Common Tapeworms: What you need to know (Sponsored by Virbac)

Common Tapeworms: What you need to know (Sponsored by Virbac)

The Experts

Byron Blagburn, MS, PhD, Department of Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine Auburn University, Auburn, AL

Dwight Bowman, MS, PhD, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, College of Veterinary Medicine Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Jonathan Cooper, DVM, PhD, Co-Owner, Westbury Animal Hospital Houston, TX

Kevin Kazacos, DVM, PhD, Department of Comparative Pathobiology, School of Veterinary Medicine Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Susan Little, DVM, PhD, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, Center for Veterinary Health Sciences Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK

What's Inside:

  • Prevalence and life cycles
  • Infection in pets and people
  • Treatment and prevention
  • Client education

Tapeworm infection:

It's often overlooked, underdiagnosed, and undertreated in dogs and cats throughout the United States. To reverse this trend, it's imperative that veterinarians and their team members understand and thoroughly educate clients about the risk of tapeworm zoonoses and the importance of prevention. This Q&A, moderated by Dr. Byron Blagburn, examines the prevalence and life cycle of common tapeworms and discusses strategies the veterinary team can use to manage and prevent infection.

Q: What is the most common tapeworm species, and what is its life cycle?

Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)
Susan Little: Dipylidium caninum is the most common tapeworm in North American dogs and cats. As most veterinary professionals know, it is acquired by ingesting infected fleas. A dog or cat with a Dipylidium caninum adult in its small intestine sheds egg-filled proglottids in its feces, and those proglottids in the environment are consumed by flea larvae. As the flea larva matures into an adult flea, the tapeworm egg develops into an infectious cysticercoid. When a dog or cat ingests the adult flea, the cysticercoid emerges in the animal's small intestine. The protoscolex attaches to the wall of the small intestine, where the adult tapeworm forms. It is a rapid process. Within two to three weeks of ingesting an infected flea, a dog or cat can shed proglottids in its feces.

Byron Blagburn: Would the same process occur if a small child happened to ingest a flea?

Preventing zoonotic infections
Little: Yes. Dipylidium tapeworms can develop and produce proglottids in a child when that child inadvertently ingests a flea containing the cysticercoid. The tapeworm will continue to develop in that child's small intestine, and the parents may find proglottids in the diaper or on the anus.