Note : Although uncommon, tapeworms can be transmitted to humans from rabbits and rodents, and so they are a potential hazard and a zoonosis. As a result basic hygiene precautions should be observed such as washing hands after holding these pets, cleaning out their bedding or handling food and water bowls and other utensils.

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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Tapeworms that infect rabbits and rodents can sometimes be transmitted to humans causing mild disease.

The transmission of Cestodes (tapeworms) from pet rabbits and rodents to humans resulting in disease is not common, however it can occur and so basic hygiene precautions including washing hands after handling these types of pets should always be practised. 

The following cestode tapeworms infect rabbits/rodents :

  • Hymenolepis nana - rodents - especially hamsters
  • Hymenolepis diminuta - rodents - especially the rat
  • Taenia pisiformis - larvae in rabbits
  • Taenia taeniformis - larval form (cysticercus fasciolaris) found  mice and rats (adult in felines and other carnivores)
  • Multiceps serialis - larval form found in rabbits (adult in canines)

In rabbits and rodents these parasites may not cause any signs. However if they are present in large numbers , or if the animal is debilitated the following signs may be seen :

  • Hymenolepids
    • Constipation
    • Diarrhoea
    • Weight loss
    • Death
  • Taenia spp
    • Lethargy
    • Abdominal distension
    • Weight loss
  • Multiceps
    • Form cysts in various tissues and the site determines the signs eg skin, muscles, brain.

All of these parasites (except for Taenia pisiformis) have been reported to be pathogenic to humans but Hymenolepiasis in children is the most frequently reported problem. In most cases the infection is subclinical but when they occur the signs in humans are due to the damage caused to villi of the small intestine :

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Infection is transmitted to humans through ingestion of eggs on faecally contaminated fingers, or from water or food that has been contaminated. So, diligent attention to basic hygiene is important and humans (especially children) should wash their hands thoroughly after handling these pets, or cleaning their bedding or handling their food and water bowls and other utensils.

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Updated October 2013