Tapeworms in Cats: Infection, Treatment & Prevention

Tapeworms in Cats: Infection, Treatment & Prevention

Author WCF Staff


Keeping their cats parasite-free is one of the most critical jobs cat owners have. Different intestinal parasites can infect cats, and one of the most disgusting is the tapeworm. These long worms might cause health issues for our feline friends, and responsible cat owners should know what tapeworm infections in cats look like and what they can do about it. Luckily, World Cat Finder is here to help. Here’s what you should know about tapeworms in cats.

What are tapeworms?

We briefly mentioned in the introduction that tapeworms are worms. However, the best description of tapeworms is this - tapeworms are long, segmented intestinal parasites that need an intermediate carrier to infect cats or dogs. There are several tapeworm species, but the most common one in cats is Dipylidium caninum.

cat outside on fence

Tapeworms are the longest intestinal parasites cats can have. Unlike hookworms or roundworms, adult tapeworms can reach a length of 11 inches. This parasite has hook-like mouthparts that it uses to hook itself to the wall of the small intestine.

How can my cat get a tapeworm?

Tapeworms cannot directly infect a cat; it needs an intermediate host. In the case of the tapeworm, the intermediate host is a flea. Before we go into details about tapeworm infections, we need to understand the parasite's life cycle.

Tapeworm’s life cycle is split into three stages - Egg, larvae, and adult. Adult tapeworms have segmented bodies, and each of those segments holds tapeworm eggs. They will periodically release their body parts so they can get expelled with the animal’s feces. The body part will dry and eventually break, revealing the eggs.

Tapeworm eggs cannot progress into the larva stage without the flea. The flea larva needs to ingest the tapeworm egg. Once the flea larva develops into an adult, it can infect a cat. Fleas feed on the cat’s skin, and their bites cause itching. The cat will bite the flea bite spot and eat the flea. The tapeworm egg will develop into a larva inside the flea. Once the flea is ingested, the tapeworm can travel to the cat’s small intestine. It will mature there and produce further eggs.

How can I know if my cat has tapeworms?

Tapeworm eggs and larvae are impossible to spot, mainly because they are hidden. Cats can’t get it directly from the eggs that can actually be seen, and tapeworm larvae are hidden in fleas. However, if your cat recently had fleas, it is probably a good idea to have them dewormed or checked for tapeworms. Plus, even if you haven’t noticed fleas on your cat or the flea infection was short-lasted, it doesn’t mean the cat is entirely safe from tapeworms. Most owners will see something is wrong with their cat, even if they are not quite sure their cat has a tapeworm. The best way to check if your cat has these parasites is to call your vet and book an appointment.

cat licking paw

Symptoms of tapeworms in cats

Tapeworm is a parasite, and parasites can and most likely will cause health issues to our cats. If you are generally worried about parasites and want to ensure your cat is safe from them, you should probably learn which symptoms they might cause. However, cats are rarely affected by tapeworms. Dogs are a lot more susceptible to their effects. Most cat owners bring their cats to the vet because they noticed two things;

  • The owner noticed proglottids (tapeworm body parts released in the small intestine) in the cat’s feces or around the cat’s anus.
  • The cat starts “scooting” its rear end on the floor because it is irritated by the proglottid's protruding.

WORLD CAT FINDER FACT: In rare cases, tapeworms migrate from the small intestine to the cat’s stomach. If that happens, the cat might vomit it out. There were many cases where cats vomited full adult tapeworms.

How are tapeworms diagnosed?

As you can probably imagine, telling your vet you noticed something wiggling in your cat’s feces is usually more than enough for your vet to be pretty sure what they’re dealing with. Those tapeworm segments look like grains of cooked white rice. Some owners even describe it as cucumber seeds. Vets might ask for a feces sample where they can see parts of tapeworm.

kitten outside

How are tapeworms in cats treated?

The good news is that tapeworm medications are very effective. However, over-the-counter meds might not be. Your vet will let you know what cat dewormer you should use to help your cat. If the treatment is successful, the tapeworm will slowly dissolve in the cat’s intestine and slowly get digested by the cat. You shouldn’t see it come out of your cat.

RELATED: Best Cat Dewormers.

Can tapeworms be prevented?

Yes, tapeworms in cats can be prevented. Since the only way tapeworms can infect your cat is through a flea, preventing fleas will prevent tapeworms. You can use different products for keeping fleas away from your cat. Various topical solutions, flea collars, and chewable tables will do the job perfectly.

World Cat Finder Team

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