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Protect your horse against tapeworms


Your horse could have tapeworms right now and you wouldn't know it until it's too late. Horses with tapeworms may never show signs of infection, but it is a leading cause of colic. It is often not detected until the horse's digestive system is permanently damaged.

With virtually all horses at risk, you need to watch for these warning signs of tapeworm infection:

  • Episodes of colic
  • Mild diarrhea
  • Inability to gain weight
  • Rough hair coat or an unthrifty appearance.

Tapeworms are not choosy about what horses they live off of. They can afflict horses of any age, whether they are in a stall, on pasture or at a show. One study indicated a 54.4 percent prevalence of tapeworm infections in horses.

Infection rates vary in the United States from 12.7 percent to 95.8 percent, depending on geographic locations. In the Southeast, the range for prevalence of tapeworm infections is between 82 and 84 percent. Another study, cited in Parasitology Today, reported that 80 percent of impaction colic cases, as well as 22 percent of spasmodic colic cases were associated with tapeworms.

"Tapeworm infections cause many types of colic, including spasmodic, blockage and prolapse of the small intestine," says Frank Hurtig, DVM, MBA, and manager of Veterinary Professional Services at Merial. "Colic prevention is much easier and less expensive than colic treatment. The easiest and most effective way to treat and control tapeworm infection is the regular use of an equine dewormer with the active ingredient praziquantel."

One FDA-approved option is Zimecterin® Gold, which eliminates more species and stages of equine parasites than other commercially available products. In fact, research shows that Zimecterin Gold is 99 percent effective in removing equine tapeworm infections. Deworm horses every two months, or at least four times a year, and treat for tapeworms at a minimum in the spring and fall.

Life cycle of the tapeworm

  • The horse grazes on pasture and ingests the infected oribatid mite, which carries the immature tapeworm.
  • Immature tapeworms emerge from the mite and attach to the horse's intestinal lining, where they reach maturity in as few as five weeks.
  • Mature tapeworms shed off sections of their bodies that are full of eggs. The sections and eggs pass through the horse in the manure.
  • Oribatid mites eat tapeworm eggs. Larval tapeworms develop within the mite in six to 16 weeks.
  • The infected mite crawls onto vegetation in the pasture - especially during hot, humid weather - and is consumed by another horse. The cycle starts over.

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