may use this method of movement to crawl out of their host’s anus or out of their fur should they become stuck. It is often this movement which causes irritation around your pet’s anus causing them to scratch, lick or rub their hind quarters to try and relive the irritation. Proglottids laden with fertilised eggs will also crawl away from a pile of faeces in order to increase its chance of being ingested by another host. If not eaten, the proglottid will dry up and eventually die.
Tapeworms can be treated with a broad spectrum anti-worming medicine which should be given to your pet on a regular basis in order to disrupt the life cycle of the tapeworm. As previously mentioned, this treatment should also be complimented with regular flea treatment to ensure that your pet does not ingest a tapeworm-infected flea.