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Tapeworms in Cats

Tapeworms in cats are from fleas or rodents.

Tapeworms are parasites that invade a cat's intestinal tract. They use the hooks on their mouthparts to bury themselves into their host's intestinal wall. They feed on the food that the cat is digesting.

Types of Tapeworms That Cats Get

There are three main types of tapeworms that can infect cats:

  • Dipylidium caninum is the most common type of tapeworm in cats. It uses flea larvae as part of its life cycle, and a cat must ingest a flea to be infected by this type of tapeworm.
  • Taenia species are less common than Dipylidium. These types of tapeworms use a bird, rodent, or rabbit as an intermediate host. A cat must ingest an infected animal to get Taenia.
  • Echinococcus species use rodents, sheep, fox, and coyotes as intermediates. They're the rarest of the three types of tapeworm.

Tapeworm Lifecycle

Tapeworms have heads and segmented bodies. The segments, called proglottids, can detach from the head and from one another and make their way through the intestinal tract and out into the environment.

Once out of the host, the proglottids dry up and eventually break open, releasing tapeworm eggs. A flea larva, in the case of Dipylidium caninum, or a rodent or other intermediate host in the cases of Taenia and Echinococcus, ingests the tapeworm eggs.

A cat is infected when she eats an adult flea that was infected with tapeworm eggs during its larval stage or when she eats an infected rodent.

Signs of Feline Tapeworm Infection

Many times, there are no signs of tapeworm infection in a cat. Tapeworms often have no ill effects on a host, and they can carry them for long periods of time without detection.

Some of the signs that might be noticed include:

  • Vomiting up a tapeworm.
  • Weight loss.
  • Tapeworm segments visible in the stool or around the pet's anus. These are often described as looking like grains of rice, and they may or may not be moving.

Diagnosing Tapeworms in Cats

Tapeworms can be difficult to diagnose, even when a veterinarian runs a fecal flotation test to look for intestinal parasite eggs. That's because tapeworm eggs are heavy and often drop down rather than floating to the top of the sample.

Diagnosis of feline tapeworms is often achieved when an owner notices tapeworm segments (proglottids) on the cat, in the kitty's bedding, or in the stool. The owner should collect the proglottids and take them to the veterinarian, who can examine the enclosed tapeworm eggs under a microscope and identify which of the three types the cat has.

Treatment of Tapeworms in Cats

Treatment of tapeworms in cats is achieved by using a particular type of de-wormer. It is available by prescription from veterinarians as a pill or injection.

Cats will often become re-infected by tapeworms if they continue to have fleas or chase and eat rodents.

Flea control is critical to breaking the cycle of Dipylidium infestation in cats. You can learn more here: "Flea Control for Cats," but you should speak with your veterinarian about the best way to control fleas in your individual situation.

Can I Catch Tapeworms from My Cat?

People, other cats, and dogs do not catch tapeworms directly from cats. They need to be infected the same way the original cat was: by ingesting a flea or rodent.

Therefore, while it's uncommon for people to get tapeworms when their cat is infected, other cats and dogs in the same household often do get Dipylidium, especially, concurrently because they also have fleas.

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