What Are Tapeworms In Horses? Symptoms & Treatment

Last Updated on January 27, 2022 by Urska

Tapeworm in horses, or worms in general, are not exactly a dinner table subject. But for horse owners, worms are a part of regular care and maintenance. Tapeworms are an easily treated parasite, and typically well-tolerated by horses, all things considered. Here’s a quick breakdown on tapeworms in horses:

What are Tapeworms?

Equine tapeworms (Anoplocephala perfoliata) sound horrifying. But the truth is, tapeworms are typically present wherever horses have access to pasture or turnout. There are three species of tapeworms that will infect horses. The most common is A. perfoliata. This is a short yellowish-greenish tapeworm triangular in shape. Large mature worms can grow up to around 8 centimeters in length. They use their heads to secure themselves on the mucus of the host horse and then proceed to absorb nutrition through the parasite’s cuticle.

Tapeworm in Horses Life Cycle

Unlike other parasites, tapeworms have an indirect life cycle. They use an intermediate host for the development state. In the case of the most common tapeworm, it is an oribatid mite. Unfortunately for horses and other grazing animals, these mites are frequently found in pastures and hay. A horse digests the mite containing tapeworm larvae, which later develop in the primary horse host. Mature tapeworms will shed eggs by 10 weeks. Unlike many other parasites, tapeworms do not appear to be a seasonal-specific problem.

Symptoms

Many horses with tapeworms show little to no symptoms. Most horses will not even experience discomfort. However, new studies have shown chronic parasites put horses at a greater risk for spasmodic colic and impaction at the lower end of the small intestine. In most cases, horses will remain asymptomatic. In some cases, horses may experience digestive issues or upset. Segments of the tapeworm will eventually separate to release eggs inside the host, and the proglottids are seen in their poop.

Testing for Horse Tapeworm

The standard testing for most equine parasites is a fecal test. But recently experts found the McMaster technique of counting eggs in fecal matter misses more than 90% of infected horses! Veterinarians can also detect tapeworm antibodies in saliva and serum. However, tapeworms do not normally need a formal diagnosis. They are adequately treated by regular deworming schedules.

Testing for Horse Tapeworm

Treatment for Tapeworm in Horses

The treatment for equine tapeworms is an over-the-counter dewormer. Of the multiple dewormers available, only two treat tapeworms. The first is praziquantel. This is available as a stand-alone dewormer or in combination with ivermectin or moxidectin. This is the most effective treatment against tapeworms. The other dewormer is pyrantel pamoate. A single dose will reduce the worm load, but doesn’t possess the same effectivity. For maximum effectivity, proper administration should be a double-dose.

It is important to speak to your veterinarian about a deworming schedule that works for you and your horse. This will take several factors into account, including a horse’s propensity to carry a worm load, travel, exposure, environment, and other parasite risks. For tapeworm specific deworming, EquiMax recommends treatment every 6 months- fall and late spring. Current guidelines on parasite control by the American Association of Equine Practitioners can be found here. 

Equimax Horse Wormer Ivermectin and Praziquantel Paste Tube

For more information on Deworming Schedules for Horses

Closing Thoughts

Although no longer considered harmless, tapeworms can cause problems if left untreated. It is important to determine a regular deworming schedule for the prevention and treatment of parasites. Luckily, tapeworms are easy to manage and do not typically require veterinary assistance.

Do you have friends with horses? Fall is a good time to deworm- be sure to share this article!

What is the best wormer for tapeworms in horses?

One of the most common active ingredients is praziquantel. It can be found in many products intended to treat tapeworm infection in horses. Most often is combined with ivermectin or moxidectin, but can also be available as a standalone formulation in some countries. Praziquantel has been found to be very effective against adult worms and eggs (when given orally) but is not as effective against juvenile worms. Praziquantel has also been shown to cause mild to moderate side effects when given to horses.

What does a tapeworm look like?

The tapeworm is one of the most common parasites in the world. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s population is infected with tapeworms. The worm is also found in pets and wildlife, and it is one of the most common causes of human disease.
The tapeworm has a complex life cycle. After ingestion, the tapeworm attaches to the wall of the small intestine and begins to grow. The worm will then migrate through the intestines, causing a host of symptoms. It is not unusual for a tapeworm to cause diarrhea, cramps, and abdominal pain.

Where do horses get tapeworms from?

Immediately after birth, horses can pick up parasites in the environment. However, it is believed that horses can get tapeworms from other horses, including those in their own herds. Tapeworms are passed from horse to horse when they eat the same contaminated food. The eggs are passed in the feces and may be deposited in the ground or plants. Horses can then pick them up by ingesting affected plants. They can also pick them up by ingesting the fecal matter of other horses or from the soil. 

Can you see tapeworms in horse poop?

No, there are only tapeworm eggs present in the horse poop and eggs are to small to be seen with naked eye. However, sometimes the adult tapeworm or it’s larvae make their way through your horse’s digestive system and into the manure where it’s possible to see them.

When should you worm a horse for tapeworms?

In general, horse owners should worm their horses twice a year. Worming should be done in the spring and fall. The spring worm will be used to control internal parasites such as roundworms and whipworms. The fall worm will kill any external parasites that may have been missed by the spring worm. 
Worming is usually done with a small amount of medication to kill the worms and prevent reinfection. The most commonly used drugs are ivermectin, which is available in injectable or oral preparations, and moxidectin, which is available as a spot-on formulation.

What damage do tapeworms do to horses?

There are more than 200 different kinds of tapeworms. All of them are parasitic, but only some of them are pathogenic. In fact, tapeworms are probably the most common intestinal parasite in horses.
Tapeworms can be treated with an anthelmintic, such as Ivermectin. If not treated, they can cause a variety of problems, ranging from mild to severe. The most common problem is weight loss, which can result in dehydration and poor performance. Other symptoms may include diarrhea, colic, vomiting, and neurological disorders. 

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