Tapeworms in cats are intestinal parasites that have the possibility to make kitties sick. But what are the signs of tapeworms in cats? How would you know if your cat is suffering? Don't bug out: We're here to assist!
To truly understand tapeworms in cats, pet parents first need to understand what tapeworms are and just what tricks they've up their (metaphorical) sleeve with regards to infesting your cat. Let us get into it!
What Are Tapeworms
Tapeworms are long, white and flat segmented worms that can reside in the little intestines of cats and dogs. They contain both men and women reproductive organs and use their hook-like mouth parts to anchor towards the inside of the intestinal wall. You will find three types of tapeworms that can infect felines:
- Dipylidium caninum
- Taenia species
- Echinococcus species
All three typically use other animals, called an intermediate host, to go in the cat.
Taenia and Echinococcus tapeworms can infect wild rodents and rabbits, in addition to house pets. When cats eat these infected prey animals, the parasite then infects the kitty. But the most typical tapeworm present in pet cats is Dipylidium or even the “flea tapeworm.”
Illustration by Chewy Studios
Dipylidium Tapeworm Lifecycle
This intestinal parasite has earned its “flea tapeworm” moniker since it uses a flea as an intermediate host to get involved with your dog.
As seen in the illustration above, the cycle of infection starts when segmented tapeworm egg packets, called proglottids, are consumed by flea larvae (pre-adult fleas) either outside or by existing fleas in the home. These tiny flea larvae chew into the tapeworm egg case and take in the microscopic ova.
These eggs then hatch inside the flea larvae’s body and hide there through the larvae’s development into a blood-sucking adult flea. Once the infected adult flea jumps on your cat, it can then be consumed during your kitty’s grooming.
Once swallowed, the flea is digested, and also the tapeworm larvae is released unharmed where it can then affix to the intestines. At this time, it takes about four weeks to develop into a reproducing adult tapeworm, which could measure anywhere from 6 to 23 inches and produce the segmented egg packets. These segments contain as much as 20 microscopic eggs and exit the cat’s body through their feces. Once released in to the environment, they become ingested by flea larvae, and the cycle starts all over again.
Tapeworm Symptoms in Cats
Most cats do not show signs of illness from tapeworm infections. Cats who've heavy flea infestations are more likely to end up with large amounts of tapeworms within their intestines, and there's potential for these patients to see the next signs of tapeworms in cats:
- Vomiting (due to adult tapeworms becoming detached in the small intestinal wall and migrating towards the stomach)
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
You could also see the tapeworm egg segments inside your cat’s litterbox or near their anus. Pale yellow and mobile, the Dipylidium proglottids come forth with the cat’s feces, but the segments may also migrate out of your cat’s anus without worrying about stool. They're in regards to a quarter of an inch long when fresh and stretched out, but start to dry after leaving the body and be harder to determine. When dry, they somewhat resemble sesame seeds. Fresh or dry segments will often be viewed stuck towards the fur round the anus or moving forward the surface of fresh feces.
Tapeworm segments migrating towards the anal area could also cause excessive anal itching be responsible for butt scooting or constant licking from the anal area.
Rarely, a condition called Haw’s syndrome may be related to heavy tapeworm presence in cats and cause prolapse in the third eyelids (nictitating membranes). This syndrome can occur in severely dehydrated cats, but has also been related to significant disease of the stomach and intestines because of parasites (such as tapeworms), inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal cancer and viral enteritis. However, the absence of Haw’s syndrome does not rule out intestinal parasite infection or any other intestinal disease.
What makes it so difficult to diagnose tapeworms in cats is the fact that kitties are very fastidious groomers. Cats can clean the evidence from their backsides and bury their stool within the litterbox before anyone gets a chance to begin to see the evidence of infection. And fecal flotations performed by the vet can also come up short when attempting to detect tapeworm infection due to the intermittent shedding of the egg-containing segments.
If the vet finds fleas or maybe even the feces of fleas (aka “flea dirt”) on your cat, they'll likely recommend deworming for tapeworms due to the high-risk of the existing infection.
