Critter Culture
Understanding Tapeworms in Cats

Understanding Tapeworms in Cats

Critter Culture Staff



Tapeworm infection is something most people have heard of but don't truly understand. It's an affliction in many mammals, including humans and felines. There are a few species of tapeworm, depending on the carrier. Fortunately, treatment is available for every type.

As a cat owner, you need to be vigilant to protect your pet from tapeworms. To know what to look for and how to take action, it's important to learn about these unpleasant parasites.


What is a tapeworm?

tapeworm Sinhyu / Getty Images

Quite a common parasite, tapeworms are flat, segmented, and typically large enough to be seen by the human eye. Going against the grain of evolution, they've evolved through the centuries to eliminate the need for heads, guts, and sensory organs. Instead, their entire existence is devoted to resisting host attacks and constant reproduction through several means.

Tapeworms frequent the small intestines of mammals. There, they absorb nutrients through the skin. Their favorite food is vitamin B12, which causes lethargy and anemia in the host. Overall, they're not fatal, but an extremely rare tapeworm case, on occasion, can turn deadly if not treated.


How cats get tapeworms

cat scratching Sitikka / Getty Images

The primary way your kitty will get infected is through fleas. Adult fleas eat tapeworm eggs, which allow them to become intermediate hosts: tapeworms require this intermediate host to develop into adults. If a feline consumes even one of these fleas, the eggs will hatch in the cat.


Other intermediate hosts

cat looking at a mouse Galina Sandalova / Getty Images

Though it's less common than fleas, cats could acquire tapeworms through other intermediate hosts. Animals such as rodents, deer, and rabbits are some examples. If a cat ingests even a portion of an infected mammal, they'll develop tapeworms. Contaminated water, trash, and soil will also have the same result.


Can cats transmit tapeworms to humans?

Owner Cleaning Kitten Paws After Using Litter Box CasarsaGuru / Getty Images

A cat can transmit tapeworms to humans. However, this situation is infrequent. Even if your kitty has an infection, transmission isn't likely. Tapeworms that cause the most serious problems in humans are scarce. Children do seem more susceptible to common tapeworm infections, but these don't elicit significant diseases.

If you take the proper precautions, you and everyone in your household should be fine. Bear in mind that the litter box is a hotbed for infection. Make sure you scrub your hands every time after touching it and wear protective gloves. If you get anything on your clothing, change it right away and wash the contaminated items immediately.


Outward physical symptoms

cat grooming themself

One of the most troubling parts about tapeworm infections is that you may not necessarily know it exists in your cat. There's a misconception that tapeworms cause weight loss, but this isn't the case. Infestations are often without symptoms — some rectal irritation could occur, but this isn't certain. If you see your cat cleaning excessively or dragging their hindquarters, it could equally be a sign of tapeworms or another ailment.


Seeing the evidence firsthand

woman looking at her cats fur Alina Bitta / Getty Images

The best way to tell if your cat has tapeworms is by seeing the evidence. Tapeworms shed segments about the size and color of a grain of rice or a cucumber seed. These segments will be visible in feces or stuck to the fur on their hind, but sometimes they're so small they might go undetected.

Occasionally, tapeworms can travel to a feline's stomach, resulting in vomiting and expelling the tapeworm. Be aware that it could be fully intact and fairly lively when it comes out.


What if you suspect your cat has a tapeworm?

woman using her phone with her cat on the sofa Linda Raymond / Getty Images

If you see possible proof of tapeworms in your cat, call the vet: an infection cannot go away on its own and requires medical attention. Before going to the appointment, save whatever worm specimens your cat excretes. Collect them in jars or secure bags that you can easily transport, as this will be valuable evidence to help your vet with a diagnosis.


A visit to the vet

cat being checked by the veterinarian Tomwang112 / Getty Images

When at the office, your vet will perform an exam. The fecal sample will be used to determine any intestinal parasites. Blood tests indicate infections even if stool tests come up negative. Additionally, scans like X-rays or ultrasounds will show tapeworms. Organ tests are also an option. While they won't reveal any tapeworms, they're a helpful tool to pinpoint any sort of resulting damage or improper functioning.


Why treatment is necessary

cat being given a pill Dmitry Kirichay / Getty Images

Adult tapeworms may reach up to 50 feet in length, though this isn't usually the case in felines. Generally, the bigger the tapeworm, the older it is because of its continual shedding and regrowth cycle. But if the tapeworm breaks, just like an earthworm, it'll regenerate. Plus, it can lay up to a million eggs per day. This is why a vigorous treatment regimen is vital.

Your vet won't have to keep your kitty unless the infection is severe. Treatment includes oral medication to dissolve the tapeworm and anti-inflammatory steroids to reduce intestinal swelling. Make sure to give your pet the entire course of treatment to ensure removal. Don't expect to see dead worms in the stool unless the infection is extreme: in this case, your vet might recommend laxatives.


Preventing tapeworms

woman giving flea remedy for her cat Sergiy Akhundov / Getty Images

For flea intermediate hosts, flea and tick treatments work best. The cat's environment should likewise be fumigated to prevent recurring problems. Also, some monthly heartworm medications specifically target tapeworm infections.

Regarding other intermediate carriers, keep your kitty away from potential threats. Make sure they're not ingesting unclean water, animals, and trash or digging in the soil.




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