The Lifecycle of a Tapeworm

One of the most dangerous types of tapeworm is the group known as Hydatid: Echinococcus granulosus and Echinococcus multilocularis. Both of these tapeworms are found throughout the world and can have serious effects on a pet's health, as well as carrying the possibility of transmission to humans. In order to protect our pets and family members from these unpleasant parasites, we need to take a closer look at their life-cycle.

The Tapeworm Lifecycle Begins

Every hydatid tapeworm begins its life as a tiny egg. The process of a tapeworm infection begins when one or more of these eggs are consumed by an omnivorous or herbivorous animal, such as sheep, goat, pig, deer or cattle (both wild and domesticated). In the digestive system of the animal, known as an intermediate host, the tapeworm egg will hatch and form embryos. These tapeworm embryos move to various organs such as the brain, eye, heart, liver and lungs. Inside the organs, cysts begin to develop. A tapeworm cyst contains a large number of tapeworm heads, which are the beginning of its body.

Transmission of Tapeworm to the Definitive Host

The next stage of the tapeworm life-cycle is when cysts from an intermediate host are passed to the definitive host, usually a carnivore such as a dog or a cat. Usually animals become a definitive host when they come into contact with tapeworm cysts through eating contaminated offal or meat. Once a cyst is within the definitive host's digestive system, it will begin to mature into an adult hydatid tapeworm. Living within the intestines of its host, this parasite then sheds segments of its body, which contains eggs. These exit the host's body in the feces, and carry the potential to repeat the tapeworm life-cycle again. The eggs can remain viable for months if exposed to the right environmental conditions, waiting patiently until a grazing animal swallows them so that the cycle can begin once more.

Accidental Hosts

Humans can become accidental hosts to these parasites if they come into contact with tapeworm cysts or eggs. This can occur if humans eat infected meat or inadvertently swallow the eggs of this parasite after touching infected soil, eating home-grown vegetables or playing in a contaminated sand-pit. Although human infestation by hydatids is not common, when it does occur the results can be quite traumatic and in some cases need serious medical intervention.

Breaking the Life-cycle

When you understand the effective simplicity of how the tapeworm life-cycle perpetuates its existence, it becomes easier to deal with the problem. The five most important things you can do are the following :

  1. Don't allow your pets to eat offal. Even cooking can sometimes fail to destroy hydatid cysts.
  2. Use a deworming treatment such as praziquantel on a regular basis.
  3. Clean up dog and cat feces especially in children's play areas and areas where plants are grown for human consumption.
  4. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently after coming into contact with pets.
  5. Prevent your dog from roaming in areas where he may come into contact with contaminated livestock or wild species.