How to deal with Tapeworms in Cats
The best medication for killing tapeworms in cats is praziquantel. It is the only drug that is effective against all types of tapeworm, and comes in tablet, injectable and topical forms.
Bayer Pharmaceutical provides a non-prescription praziquantel tablet, Bayer Tapeworm Dewormer Tablets for Cats, as well as a prescription formula called Bayer Drontal Tablets for Cats that’s also made to attack hookworms and roundworms. Bayer also offers a praziquantel injection called Bayer Droncit that may be administered by a veterinarian.
While one dose is recognized as effective to kill adult tapeworms, it is recommended to administer a second dose about fourteen days later to kill any remaining or newly introduced tapeworms. Effective flea control should also be utilized simultaneously to clear and prevent reinfection with Dipylidium worms.
How to avoid Tapeworms in Cats
As the old saying goes, “An oz of prevention may be worth one pound cure.” That certainly is true when it comes to tapeworm infections. Vigilant and efficient flea control for the cat may be the first step in preventing infection in the flea tapeworm, Dipylidium, and cats who head outdoors will often hunt and consume prey, which serve as intermediate hosts for that other species of tapeworms. These cats should see their vet every 3 months for intestinal parasite testing and deworming whether symptoms are present or otherwise.
See the best-selling flea prevention treating cats here.
Common Questions regarding Tapeworms in Cats
Can people get tapeworms from cats?
A:Although it is uncommon, tapeworms can potentially affect people, too. The way tapeworm infections occur in humans, though, depends upon the species.
The flea tapeworm Dipylidium must inhabit a flea being infective. Therefore, if a human accidently ingests an infected flea, they could ingest a tapeworm. Which means that people cannot get a Dipylidium tapeworm infection from eggs accidently consumed using their cat's stool or from eggs on their fur.
Humans can also be have contracted Taenia or Echinococcus tapeworm species when they consume an affected intermediate host, such as a rodent, rabbit or livestock that is contaminated with tapeworm larvae.
According towards the U.S. Cdc and Prevention, Echinococcus may be the only tapeworm species which has immediately infective eggs that don't require medium difficulty host to result in infections. This means that people can become infected with Echinococcus eggs if they are accidently consumed after fainting of the cat or dog's digestive tract. For this reason, Echinococcus and Dipylidium tapeworms can more easily affect small children because kids are often less concerned with hygiene than adults.
How serious are tapeworms in cats?
A: Tapeworms in cats ought to be taken seriously. Any parasite, whether internal (like intestinal tapeworms) or external (for example fleas, ticks, lice and mites), has the potential to negatively impact your cat's health. Tapeworms could possibly lead to intestinal inflammation, which is bad for your cat's immune system, and a poor defense mechanisms can result in a range of other health issues.
How long does it decide to try kill tapeworms in cats?
A: Within hours of administering praziquantel, the medication starts wearing down the tapeworm's protective outer “skin,” which allows the cat's immune system and digestive support enzymes to kill and dissolve the parasite.
What happens if tapeworms go untreated in cats?
A: If tapeworm infections go untreated, then there is the opportunity of cats to begin to exhibiting the normal tapeworm symptoms in cats: vomiting, diarrhea, weight reduction or poor appetite. Kittens and far older cats are especially prone to the negative effects of intestinal parasites. Kittens might not thrive and, in extreme cases, can develop intestinal obstructions from adult tapeworms. Older cats are more likely to develop inflammation in their intestinal tracts that may lead to chronic vomiting and weight loss. And cats of any age might turn to licking their anal areas excessively, or scooting their anus on the ground due to discomfort or itching.
While tapeworms in cats should be given serious attention, they are relatively easy to deal with and stop. Effective flea control and deworming, as recommended from your veterinarian, is key. Not all flea control products are created equal and there's no deworming product which kills every type of intestinal parasite. The vet will help you select the right treatment and prevention plan for your kitty's lifestyle.
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