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Diagnosing Equine Tapeworms Using SalivaBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 21, 2017

In times gone-by, horses were routinely dewormed without conducting any diagnostics, even a simple fecal egg count (FEC). The use of chemical dewormers eventually resulted in the development of intestinal parasite populations resistant to common products.

Faced with ineffective dewormers and no new chemical dewormers currently in development, horses are once again susceptible to parasite-related diseases, such as larval cyathostominosis, or mass emergence of small strongyle larvae from the wall of the colon, and obstructions caused by tapeworms, primarily at the ileocecocolic junction where the ileum (the last portion of the small intestine) meets the cecum and colon, are also on the rise.

“Equine parasitologists strongly recommend using FECs prior to deworming to adhere to targeted selective deworming strategies as described in detail by the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Parasite Control Subcommittee,” emphasized Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., an advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Unfortunately, tapeworm eggs—unlike large and small strongyle eggs—are shed only intermittently in the feces, making FECs unreliable for detecting infection. Years ago a blood test for detecting equine tapeworms was introduced to horse owners to improve detection of tapeworms. Now, a simple test using a saliva sample can also reveal the presence of tapeworms.

According to the U.K.-based research team, the commercial saliva-based test makes it easy to correctly diagnose tapeworms. This means that treatment only needs to be administered to horses that actually have tapeworm infections, which will decrease the use of unnecessary chemical dewormers, thereby protecting the efficacy of available deworming products and minimizing parasite-related disease in horses with heavy burdens.

“In addition to FECs for large and small strangles, and alternate testing for tapeworms, owners are also encouraged to embrace environmental management strategies for controlling internal parasites,” added Whitehouse.

“Further, consider offering KER’s marine-derived fish oil product EO•3 and Nano•E, a water-soluble vitamin E product, to boost your horse’s immune system and to help horses build natural immunity to parasites.”

*Lightbody, K.L., J.B. Matthews, J.G. Kemp-Symonds, et al. Use of a saliva-based diagnostic test to inform on tapeworm infection in horses in the UK. Equine Veterinary Journal. In press.