How to Deal With Tapeworms in Cats

posted: 05/15/12
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Tapeworms is common in cats, but is certainly preventable.
Lauritz Jensen/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis |

Most cats are infected by tapeworm at some time in their lives. It is one of the most common internal parasites suffered by pets, partly because tapeworms are carried by fleas. Fortunately for cats, tapeworm is easily treatable with oral medication. You can prevent tapeworm by practicing vigilant flea control, keeping the cat's coat and your home free of these pesky invaders.

What is Tapeworm?

A nasty intestinal parasite, tapeworms can infect both cats and dogs. The tapeworm looks like its name: a thin, whitish flat strand several inches long that resembles ribbon or tape. Containing male and female reproductive parts, tapeworms can multiply on their own, and will lay their eggs in your cat's intestines. Tapeworms are considered more troublesome than dangerous. They rob nutrients from your cat, and in large numbers, cause it to lose weight. Mild diarrhea and appetite changes are other symptoms of tapeworm. And a heavily infested cat will also have a rough, patchy coat.

How Cats Get Tapeworm

The two most common types of tapeworms infecting cats are dipylidium caninum and taneia taeniaformis. Dipylidium caninum tapeworms are transmitted by flea larvae that have consumed tapeworm eggs. After a cat ingests a flea during grooming, the tapeworm hatches when the flea breaks down in the stomach. Taneia taeniaformis tapeworms arrive when a cat eats rodents that host tapeworm larvae. Both types of tapeworms hook onto a cat's small intestines, where they mature in two to three weeks, then release their eggs.

If your cat has tapeworm, you'll spot rice-like grains in the fur around your cat's anus and in its litter box. (Your vet can also confirm their presence by checking a stool sample.) Those tiny grains are the tapeworm's egg-filled segments passing out of the cat in its feces. Fleas ingest the eggs and restart the cycle.

Your vet will write a prescription for a dewormer that specifically targets tapeworm. Brand-name dewormers, usually in tablet form, include Droncit and Drontal. Based on the cat's weight, the vet will determine the size of the dosage. The cat will need at least two separate doses of the dewormer, two to three weeks apart. The first dose will wipe out the adult tapeworms in its system, and they will pass out in its feces. The second round will kill the larval tapeworms that develop in the interim. If you still see signs of tapeworm in the weeks after the second treatment, the cat will need additional doses of dewormer, and later your vet should do a fecal check for an all-clear.

Preventing Tapeworm

Because tapeworms thrive in fleas, a regular flea-prevention regimen is crucial to keep your cat tapeworm-free. If fleas are present, tapeworm is certain to return. With a multitude of flea treatment products available, you need only to choose the ones best suited to your situation. Your vet can help you decide what will work for your cat, and recommend whether you need to treat your entire home and yard for fleas, or just the cat.

Keeping the cat's living area clean is also a must. Dispose of soiled litter promptly and safely, and inspect its bedding for fleas. If your cat goes outdoors and hunts, consider making it an indoor-only kitty to keep it from eating rodents that will continue to introduce tapeworms into your home. Have your vet check the cat's stool annually for tapeworms.

How Humans Get Tapeworm

Tapeworm infection in humans is rare, because it begins with ingesting an infected flea. Most reported cases involve children who ingest contaminated fleas after handling infected dirt or feces. The best way to steer clear of tapeworm infection is by stringent hygiene. No one should handle a pet's feces, and hands should always be washed after touching a cat or dog to prevent possible ingestion of fleas.

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