A Message from the Vet - March 2012

It's an ugly subject, but a common topic of conversation at all veterinary clinics: Worms. There are several species of worms that affect our furry friends. The most common worm we see in practice is Dipylidium caninum, also known as the flea tapeworm. It usually starts with a grossed out owner who frantically calls concerned about the potential risk to their pet as well as other family members. The good news is that these parasites can be simply treated, and the life stage that we see (little wriggling rice-like worms) is not infective. There is no way to be infected with Dipylidium caninum except by ingesting an infected flea.

Once an infected flea is swallowed by a mammal, the tapeworm larvae find a good place to attach and begin absorbing nutrients from the host mammal (usually your dog or cat). As the tapeworm grows, it begins to produce segments. These segments are packets filled with eggs. Because the eggs stay in these "packets", the eggs often do not show up as a positive test result when a fecal sample is inspected microscopically at the lab. Instead, we rely on owners to visualize these segments coming out of the pet's back end or seen in the bedding. They appear the size of rice grains and move at first, though eventually they dry out and open up to release the eggs.

Like we mentioned before, these eggs are not infective to mammals at this stage. The tapeworm eggs need to be eaten by flea larvae and mature within the flea into the infective stage of the tapeworm. When the flea is swallowed by a host (usually during grooming)m, the cycle begins all over again! Check out the life cycle diagram below.

It takes three weeks from ingestion of the flea to see the tapeworm segments. Managing tapeworms involves consistent flea control as well as de-worming medication. Often times we will do two treatments to give the owner more time to get the fleas under control.

It is important to note that there are many other worms that may be a human health concern. Here at Kailua Animal Clinic, stool samples are a regular part of our wellness exams. This test helps to detect potentially harmful parasites early to avoid any health risks to the pet, the owner, and other animals or people. If you have any concerns regarding parasites, call us to see what you can do to protect you and your family.

Candice Denham, DVM

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