Tapeworm in Cats: What They Are and How to Prevent Them
No matter how hard we try to protect our pets, there are parasites everywhere. Fleas, ticks, and lice are the most common parasites we find on our pets.
Tapeworms are common intestinal parasites in outdoor and indoor cats alike. But, why are tapeworms important for pet parents to know about?
Keep reading to learn:
- What are tapeworms
- How do cats get tapeworm infections
- How do I know if my cat has a tapeworm infection
- 3 tips to prevent and treat tapeworm in cats
What are tapeworms in cats
Tapeworms are parasitic flatworms that infest a cat's intestinal tract. Tapeworm infections occur when cats ingest an intermediate host such as fleas or rodents.
Here are the three most common tapeworms found in cats (and other pets):
1. Dipylidium caninum
Also known as the "flea tapeworm," the most common intestinal parasites in adult cats are Dipylidium caninum tapeworms. This species is most common in warmer and more humid regions of Canada and the United States. Dipylidium tapeworm infection can only affect cats through the ingestion of fleas.
2. Taenia taeniaeformis
A rare species of tapeworm is taenia taeniaeformis which can infect cats, rabbits, and wild rodents. Taenia is most common in the southern region of the United States. If your cat eats infected prey animals like rodents and rabbits, they may get infected by this parasite.
The echinococcus tapeworm species can also infect rabbits and other rodents. Most often found in Canada, Alaska, and the midwestern United States, this species is more dangerous to humans.
How do cats get tapeworm infections
If your cat is on a flea & tick preventative you may wonder if you should be worried about tapeworms. The short answer is yes, but how do cats contract tapeworms in the first place?
Contracting tapeworms happens indirectly. This means that if cats eat tapeworm eggs, they will not become infected. Cats catch tapeworm infections through an intermediate host like fleas and small rodents.
Tapeworm life cycle
The tapeworm life cycle takes a few weeks. The life cycle has four stages:
Tapeworms in cats begin with tiny flea larvae ingesting tapeworm eggs. Over time, the eggs grow inside the fleas. Cats are fastidious groomers. So, they may eat an infected flea, the intermediate host, while grooming.
Cats can also become infected with tapeworms by eating infected rodents. So, it's important to keep an eye out for any rodents that may be living in or around your home.
As your cat ingests the flea, the eggs are released into their small intestine and latch onto the cat's intestinal wall. While attached, the eggs grow into tapeworm larvae.
3. Adult tapeworms
After growing into tapeworm larvae, then into adult tapeworms. Adult tapeworms can grow to several inches in length. And, they can live in a cat's small intestine for up to two years if left untreated.
4. Proglottids (tapeworm segments)
As the adult tapeworm matures, segmented worms called proglottids separate and pass into your cat's feces. The segments look like grains of rice and are similar in size to sesame seeds.
When the segments dry up, they break open and release tapeworm eggs in your cat's stomach, starting the life cycle over again. Worm segments can contain as many as 20 eggs in each segment.
How do I know if my cat has a tapeworm infection
Tapeworms in cats are not a fatal condition, but they can be more harmful to kittens or older cats. To tell if your cat has an infection, you’ll want to know the signs and symptoms.
6 tapeworm symptoms in cats
While most tapeworms in cats do not cause obvious symptoms, there are other signs to look out for.
Here are 6 common tapeworm symptoms in cats:
1. Scooting (segments in your cat's feces)
One critical sign of tapeworm infection is finding tapeworm segments (called proglottids) crawling on your cat's feces. An infected cat will likely also have worm segments in their litter box.
Your cat might also scoot on the ground or carpet from irritation and itchiness caused by the proglottids. This is caused by tapeworm larvae clinging onto your pet's fur coat while passing feces.
2. Intestinal blockages
A cat with tapeworms may have intestinal blockages, meaning they are unable to pass solids or liquids. When an obstruction like a group of tapeworms occurs, contents can be backed up in the stomach causing upset.
