Can My Pet Get Tapeworms from a Flea?
Your pet runs a risk of contracting a tapeworm from ingesting a flea. The lifecycles of tapeworms include fleas as a required step to continue their existence.
Tapeworms are made of proglottids (segments) including a head and neck, and are typically flat. The head contains small grooves and suckers that allow for attachment to the intestinal tract. It is important to note that each segment of the tapeworm contains its own reproductive organs. Hence, each segment contains a large number of tapeworm eggs. The mature segments will be shed and are often seen in the feces as small particles resembling rice.
The Tapeworm Life Cycle
The tapeworm has a specific design for the infection of pets. Typically, the tapeworm eggs are ingested by flea larvae. These flea larvae develop into mature adult fleas. If one of these fleas happens to be on your pet, and then ingested by your pet, the tapeworm can live within the digestive system and mature. As the tapeworm matures, it will shed segments that contain eggs in the stool of your pet. This creates the presence of eggs within the environment that can once again be eaten by flea larvae, starting the cycle over.
The Tapeworm and Fleas
Looking at the life cycle of the tapeworm, it is obvious that the flea has an important role in the process of a tapeworm infection. The tapeworm infection requires the involvement and presence of an intermediate host, the flea. The vast majority of all tapeworm infections in pets are caused by fleas.
There are several types of tapeworms that can infect pets. These types all follow a similar life cycle. The most commonly known types of tapeworms are:
- Diphyllobothrium latum
- Dipylidium caninum
- Echinococcus granulosus
- Echinococcus multiocularis
- Spirometra mansonoides
- Taenia species
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Tapeworm Infections?
While tapeworms are not typically harmful to your pet, they do have a few signs and symptoms that are commonly associated with their presence. The most common sign and use for diagnosis is the presence of crawling proglottids. These proglottids are the segments shed by the tapeworm that contains reproductive organs. It is possible for tapeworms to cause weight loss or signs of debilitation in pets if there are large numbers present. One sign of the presence of tapeworms is when a dog or cat drags or scoots their bottom across the floor, due to the irritation felt in their anus. However, this type of behavior is much more common in dogs than in cats.
Are Tapeworms Contagious to Humans?
Humans can become infected with tapeworms, but it is only possible for specific types of tapeworms to infect humans. The most likely candidate that can infect both humans and pets are known as Dipylidium caninum, though the risk is quite small. Another type of tapeworm that can infect both humans and pets is known as Echinococcus. This tapeworm, if left untreated, can cause serious side effects in humans as they are responsible for increased rates of secondary infections. Also, there are many human specific types of tapeworms.
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