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The remarkable world of parasites

Parasites are horrible to view, but remarkable to watch particularly when they are close-up under the microscopic lense.

They also have the most splendid Latin names– Ctenocephalides (fleas), Knemidocoptes (budgie mite), Fasciola hepatica (liver fluke) and my favourite Anaplocephela perfoliata (horse tapeworm).

But the species we want to discuss in this particular article are the tapeworms of the dog and cat (Dipylidium caninum and Taenia taeniaformis being examples).

What we see is a tapeworm segment about a centimetre long, crawling in the fur around the back end of your cat. If we could look at it under the microscopic lense, it would expose the tiny but scary world of the tapeworm.

Tapeworms do not have a direct infection course. In other words, they do not pass from one dog to another dog or from one cat to another cat directly, instead, they pass through a more circuitous route than this and humans can become involved as well.

The small segment we see of the tapeworm is not a small worm. It is an egg packet that contains hundreds or thousands of tapeworm eggs. The packet is a muscular bag that has the ability to contract and move by itself and can crawl quite a distance releasing the eggs as it breaks open.

The eggs are picked up by another animal, the most common for dogs and cats are fleas, rodents such as mice and rats and rabbits. Once within this halfway house, the egg turns into a type of larva, goes through the bloodstream and enters the tissues, where it will encase itself in a little bubble referred to as a cyst. Here, it bides its time.

When the cat or dog eats this halfway host by hunting or grooming of fleas, it picks up the dormant cyst and the tapeworm becomes active again. The larva wakens in the digestive tract and latches onto the lining of the guts. Using the cat or dog’s digesting food, it starts to grow, producing more and more egg packet segments and when mature, it starts to release them, and we see the segments crawling on our pet once again.

The risk of catching tapeworms from your dog or cat is very, very low, but humans can be affected by some species of tapeworm by accident and can develop cysts in the liver, kidneys, even the eye and brain.

So how do we prevent tapeworms in our pets? Worming regularly with a product that controls tapeworms is important. Worming tablets and spot-ons from your vet will be effective and normally worming every three months will control tapeworms. But if you have a pet that is a hunter or gets fleas regularly, then worming every month may be necessary.

Parasites are definitely fascinating don’t you think?





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