Humans have enjoyed the companionship of their four footed friends for centuries. Pets bring unconditional love, but they are sometimes accompanied by zoonotic parasites. A number of scientific studies have found that direct contact with pets can put people at risk for infection with zoonotic parasites.

What is a Zoonotic Parasite?

A parasite is an animal that lives upon or within another living organism at whose expense it obtains nutrients and shelter zoonotic parasites can be transmitted from pets to humans.

What are tapeworms?

Tapeworms are long, flat, are made up of many segments and can sometimes be several feet long. These parasites live in small intestines of dogs, cats, other domestic animals and wildlife. Tapeworms do not have a mouth, and instead hold onto the inside of the intestine with suckers. Some also have hooks that strengthen their attachment.

Who in the family is at risk?

Outdoor pets, pets with fleas or pets around infected animals are at risk of becoming infected with tapeworms. There is one species of tapeworm in dogs that can be transmitted to people resulting in serious disease. Children run a higher risk of coming in contact with zoonotic parasites due to their play habits, attraction to pets and pica (dirt eating).

How does infection occur?

Pets are commonly infected with tapeworms though the ingestion of fleas in the process of normal grooming, licking, or chewing. Pets can also contract the parasite by eating rodents or other animals. Humans can get the disease by either means of ingestion as well.

How do I know if my pet is infected?

Most commonly, pet parents will notice tapeworm segments (pieces of the worm passed as the worm grows in the intestines) around the anal area or on the surface of stool. The segments may be moving or may appear as grains of rice caught in the hair around the rectum. They may also be found in places where infected pets rest and sleep. By performing fecal exams annually, your
veterinarian may also detect tapeworm eggs before you see any symptoms at home. Some pets, especially kittens or puppies, do become noticeably ill and symptoms can include:
Vomiting
Severe weight loss
Loss of appetite
Swollen stomach
Severe anemia
Death

How are they treated?

Tapeworms are treated with an injection or oral medication. Treatment may need to be repeated and infection with tapeworms can reoccur anytime a pet has
fleas or ingests rodents or wildlife. Common over-thecounter dewormers are not usually effective in treating tapeworms.

What can you do to protect the entire family?

Schedule annual physical exams and fecal exams for your family pet
Practice good, consistent flea control that is recommended by your veterinarian
Quickly clean up after your pets to remove potentially infective eggs from your environment before weather, insects, or active migration of the larvae allows them to spread
Keep pets from eating rodents or wildlife
Discourage children from eating soil
Cover sand boxes when not in use, and avoid possibly contaminated areas
Practice good hygiene for both your family and your pet