Every few months we get a dog or cat that has been infected with Tapeworms in the clinic. Usually the owner finds these little beauties crawling around the back end of their pet. Rarely will you see an intact tapeworm; much more commonly we see the little proglottid segments that look like grains of rice stuck in the fur around the anus.
Luckily tapeworms are fairly easy to kill once they have been found and we identify the source of the tapeworms. Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not contract tapeworms by sniffing the back end of their buddies. Most dogs and cats are infected with a tapeworm of the species Dipylidium. These tapeworms require an intermediate host – the flea – to complete the life cycle. Dogs and cats pick up the parasite by ingesting an infected flea that lands on their body. The lifecycle continues as these worms mature in the intestine of the pet and the infectious eggs are shed back into the environment to be picked up by another flea.
Less commonly in our area do we see taenia species of tapeworms. Pets are infected by these parasites by eating raw rabbits, rodents or reptiles. Depending on where you live, this may be the more common type of tapeworm. I suspect this is because we see few outdoor cats in Tucson and most of our dogs are in walled yard with restricted access to rabbits and rodents.
We decided to discuss this subject because a client’s dog was recently diagnosed with tapeworms and was told by another vet that the tapeworms came from the raw diet that they feed. This has long been a debate in the veterinary community and veterinarians are clearly divided between raw supporters vs. the kibble supporters.
Jim and I sit somewhere in between. I do believe that a raw diet can be done well. This doesn’t mean that you can walk into the nearest Safeway and feed an all chicken-neck diet to dogs and cats and expect a good outcome. There have been documented infections from raw diets, primarily salmonella, e-coli and listeria, in both pets and their humans. It is conceivable that parasites such as tapeworms can be contracted from raw meat as well. We need to consider not only meat safety but balancing the nutrition in the diet as well.
I support the idea of the Stella and Chewies, Natures Variety, Primal, or Honest Kitchen “prepared” raw diets. These diets do take precautions against infections by using hydrostatic pressure or high pressure processing and freezing to help to ensure as much safety in a raw diet as possible. These companies also do voluntary quality testing for infectious pathogens. We can discuss raw diets at length, but the subject today is Tapeworms.
I’ve not diagnosed tapeworms in a dog fed from a raw diet so my feeling is that the risk is low. When we find tapeworms we need to first look at the pet’s lifestyle and environment. Treat for fleas. Avoid hunting of rabbits, rodents and reptiles as much as possible. Finally, look at the diet. We can easily treat the tapeworms with parasiticides but until we find the cause we haven’t treated the problem.