In the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, a simple saliva test can now be used to identify tapeworm infections in horses.
Fairly common in horses, tapeworm infestation can cause unthriftiness, diarrhea and colic. But unlike most other internal parasites, tapeworms are difficult to detect using fecal egg counts. Previously, the only reliable method for identifying tapeworms in horses was a blood test measuring antibodies specific to the parasite.
Recently, however, Austin Davis Biologics in England developed a method for identifying tapeworm-specific antibodies in saliva. To investigate the efficacy of the new test, researchers used it to analyze saliva from 104 horses at a United Kingdom abattoir, then compared the findings to the results of blood tests of the same horses. They also performed a visual inspection of each horse’s intestinal tract to count the tapeworms present.
They found that the saliva test was just as accurate as a standard blood test in detecting the presence of tapeworms. In addition, there was a strong correlation between the results of the saliva test and the number of tapeworms in each horse—the higher the saliva score, the more severe the infestation.
Noting that saliva samples could be collected by horse owners, the researchers say that the saliva test can be an important component of targeted deworming strategies.
“Validation of a novel saliva-based ELISA test for diagnosing tapeworm burden in horses,” Veterinary Clinical Pathology
, published online May 2016
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #469, October 2016.