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PostSubject: Tapeworms   Sun Jul 01, 2007 8:56 am

There are various types of tapeworm that can affect dogs. The most common is called Dipylidium caninum (the flea tapeworm). The most serious from the human point of view is Echinococcus granulosus (the hydatid tapeworm).

Tapeworms consist of a head part, which attaches to the lining of the dog’s intestine and a body, and numerous segments which hang into the inside of the dog’s gut. The flea tapeworm is quite large (up to 50cm) and its segments can often be seen in dog droppings, which resemble small melon seeds and will often move about. The hydatid tapeworm is much smaller (4-6 cm) and the segments in the dog’s droppings cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Tapeworms have a complicated life cycle. Adult tapeworms shed segments with the dog’s droppings from time to time. These segments are full of fertile eggs. Unlike most other worms, tapeworms must go through a development stage in another animal (an intermediate host) before they can re-infect the dog.

The flea tapeworm’s intermediate host is the dog flea. When flea larvae feed on the droppings of infected dogs, they take in the tapeworm eggs that develop into cysts inside the flea. When a dog nibbles at its fleas it will occasionally swallow one – if this flea has tapeworm cysts they hatch out and develop into adult tapeworms in the dog’s intestine.

The intermediate host of the hydatid tapeworm is one of a number of farm animals including sheep, cattle and pigs. Man can also act as an intermediate host as we will discuss below. When grazing animals graze areas of grass contaminated with the droppings of hydatid tapeworm infected dogs, they will pick up the eggs of the tapeworm from the contaminated droppings. Once inside the grazing animal, these eggs will develop into large cysts called hydatids, which usually occur in the offal (i.e. the liver, the lungs, etc.) of the intermediate host. If a dog should then eat the offal from an animal containing hydatids it will become infected with adult hydatid tapeworms. It takes about six weeks for a new hydatid tapeworm infection in the dog to start laying eggs.

Unless present in very large numbers, tapeworms do not usually cause a great deal of discomfort to dogs. However, the segments passed by the flea tapeworm may cause irritation of the dog’s tail and cause the dog to rub its bottom along the grounds.

There is no risk to humans from the flea tapeworm but the hydatid tapeworm may present a considerable public health problem. As mentioned previously, man can act as an intermediate host for this tapeworm if he picks up eggs from an infected dog. These eggs will develop into cysts or hydatids in the organs of the human, in the same way that they will in the cattle or other intermediate host. If hydatids develop in the lungs, the liver or the heart of an infected human, severe disease can result and may only be cured by surgery. It is important to realize that it is the hydatid, which affects man, not the adult worm. So eating hydatids in the offal of a cow cannot infect man, but he can become infected by picking up eggs from the droppings of dogs. Because rural dogs are most likely to have access to infected offal, hydatid tapeworm infection is mainly a problem in rural areas. However, the increasing practice of feeding untreated offal to urban dogs means that the incidence of hydatid tapeworm in urban dogs is probably also increasing. The urban dog owner should also be alert to the dangers.

The flea tapeworm can best be controlled in dogs by a combination of careful flea control and regular treatments for the dog. Twice yearly treatment with a drug that is effective against all tapeworms will normally be sufficient for most dogs. One should always read the full instructions on all medications before use and make sure they cover the issue of concern.

The hydatid tapeworm is probably best avoided by not feeding on uncooked offal or feeding it to their animals. Where this practice is carried out or access to offal cannot be avoided, it is important that dogs should be treated every six weeks with a suitable drug to prevent the buildup of hydatid tapeworms. The risk will be considerably reduced if offal is thoroughly cooked or boiled before being fed.

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