What are tapeworms?
Tapeworms are an intestinal parasite, meaning they live inside your cat’s digestive tract, in the small intestine. Although they usually don’t cause any overt symptoms, it is yucky to think of what they are doing on the inside. They can be from one inch to several feet long. They latch onto the intestinal wall and grow longer. They can be composed of hundreds or thousands of individual segments. If you cat is heavily infected, they could have dozens of individual worms living in them.
The worms can live from 2-3 years and if left untreated can cause malnutrition or bowel inflammation. They can only be eliminated if the head is killed – otherwise they will regenerate lost segments.
How do cats get tapeworms?
Cats can’t get tapeworms directly, they must ingest a carrier. Most often this comes from eating fleas, but it can also come from eating infected animals in the wild, such as mice.
The worms breed by shedding segments that the cat’s then excrete in their stool. The segments then crawl around and release the eggs. Fleas eat the eggs, bite the cat, the cat eats the fleas, and the tapeworm infestation gets worse.
How do I know if my cat has tapeworms?
Often, cat’s don’t have any signs of tapeworm infestation, but there are some signs you may see.
You may see the shedded segments of worms in your cat’s feces or dried around the fur on their behind. They are about the size and shape of a piece of rice. When alive, you can see them move, but if dead, they will look like dried rice.
You may also notice that the cat isn’t digesting food properly – you will be able to tell when you change the box that there food is still partly whole.
They may also act listlessly and like they just don’t feel good. In some cases, your cat may have mild diarrhea or a pot-bellied look.
How do I get rid of tapeworms if my cat has them?
Fortunately, as gross as they may be, and as much troubles as they can cause on the outside, treatment is effective and straightforward.
A vet will examine your cat, and will also ask for a stool sample. Treatment of the worms is then involves a few steps:
1. The cat will be medicated with a dewormer. Usually only one treatment is needed to kill tapeworms. Your vet will often give a broad spectrum dewormer that will work to kill other worms such as hookworms and roundworms.
2. Your cat will also need to be treated for fleas and lice, carrier insects that could reinfect the cat if eaten while the cat is grooming. This treatment should be ongoing. A broad spectrum flea and worm control medication should be readily available and administered once a month.
3. You will need to thoroughly clean all the cat’s bedding and any areas they frequent to kill any remaining eggs or fleas and lice.
4. The cat will need to be confined and prevented from hunting or eating animals they find outside.
While it can be difficult to tell if you cat is infected with tapeworms, if you suspect it, you should get your cat checked out. A severe infestation can lead to malnutrition and general malaise in your cat. Initial treatment is very effective, but prevention must be ongoing. A broad spectrum flea, tick, and worm preventative given once a month is necessary, even for indoor cats. Also, cats should be prevented from eating anything not given to them by you – birds, mouse, etc. can carry the tapeworms, and you cat could become infected again.
- Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook
- Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats
- The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health