Tapeworms – hard to detect and really dangerous for horses!


For most of us that have dogs or cats, we have come across a tapeworm egg sac at some point on our pet’s poop. They look like little pieces of rice. Your veterinarian gives you a dose of meds, and it’s done. It’s similar in horses – but a little different, too. Tapeworms have more than one host, depending on what life cycle stage they are in.


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The tapeworm life cycle in a horse:


  • Eggs from a tapeworm infected horse are dropped into the pasture or turnout.


  • The eggs are eaten by tiny mites. While inside the mite, the tapeworm develops into larvae. Usually, a hard winter with freezing temps helps to kill the mites and their tapeworm buddies. You are out of luck if you have a mild winter!


  • The mites are eaten by your horse, where they develop into full-grown tapeworms, about the size and shape of a pumpkin seed or larger depending on the exact type of tapeworm. Dog and cat tapeworms are long and segmented.


thoroughbred mare and foal in paddock

Horses that share pastures can pass worms back and forth. Treat one, treat all.


Problems from tapeworms can start to arise in horses right away.


  • The tapeworms that enter your horse via the mites like to set up shop where the small intestine meets the cecum.


  • Attached via hooks, the larvae cause inflammation and can contribute to many types of colics, including types that can only be resolved with surgery.


  • In some cases, the worms actually create a blockage. There are many types of colics that are linked to tapeworms, including intussusceptions (telescoping intestines), gas colics, and impactions.


Fecal egg counts and targeted deworming practices are a great direction to go in to prevent parasites from becoming resistant to modern dewormers.


  • However, tapeworms are forever elusive and difficult to detect in fecal egg counts and fecal smears.


  • There is a blood antigen test that can be done that’s reliable.


  • So, your veterinarian may recommend that you deworm on a schedule, sometimes twice yearly if your climate has a warmer winter.


  • Just like pinworms, a negative fecal test does not mean your horse does not have tapeworms.



dewormers on store shelves

Your veterinarian can help you choose the best dewormers for your horse.


  • It’s often prudent to check with your barn manager and horse friends so everyone can be on the same page when it comes to deworming and pasture parasite control.


  • Because tapeworms are linked closely to colics, make sure your horse is cared for as well as all of his pasture buddies. The region you live in also plays a factor, so only your Veterinarian can create a good plan for you.


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