Fleas, Tapeworms and Your Pet

The arrival of Spring marks the time of year when nature's bounty again begins to show itself: Each day beings to grow in both warmth and length, subsequent rain showers become more frequent and intense, and all of the plants and animals are beginning to bloom. With the awakening that comes with spring, so too comes an increase in insect populations, and that means FLEAS!

Many people have questions pertaining to the fleas/tapeworm cycle, and how it affects their pets' health. I believe that the more clearly the pet owner understands the interrelationship between fleas and tapeworms, the better is their position to devise a plan for control of these parasites.

A pet owner is often alerted to the fact that their pet has a flea problem by the appearance of tapeworm segments in their pet's fresh stool. These flat, white, rice-like segments contain tapeworm eggs. When the tapeworm segments dry, the eggs are then released into the environment.

Your pet typically contracts tapeworms via the ingestion of a tapeworm-carrying flea, however, mice, rodents and rabbits are known to carry some types of tapeworms. If your pet thus consumes an animal that has tapeworms, it too will invariably get the parasite. Wild animals get tapeworms in much the same way, as does your pet: by the ingestion of tapeworm eggs that have been released into their environment(s).

Another visible sign that your pet has a flea problem is the appearance of FLEA DIRT in its hair and/or immediate environment (i.e. in bedding). Flea dirt appears as brown, fine, granulate matter and is often highly concentrated at the scruff of the neck and base of tail; these are areas of increased blood flow in your pet. The term flea dirt is really a misnomer because it isn't dirt at all, but instead your pet's partially digested blood, which serves as food for developing flea larvae. I have found a flea comb to be most diagnostic in your pet's potential flea problem, not through the detection of the fleas themselves, but through the collection of flea dirt produced.

The flea/tapeworm cycle and the behavior of your pet routinely follows a pattern like this:

1) Your pet comes into contact with, and subsequently ingests a tapeworm egg or tapeworm- carrying flea from its environment. This incidental consumption of a tapeworm-carrying flea often occurs when your pet is grooming or biting itself. As is mentioned above, the consumption of tapeworm-carrying prey is another avenue, which may cause a tapeworm infection in your pet.

2) After your pet ingests a tapeworm or tapeworm-carrying flea, the tapeworm matures in your pet and is released as segments upon defecation. The eggs' release not only ensures the propagation of the tapeworms themselves, but also serves as additional food for flea larvae. Developing flea larvae intern, produce tapeworm-carrying adult fleas. By understanding better the symbiotic relationship between fleas and tapeworms, a pet owner is more able to devise an effective flea maintenance program.

The pet owner is typically the individual most likely to diagnose a tapeworm infection in their pet. Since tapeworm eggs are not routinely detected by your veterinarian through a fecal analysis (due to the fact that the eggs are behind the sheath of segment itself and are not released until the shell has dried), it is not inconceivable that a tapeworm infection could go on indefinitely. For this reason, it is particularly important to periodically check for tapeworm segments in your pet's fresh stool. If the tapeworm-carrying fleas are not being eliminated from your home, your pet can become re-infected with tapeworms as soon as two weeks after deworming, if one is incidentally consumed.

Speedy tapeworm treatment for your pet is important because these parasites rob your pet of many of the vital nutrients it gets from it's diet, and may cause digestive problems. Tapeworm segments in and around the anus may cause local irritation.

There are a number of things you can do as a pet owner to be ready to deal with a flea problem:

1) Groom your pet frequently and use a flea comb to look for fleas and/or flea dirt.

2) Check the hair around your pet's anus and look for fresh or dried tapeworm segments.

3) Check your pet's fresh stool for tapeworm segments.

4) Remove feces from your yard and/or litter box as frequently as is possible to lessen the possibility that your pet will encounter tapeworm eggs from its environment.

5) Avoid feeding raw meat or allowing your pet to hunt, as other animal species are known to be carriers of tapeworms.

Remember, even though you may have a strictly indoor animal, it can STILL GET FLEAS and TAPEWORMS.


What Do Fleas and Tapeworms Have in Common? 1995, Pfizer Animal Health.



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