Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The tapeworm(s)

“What?” I ask as Morgan casts a sideways glance at me and moves with a punctuated slowness past me to reach for the frying pan.

“Why do you always have to talk about tapeworms when I’m eating?” he asks.

“I don’t,” I say. And I don’t, I’m sure I don’t. Except maybe this time, but technically we aren’t eating yet, we are just getting ready to cook dinner and even taking into consideration how easily Morgan is moved to squeamishness, I figure I am still within a safe zone to bring up the subject so we don’t have to talk about it while we are eating.

I have to admit, part of me finds tapeworms somewhat fascinating, which is a weird thing to say and maybe fascinating is too strong a word, but they really are so alien and so different from the everyday I couldn’t help bringing them up since at that moment Murdoch had one of his very own, his third in the last year and a half.

The first time he had one I was suitably disgusted and completely grossed out. “Ewww,” I said when they were pointed out to me in his feces by a friend, “And are those more on his butt?!” But like anything that becomes more - for lack of a better word - ‘normal’, the disgust becomes downgraded over time and for me this latest parasitic invasion elicited disappointment more than anything else.

When Murdoch flashed past me on the stairs that morning a couple of weeks ago and I caught a quick glimpse of some small stark white thing against the black fur of his backside in the shadow of his tail, I knew instantly what it was. I tried to convince myself that it was a splinter of firewood from the pile stacked in the entryway, the pieces of which are sometimes specially selected by one dog or the other and carefully shredded to bits on Molly’s bed. He sat on those splinters, I told myself, and a couple stuck to his fur. But I knew.

And when I followed him outside that morning with the flashlight, climbing into my winter coat and boots, and trailed him to the spot where he always does his business, I saw a couple of the white segments moving about on top of his deposit.

“Oh Murds,” I said as he looked at me with indignation in his eyes for so blatantly invading his privacy. “Why?” And I flashed back in my mind to remember the various things he had eaten over the previous weeks, digging up old bones as well as fresher carcasses from the snow. Where did it come from?

And that’s the fascinating part. Most commonly dogs pick up tapeworms from eating an infected flea. What that means is a flea larva has to ingest the microscopic eggs of a tapeworm that are found inside those broken off segments which emerge from the intestines of some infected animal or other. That flea, as an adult, then has to be swallowed by another animal for the resulting tapeworm to arrive inside another gut and settle in for the cycle to begin again. The whole thing seems very unlikely. What are the odds?

Obviously quite good given Murdoch’s track record.

The plus side of all this though is that no one else in the house can pick up a tapeworm from Murdoch. It has to go through a flea first, which is why during all three of Murdoch’s infections, Molly never showed any signs of her own. And I’ve been keeping a close eye on that.

Which is also why after a few days of tracking dogs through the woods and watching what comes out of them I am more desensitized to the whole thing than Morgan and can have these conversations in the kitchen and, yes, probably even during a meal.

But I acquiesce, “Okay,” I say, hands in the air, “I’m done.” although I'm not and his admonition that I always talk about tapeworms when he's eating makes it sound like that's all I ever talk about, which it isn't. Although, as we turn our attentions back to dinner prep and more appropriate topics of discussion, I file away the tapeworm info for later.

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