Background Effective and sustainable worm control in horses would benefit from detailed information about the current regional occurrence of tapeworms. Different diagnostic methods are currently available to detect Anoplocephala spp. infections in horses. However, the format as well as the sensitivity and specificity of the methods vary considerably.
Methods A coprological, serological and questionnaire study was conducted to investigate the prevalence and risk factors of tapeworm infections on 48 horse farms in the region of Berlin and Brandenburg, Germany. In total, faecal samples of 484 horses were analysed using the double centrifugation/combined sedimentation-flotation and mini-FLOTAC. Serum (n = 481) and saliva (n = 365) samples were analysed by ELISAs to determine antibody levels against Anoplocephala spp. 12/13 kDa excretory/secretory (E/S) antigens.
Results Cestode eggs were detected in 0.6% of faecal samples (farm prevalence 6.3%) without differences between the two methods. In contrast, antibodies against Anoplocephala spp. were detected in 16.2% (farm prevalence 52.1%) and in 29.5% (farm prevalence 75.7%) of the serum and saliva samples, respectively. Both ELISA based methods for detection of tapeworms reported a greater number of infected animals requiring treatment than were positively identified by coproscopy. Logistic regression analysis identified permanent pasture access, large pastures and regular pasture changes and high strongyle egg counts as risk factors for positive serum antibody responses to Anoplocephala spp. while last treatment with praziquantel was protective. Other protective factors were the presence of foals and high numbers of horses on the farm. Daily removal of faeces from the pasture and horse age did not have a significant effect.
Conclusions The findings of the present serological investigation indicate that tapeworm prevalence in Berlin/Brandenburg horse farms is much higher than would be anticipated by using conventional/coproscopic analyses. Moreover, the majority of tapeworm-positive horses had not received a cestocidal drug at their last treatment. Considering the already known low sensitivity of the coproscopic detection, the equine veterinary diagnostics can be enhanced by the use of antibody detection methods such as the saliva-based ELISA.