There are always those stories. The ones about tapeworms several feet long infesting a pet… and even the occasional tale of a tapeworm infecting a human. But what is the likelihood of these or other extreme scenarios? In brief: they are not very likely. There are exceptions, but in general, tapeworms probably won’t cause your pets much distress if they do acquire the parasites. Still, you want to avoid or be rid of tapeworms to ensure your pet and your home is healthy and safe.
To help you achieve worm-free bliss, it helps to know some key facts about tapeworms and their relation to cats and dogs.
1. Just because there are no symptoms doesn’t mean you’re clear
Parasites often live a quiet life. Tapeworms can grow inside your pet’s intestine unnoticed for a long period of time. As the infestation becomes worse, you may begin to see signs of a problem such as weight loss or irritability, but until then, you can miss their presence unless you or your veterinarian are regularly checking your pet’s feces for signs of tapeworms (excreted segments of a tapeworm’s body and/or tapeworm eggs).
2. Fleas and rodents are often to blame
By keeping your pet flea-free and away from rats or other rodents, you can better protect your dog or cat from tapeworms. All those dirty nuisances are intermediate hosts for tapeworms, so they carry tapeworm eggs that your pet may ingest when they kill or attack a flea or prey. The eggs then hatch inside your pet and the tapeworm finds a home in the intestine until you can get rid of it.
3. Tapeworms can enter humans
In most cases, tapeworms will not infect humans. When this does occur, it is usually a child who acquires the tapeworm by accidentally ingesting a tapeworm that has been excreted by a pet. This can happen when the child is rolling around with a cat or dog, while playing in a sandbox where a pet has been, or by picking up a piece of stool left in a yard or other setting. People can develop a serious illness if they become infected with the tapeworm Echinoccus granulosus. Pets can acquire this tapeworm by eating uncooked meat from an infected animal.
4. Good hygiene is essential
The best defense against tapeworms is good hygiene. Whether you are trying to protect your family from acquiring a pet’s worms, want to avoid reinfestation, or hope to never have to deal with the issue to start with, the secret is cleanliness. Specifically, you should clean litter boxes daily, check yards for feces, and clean other places where pets’ feces may have been left.
5. The medication is toxic
What makes deworming medications so effective is the fact that they are toxic to tapeworms. In doses beyond what has been prescribed, these medications may also be toxic to your pet. Be aware if your pet has diarrhea or begins vomiting after starting the medication for tapeworms. These signs can be normal side effects to the drugs, but they can also occur if your pet is having a toxic reaction. If you notice these problems, alert your veterinarian right away.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.
More on Preventing Tapeworms:
Getting Rid of Fleas
How to Kill Fleas in the Yard