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Understanding equine tapeworm as a cause of colic

Posted by Wormers-direct on 14th Jan 2020

Understanding equine tapeworm as a cause of colic

Tapeworms are an important and potentially very damaging parasite affecting the horse.  They preferentially attach themselves to the junction of the small and large intestine (the ileocaecal junction).  Here, they can cause bowel irritation, intussusception (where one part of the intestine telescopes into another) and rupture or twisting of the intestine.

It is thought that tapeworm may be responsible for up to 20% of surgical colics.  Tapeworms are present, to a greater or lesser extent, in the majority of horses.

Parts of the country with acidic soils (for example heath land), favour the survival of the intermediate host of the tapeworm (the forage or oribatid mite), and tend to have the highest level of infection.

Appearance

Tapeworms in horses are generally much shorter than dog or cat tapeworms; they are flat, triangular and relatively short being approximately 8 cm long by about 1.5 cm wide.  The tapeworms can detach segments of their body, and it is these segments that may be spotted on rare occasion by horse owners.  However, the equine tapeworm grow up to 20cm long and are white in colour.  Rarer species can be up to 80cm long.  They live in huge numbers attached to the gut wall at a natural narrowing of the gut (the ileocaecal junction).

Treatment

Recent studies have shown that far from being a seasonal problem, tapeworm infection occurs all year round.  The lifecycle of the tapeworm starts when the adult worm sheds fertilised eggs within the horses’ droppings.  These are eaten by an intermediate host called the forage mite.  This mite is then eaten by the horse along with hay or grass, and over the next few months, adult tapeworms develop within the gut.

The forage mite not only lives on pasture, but also survives perfectly well in hay and on bedding which is why there is no seasonality to tapeworm infestation; however most infestations are picked up after prolonged periods at grass.  As a result of this, early autumn and spring are prime times for tapeworm infections to be managed.  Tapeworm infestation cannot be diagnosed by faecal examination, so it is essential to incorporate wormers that are effective against tapeworm in your overall worming and animal health planning schedule alongside other tools, such as saliva tests and good pasture management.

If treatment is required then Pyrantel based products should be used at twice the standard dose.  Combination wormers containing Praziquantel are effective in treating tape worm or if only the tape worm burden itself is to be tackled then products containing only Praziquantel are available.

Symptoms

Can cause colic, sometimes fatal, by blocking blood vessels.

SH Wetherald E-SQP

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