Intestinal blockages are an emergency. If left untreated, obstructions can result in the death of your cat. If you believe your cat has an intestinal blockage, visit your local emergency veterinarian immediately.
Occasionally, certain tapeworms in cats can migrate to the stomach. Your cat can vomit adult tapeworms when this happens, signaling that they are suffering from a tapeworm infestation.
Diarrhea is a common health problem in cats and can vary in severity. In cats, one of the most common causes of diarrhea is intestinal parasites. If you notice your cat's stool is irregular, contact a licensed vet for a cat check-up to rule out tapeworms in cats.
5. Loss of appetite and weight loss
When your pet is infected with tapeworms, it can upset their stomach. A cat with an upset stomach might be reluctant to eat their normal diet, leading to weight loss and dehydration.
6. Haw's syndrome
A condition called Haw's syndrome can also be associated with cats who are heavily infested with internal parasites. This condition causes prolapse in the third eyelids, also known as the “cherry eye.”
"Cherry eye" occurs when the attachment of your cat's tear gland tissue becomes weak. It releases and causes the gland to become visible.
Haw's syndrome is rare in cats, and can be associated with other serious diseases and conditions like:
- Severe dehydration
- Stomach disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Intestinal cancer
- Feline parvovirus
Can humans get tapeworms from cats
It is possible for pet parents to catch tapeworms from their cats, but it is highly unlikely. For a human to become infected with tapeworm infection, they must swallow an infected flea. Active flea infestations in your home may indirectly cause a human to eat infected fleas.
Humans can also contract tapeworms via contact with cat feces. So, it's important to carefully handle and dispose of your pet's feces, especially if they have an active tapeworm infection.
To eliminate fleas in your home, use a household spray containing an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR). A household flea & tick spray is effective at killing:
- Adult fleas
- Hatching flea eggs
- Flea larvae
3 tips to prevent and treat tapeworms in cats
Preventing and treating tapeworms in cats starts with recognizing the signs of tapeworms. Once you know the symptoms of tapeworms in cats it's time to determine what is the best protection against them.
There are three best practices to keep your cat free of tapeworm infection:
1. Use a preventative flea & tick treatment.
The most common way cats get tapeworms is through a flea infected with tapeworms. Tapeworms cannot infect a cat unless they ingest intermediate hosts, so preventing a flea infestation is the best way to protect your cat.
Certain cats are more susceptible to fleas and ticks depending on their lifestyle. For example, outdoor cats spend a lot of time outside and hunt to consume prey. Because of this, you may need to treat your house and yard for fleas.
If your cat lives in an environment prone to fleas, they may continue contracting tapeworms. Here are some tips to help aid in flea prevention in your home:
- Use a household flea spray that kills adult fleas
- Set light traps
- Vacuum your carpets and floors often
- Treat other pets for fleas and ticks
If you can control fleas, you can prevent tapeworms. To best prevent and treat tapeworms, use flea control products to protect your furry friend from fleas.
If you have an outdoor cat, use flea & tick medication and visit a veterinarian every three months. Your vet can perform parasite testing, prescribe deworming medications, and suggest flea control options for your cat.
2. Seek help from your vet.
Tapeworms can cause serious health issues for your cat if not treated early. If your cat is infected with tapeworms, you will need to consult with your vet for a deworming medication prescription. Your vet can also perform a fecal examination if you believe your cat might be suffering from tapeworms.
One common deworming medication is called Praziquantel. Praziquantel is the only deworming medication that is effective against all species of tapeworms.
To protect your kitty from a tapeworm infestation, consider preventative flea control medications and regular visits to your vet's office.
3. Be well-rounded when it comes to your cat’s health.
Pet owners that have a good understanding of their pet's health and wellness are better prepared to deal with parasites. Here are some tips to keep your cat's health front and center:
- Know what vitamins to give your cat
- Understand how to keep them calm
- Stay up-to-date on the vaccines they need
The fight against tapeworms in cats can be overwhelming. But, pet owners can provide their pets with better disease control by knowing what tapeworms are and how to prevent infection.
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