It’s no fun for cats or their owners when parasites like tapeworms take over their bodies. Left untreated, tapeworms can transmit to humans and cause damage to your cat’s body. Luckily, there are many treatments and preventatives available to help ease the burden of a cat tapeworm infestation. Read on to learn more about how this common intestinal parasite affects your feline friend and how you can get help if you notice symptoms of a tapeworm infection.
What Are Tapeworms in Cats?
Tapeworms are flat, segmented parasites that live in the intestines of cats and dogs. They can be up to 11 inches long and commonly belong to the Dipylidium caninum species of tapeworm — hence the name cat dipylidiasis.
Tapeworms use their hook-like mouthparts to anchor to the wall of a cat’s small intestine. Eventually, as the tapeworm matures, small segments of its body known as proglottids break off and pass into the cat’s feces. You might notice these segments, which look like grains of rice or cucumber seeds and can measure up to ½ inch long and ⅛ inch wide, on the surface of your cat’s stool. However, some segments might be too small to see with the naked eye.
A proglottid can contain up to 20 tapeworm eggs, making it important that you remove and dispose of the fecal matter as soon as possible to prevent further spread.
How to Tell if a Cat Has Tapeworms
If you see dried white segments on your cat’s feces, on the anus, or stuck on the fur under your cat’s tail, your cat may have tapeworms. Occasionally, a cat infected with a tapeworm may lick or bite their anus or scoot their hindquarters across the ground due anal irritation, although this behavior is more commonly seen in dogs.
If the tapeworm breaks away from the small intestine and travels to the stomach, a cat may vomit up a moving tapeworm segment that’s several inches long.
Otherwise, you might not know your cat has a tapeworm, as your cat may be asymptomatic. This is why it’s important to keep an eye out for any signs in your cat’s litter, as this is typically where most cat owners discover a problem.
Causes of Tapeworm in Cats
Cats get tapeworms by eating fleas that have ingested tapeworm eggs. They may inadvertently eat these fleas while grooming, while scavenging, or by ingesting them through another infected host such as rabbits, birds, or rodents.
After swallowing the infected flea, the flea will be digested in the cat’s intestines, thus releasing the tapeworm egg. The egg then hatches, and the tapeworm secures itself to the intestinal lining.
Note that cats cannot become infected with tapeworms by eating tapeworm eggs. The eggs must first pass through the flea, which serves as an intermediate host, and your cat would need to eat the flea in order to become infected with tapeworms.
Diagnosis of Cat Dipylidiasis
If you see proglottids on your cat’s feces or anus, or if you notice any vomiting, collect a fecal sample and any segments you find in a sealed plastic bag. Your vet can then use these samples to diagnose and treat cat dipylidiasis. They can also rule out any other health issues and inquire about any other symptoms your cat may be exhibiting.
If a test comes back positive for an infestation, immediate treatment is necessary to prevent further damage to your pet’s health and well-being. Your vet may provide a deworming medication, given either orally or through an injection. These medications are safe and effective at eliminating tapeworms in cats.
After taking the medication, the tapeworm will typically dissolve in your cat’s intestines. Be sure to administer the entire course of medication to ensure the tapeworm is thoroughly eliminated from your cat’s body. In addition, continue checking your cat’s stool and body for any signs of the tapeworm to ensure the medication worked as prescribed. In addition, check with your vet about getting your cat on a regular flea, tick and worm prevention regimen (more on that below).
Cat Tapeworm Prevention
Although tapeworms are often not particularly harmful to your cat, they are nonetheless unpleasant for both you and your cat. Cat tapeworm prevention is the best way to avoid cat dipylidiasis and future reinfections. A few simple steps can help you keep fleas away — including those infected with tapeworm eggs. Here are a few practices to employ at home:
- Administer flea, tick and worm prevention medication. Consult with your vet on the right dosage, frequency, and type of medication for your cat.
- Try to supervise their interactions when outdoors to prevent them from eating trash or dead animals.
- Regularly check your cat’s stool. If you notice worms in the litter box, there’s a good chance they are tapeworms. Clean out the box immediately, and keep children and other pets away from the area.
- Clean, disinfect, and vacuum regularly throughout the house to maintain a clean, flea-free environment.
The sooner you deal with cat dipylidiasis, the sooner you can eliminate the infestation and get your cat back to good health. With monthly medication and regular vet checkups, you can keep fleas away and avoid dealing with tapeworms altogether. If you’re concerned that your cat may have tapeworms, it’s important to consult with an experienced veterinarian right away. Book an online consultation with one of our certified vets at Cooper Pet Care, and we can help you get your cat the help they need.