Updated - Dec 1st, 2022
- Tapeworms are common parasites that attach themselves to the intestinal walls of cats.
- Clearing up tapeworms in cats typically only requires a single dose of oral deworming medication, but sometimes, in severe cases, further diagnostics and treatment are needed.
- Believe it or not, flea control also helps prevent tapeworms in cats.
Whether you suspect your cat has tapeworms or they’ve recently been diagnosed, you’ve come to the right place. Although tapeworms are a common condition amongst cats, it’s still not a condition you should take lightly – early detection and treatment are key with this pesky parasite!
Here, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about tapeworms in cats and how to get your kitty feeling better.
What are tapeworms?
Tapeworms are common intestinal parasites that affect indoor and outdoor cats alike. These pesky microscopic worms can found in a cat’s small intestine, where they attach themselves to a cat’s intestinal walls.
Tapeworm infestations occur when cats eat infected fleas or small animals. As these bothersome parasites make their way to a cat’s small intestine, they eventually break open and release tapeworm eggs into the environment, making their way through the intestinal walls and showing up in the cat’s poop. Although tapeworms rarely cause serious disease in cats, they can cause pain and discomfort for your furry friend.
The tell-tale sign of tapeworms is small white tapeworm eggs (proglottids) in your cat’s poop. These proglottids look like moving grains of rice or hard white specks that are often noticeably stuck to your cat’s rear end or even on their bedding. Other common tapeworm symptoms can include:
- Shaggy coat
- Unpredictable appetite
- Mild diarrhea
- Intestinal blockage and complications
- Scooting on the floor
Older cats with a tapeworm infection tend to show fewer symptoms, while kittens might have more. In extremely rare cases, tapeworm infections can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and even blocked intestines, but these are signs of a cat infected with a large number of tapeworms.
Tapeworm infestations occur when cats eat infected fleas or small animals. Once a cat consumes and digests a flea, the tapeworm larvae is released into their small intestine, eventually maturing into adulthood and hooking themselves onto their intestinal walls. Once these tapeworms mature and grow into adult parasites, they’ll drop small proglottids which pass through the cat’s intestinal tract into their feces.
According to Dr. Debra Eldredge, veterinarian at Cat World and author of “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook,” there are two primary types of tapeworms seen in cats. “Taenia taeniaeformis is acquired by cats who hunt and eat rodents,” she says. “Dipylidium caninum, despite its name, makes itself perfectly at home in cats (not just dogs) and is acquired by cats ingesting an infested flea while grooming.”
If you suspect your cat has a tapeworm infestation, take a peek at your cat’s poop and see if you can see any proglottids. If you don’t see any but still suspect something is up, bring a sample of your cat’s poop to your vet to receive a proper diagnosis as soon as possible. Diagnosing the type of tapeworm is essential for determining proper treatment.
The good news is that treating tapeworms in cats is fairly simple. A single dose of oral deworming medication will usually do the trick! In a severe case of tapeworms, your veterinarian might have to treat complications like intestinal blockages which require additional diagnostic imaging, procedures, and medication.
However, as previously mentioned, different species of tapeworms require different treatment treatments. Dipylidium caninum are easy-to-treat tapeworms that veterinarians come into contact with every day, and you’ll need to treat your cat, home, and other pets to prevent a reinfection. On the other hand, Taenia taeniaeformis requires routine veterinary check ups, since these specific tapeworms are transmitted through rodents. Cats are curious creatures, so it may be impossible to curb their hunting instincts. If there are multiple pets in the home, you don’t want to risk the spread of tapeworms from one cat to another.
Recovery and care
It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s guidance when giving your cat medication, this way you can maximize your chances of avoiding potential reinfection. It’s possible for cats to become reinfected by eating infected rodents or fleas, and they may have to undergo treatment again in the future.
“While there are effective and safe medications for ridding your cat of tapeworms, it’s important to address the underlying cause,” Dr. Eldredge says. “If you don’t stop the rodent hunting or address a flea infestation, the tapeworms will return.”
After deworming treatment is complete, your vet will most likely run a follow-up fecal test to ensure the medication has effectively removed the tapeworms. They can also give you advice on how to safely remove fleas from your home, as well as how to prevent them in the future.
To avoid a tapeworm infestation, Dr. Eldredge recommends keeping your cat indoors so they’re not hunting and eating rodents. She also recommends regular use of flea prevention products and routinely cleaning up your cat’s feces to decrease the chances of prolonging the tapeworm life cycle and infestation. Of course, keeping up with routine veterinary visits can also help catch tapeworm infections before they become a problem.
What to expect at the vet’s office
Your vet will ask you to bring in a stool sample from your cat for testing. If tapeworm eggs are present, your cat will be prescribed a deworming medication and a preventive plan moving forward. Make sure to inform your vet of any other medications or supplements your cat is taking, as well as if there are any other animals in the home, so they can treat your cat the best way they know how.
The bottom line
These common yet bothersome parasites can cause irritation and discomfort if left untreated. Luckily, tapeworms in cats are easily treatable with early detection and highly preventable with proper routine care.
Does pet insurance cover tapeworms?
Pumpkin Cat Insurance plans reimburse you 90% of all eligible vet bills for unexpected accidents and illnesses including parasitic infections like tapeworms. Pumpkin also offers a preventive care package as an add-on to insurance plans. This is not insurance, but an optional benefit that can reimburse you for yearly fecal tests to detect tapeworms.
Can you see tapeworms?
Since tapeworms can be seen with the naked eye, it’s possible to see segments of tapeworms crawling on the surface of a cat’s feces or around their rear. They look like moving grains of rice or hard white specks that stick to a cat’s coat.
Can humans become infected with tapeworms?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates fewer than 1,000 new tapeworm infections in humans each year, so it’s highly unlikely for pet owners to become infected with tapeworms from their cat.
Are tapeworms in cats dangerous?
Tapeworms are not usually harmful to cats. In extreme cases, they can drain a cat’s nutrients and cause severe irritation and weight loss, but they rarely cause any significant harm.
Is there a vaccine for tapeworms in cats?
Currently, there’s not a vaccine for tapeworms in cats, as vaccines are only available for viral diseases.
Did you know?
- Although most tapeworms are about 8 inches long when fully grown, some can grow up to 20 inches long.
- A single proglottid may contain as many as 20 tapeworm eggs.
- Pumpkin Cat Insurance plans cover 90% of eligible vet bills – helping you say ‘yes’ to the best care possible if accidents and illnesses arise. Fetch a free quote today!