Mar Vista Animal Medical Center

3850 Grand View Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

(310)391-6741

www.marvistavet.com

TAENIA SPECIES TAPEWORMS

TAENIA
(the other white tapeworm)

Caption: Example of a Taenia Tapeworm (this one is a human species that comes from eating undercooked beef)
(Photocredit: CDC Public Health Image Library)

After gaining some pet owning experience, the average pet owner has heard of tapeworms transmitted by fleas and knows to watch for sesame seed-like segments around their pet's nether regions or on the surface of stools. In fact, there is a part two to this story as there is another type of tapeworm to which dogs and cats are vulnerable. These other worms are members of the Taenia genus.

There are several members of the Taenia genus with which one may come to be aquainted:

  • Taenia solium (which infects humans when they consume undercooked pork)
  • Taenia saginata (which infects humans when they consume undercooked beef)
  • Taenia hydatigena (which infects dogs when they consume undercooked livestock or venison or feed from dead livestock or deer they find out in the world)
  • Tenia taeniaformis (which infects cats when they consume rats and mice)
  • Taenia ovis (which infects dogs after they consume dead sheep or undercooked lamb)
  • Taenia multiceps (which infects dogs that eat the brains of infected sheep)
  • Taenia crassiceps (which infects dogs when they consume rats and mice)
  • Taenia serialis and Taenia pisiformis (which infects dogs when they consume dead rabbits)
(Photocredits: morguefile.com)

To keep things simple, we will stick to the term Taenia to refer to all them. There are, as you might guess, other Taenia species that infect animals other than dogs and cats but we will leave them out of this discussion for simplicity.

 

THE TAENIA LIFE CYCLE

The life cycle of Taenia tapeworms starts in the host’s intestine, the host being a dog or cat. The worm can be unbelievably long (up to 5 yards for Taenia hydatigena) and is made of segments. Each segment contains an independent set of organs with new segments being created at the neck and older segments dropping off the tail. As segments mature the reproductive tract of the segment becomes more and more prominent until it consists of a bag of tapeworm eggs. These segments, called “proglottids” are passed with the feces into the world where an unsuspecting intermediate host (mouse, rabbit, deer, sheep etc.) swallows one while feeding.

The young tapeworm hatches in the new host’s intestine and escapes into the blood supply with the next stop being the liver. (Remember, this new host is a prey animal such as a mouse, rabbit, deer etc. We have not gotten to the dog or cat predator yet). The larval tapeworm wanders through the liver, leaving bloody tracks behind it and ultimately falls into the abdominal cavity where it forms a sac and waits. After about 2 months of development in this location, the larval tapeworm is ready to continue its development but it will need a new host to do so. When the host dies or is killed a predator, the sac and its young tapeworm inside may be consumed accidentally.


Note that Taenia tapeworms need two hosts: a dog or cat to house the adult tapeworm and a member of a prey species (see list above)
to house the baby tapeworm while it develops. The predator (dog or cat) eats the infected prey to become infected.

(original graphic by marvistavet.com)

 

About 2 months later, inside the predator, the young tapeworm is now mature and is beginning to shed its first segments and the cycle begins again.

 

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT KIND OF TAPEWORM THE SEGMENTS ARE FROM?

The tapeworm on the right is a member of the Taenia genus while Dipylidium is on the left.
The
Taenia segments are very square while the Dipylidium segments are short and rectangular.
(Photocredit: Mike Nolan DVM, University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School.)

 

In most cases, tapeworm segments seen are from Dipylidium caninum, which is not called “the common tapeworm” for nothing (i.e. it is very common). The segments of Dipylidium are longer than they are wide and are said to look like grains of rice. The segments of a Taenia tapeworm are wider than they are long.

 

IS IT IMPORTANT TO RECOGNIZE WHICH TYPE OF TAPEWORM IS PRESENT?

The good news here is that the same medication, Praziquantel, kills both types of tapeworms efficiently. Where it becomes useful to know one type of worm from another is when it comes to prevention. Dipylidium comes from swallowing a flea; Taenia comes from swallowing carrion or hunting prey.

For more information about Praziquantel click here.

For more information about Dipylidium caninum click here.

Tapeworms do not cause significant symptoms
and are largely of cosmetic concern.

If you see tapeworm segments on your pet’s fur or feces,
see your veterinarian for a tapeworm treatment.

Page last updated: 7/30/2019