Can tapeworms be transmitted to humans?

April 13, 2012

Worm infestation is one of the concerns that pet owners have to face. It would certainly be devastating if the pet that you take great pains to keep healthy and well groomed will be diagnosed to be infested with worms. Worm infestation will naturally affect the general well being of the pet. Once a dog is infested, other dogs (and cats) in the family will be infested as well. What is more alarming is the possibility that these parasites can be transmitted to humans. Although not a common occurrence, the tapeworm that infest the pet can infest the dog’s human family too.

Tapeworm is one type of parasite that is found in the small intestine of the dog. These white, flat bodied and segmented worms attach its hook-like mouth to the walls of the intestine to feed on the nutrients. A tapeworm can grow up to 20 cm in length. When a worm matures, the segment that has its own reproductive organ will drop off. The rice-like segments will be excreted with the fecal matter or will be seen around the anus or attached to the hair around the anal area. On feces, these tapeworm segments that can be seen moving will be transmitted to other dogs and to humans by a flea. A flea feeding on the dog’s feces will ingest the tapeworm egg. The egg will hatch inside the flea’s stomach and form into cysticercoids. Flea infestation will cause the dog to itch. A tapeworm egg-carrying flea will be ingested when the dog bites or chews an itchy area. The flea passes through the stomach and when it reaches the intestine the cysticercoids will develop into adult worms. Again, the tail end of the adult tape worm will fall off, be excreted with the feces and the cycle will continue.

Contrary to some beliefs, tapeworm is not transmitted through flea bites. The method by which tapeworm is transmitted to dogs is pretty much the same as the way it is transmitted to humans. In spite of the hygienic habits of humans there is still the possibility that a dog’s fecal matter will be ingested or that a flea carrying a tapeworm egg in its stomach gets into some food and swallowed by humans. Although a very rare occurrence, ingesting a flea is still a possibility. This is why flea prevention medications and techniques are necessary.

Tapeworm infestation is not life threatening. Some dogs may not even show signs of infestation. A pet owner will only be aware of the parasite if moving grain-like white objects are seen on the dog’s feces or if rice-like grains are seen on the anal area of the dog. Tapeworm segments will also be seen on the blankets and sleeping area of the dog. Severe infestation can affect the well being of the pet. Commonly, the dog will lose weight because of poor appetite. The dog will suffer from abdominal pains, will vomit and have diarrhea. The dog will be less energetic as well.

A dog owner has to have a working knowledge about worm infestation. A pet parent has to know how to treat worm infestation not only because the parasite will affect the well being of the pet but also to prevent the parasite from being transmitted to humans. The risk is greater if there are children in the family. We are aware of the legendary bonding between kids and dogs. Kids would kiss, hug and share whatever they are eating with the pet. This increases the risk of fleas being ingested. As children have less mature immune system they will be most affected.

Fortunately, effective treatments that will eradicate flea infestations are readily available. Over the counter oral or injectable medications can be obtained easily.

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