Horse Parasites And Colic: How To Keep Your Horses Healthy? All About Equine Tapeworms 2021


Equine parasites have been implicated in horse colic but deworming a horse with a heavy parasite burden is a colic risk, too. And now we’re starting to see parasite resistance resulting from the unintentional misuse of chemical dewormers.

To keep your horses healthy and ensure the continued effectiveness of important deworming chemicals, keep worm burdens low, reduce the spread of parasites through sensible pasture management and treat only the horses that truly need treatment. 

Equine Tapeworms

Horses get tapeworms from forage mites that have ingested tapeworm eggs. Forage mites live in horse pastures, lawns and vegetation and feed on horse manure. As the horse digests the forage, tapeworms emerge from the infected mites and attach themselves to the intestinal lining of the horse. Once the tapeworms mature, they shed their eggs into the manure of the horse. The cycle begins again when mites in the pasture consume the eggs.

  • Tapeworms can infect horses of nearly any age but horses between three and five years and older than 15 years harbor the greatest number of tapeworms.
  • Tapeworms can’t be directly transmitted from horse to horse.
  • Forage mites favor temperate climates.
  • Tapeworms are most common in late fall because higher humidity helps the tapeworm eggs move from the grass to the grass mite to your horse.

Equimax Paste Dewormer has been shown to be effective against equine tapeworms. Your veterinarian will have more information regarding the use of praziquantel to control equine tapeworms.

Parasites can build resistance to dewormers so don’t overuse them. A sensible parasite management program will increase horse health and help keep dangerous equine parasites under control. 

Tapeworms and Horse Colic

Studies have recently concluded that there is a link between equine tapeworms (Anoplocephala perfoliata) and horse colic. Tapeworms were thought to be non-pathogenic, but researchers at  Università degli Studi di Perugia found evidence to “support a correlation between colic and A. perfoliata infestation in the horse.”

Tapeworm infestations can cause spasmodic colics but more serious tapeworm threats include ileal impactions and intussusception. 

Tapeworms congregate at the ileocecal junction, where the small intestine, the colon and the cecum form a pouch that is the beginning of the large intestine. Irritation can cause a thickening of the bowel wall and abnormal gut motility. Digested food cannot pass and an impaction colic results. Up to 80% of illeal impactions are tapeworm-related.(1)

Lesions, thickening, and damage to the intestinal wall, and abnormal gut motility can also cause intussusception, a serious condition in which a section of the gut telescopes into an adjacent section. intussusception is a medical emergency. Ileocecal Intussusception Colic is believed to be exclusively caused by tapeworms. (1)

Tapeworms are difficult to diagnose and show no strong seasonality, but exposure is greatest during periods of prolonged grazing.

Tapeworm infection levels vary across the US. Speak to your veterinarian about developing a program to manage this parasite.

Injection to Resolve Ileal Impaction

An injection of carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) — a common food additive — may resolve ileal impaction horse colic. Ileal impactions are common in horses that eat Coastal Bermudagrass hay. Often, these cases are treated medically but surgery is sometimes indicated. Abdominal surgery is risky and recovery is slow. 

Christopher G. Alford, DVM and R. Reid Hanson, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, veterinarians at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, found that “CMC penetrates and rehydrates the impaction, but its primary mechanism of action is lubricating the impaction, making it easier (for the ingesta) to pass into the cecum.” 

(1) Proudman CJ et al, Equine Veterinary Journal (1998) 30 (3) 194-199.

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