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Can tapeworms be transmitted to humans?

Updated on February 18, 2012

A number of germs and viruses can be picked up by humans from their pets. Some dogs would carry these viruses and bacteria without showing symptoms and without being ill. But when transmitted to humans, these zoonotic diseases can make people suffer tremendously. Tapeworm infection is common in dogs. This is not a life threatening concern but this parasitic infestation can make the dog extremely uncomfortable. What is most disturbing is the fact that this type of internal parasite infestation can be transmitted to humans.

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What is a tapeworm?

Tapeworms are one of the intestinal parasites of dogs. These are long, flat and segmented parasites that attached their hook-like mouth to the small intestine of the dog. This white colored worm can measure up to 20 cm in length. The body is divided into multiple segments, each one having its own reproductive organ.

Symptoms of tapeworm infestation

Segments of tapeworm that look like rice grains on the feces and on the anus of the dog are the most obvious symptom of infestation. Generally, dogs infested with tapeworms would not show signs of being ill. This is not a life threatening disease. Severe infestation though can affect the well being of the pet. Tapeworms would cause the dog to loss its appetite, to have abdominal pains, to vomit and to have diarrhea. Dogs are energetic animals but an infected one would be lethargic.

How is tapeworm transmitted to dogs?

Different species of tapeworm can infect dogs. Dipylidium caninum is the most common in dogs. This type of tapeworm has fleas as its intermediary host. The fleas will eat feces of infected dogs. The ingested tapeworm eggs will turn into cysticercoids when they hatch in the stomach of the fleas. The flea will come in contact with another dog and gets swallowed when the dog chewed the itchy skin. The cysticercoids will develop into adult worms and attach their hook-like mouth to the intestines. The cycle continues when the segments of the adult tapeworm falls off, excreted with the feces and eaten by another flea. The Taenia and Echinococcus species make use of other animals as their intermediate host. The dog will be infested when it hunts and eats small rodents, rabbits and large animals such as deer or sheep.

How is tapeworm transmitted to humans?

Tapeworms can be transmitted to humans but it is not a very common occurrence. The same as with dogs, tapeworms will be transmitted to humans if a tapeworm egg-carrying flea is ingested. Given the way humans maintain hygiene, ingestion of flea would be very rare. However, it cannot be denied that it is a possibility. This occurrence was noted to be more common in children. Unaware of the risk, children would kiss and cuddle the pet and in so doing would ingest a flea. Children would be more susceptible to the infestation because of their weak immune system.

Preventing tapeworm infestation

A flea is the most common intermediate host of tapeworms. An effective flea control technique is therefore necessary.  Over the counter worming medications are available but a vet consult would be necessary for the right dosage to eradicate the infestation.     


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