There’s no two ways about it: worms in cats are disgusting. Unfortunately, they are not uncommon in household pets, including cats. But what are tapeworms? Are cat tapeworms contagious? And, the most important question, how do you get rid of them right now?
What Are Tapeworms?
Cat tapeworms are long, flat, white worms. They have hook-like mouths that anchor onto the wall of your cat’s small intestine. They feed on nutrients that pass through your cat. They can grow as long as 20 inches, though most are about 8 inches when they’re fully grown. As the tapeworm matures, it starts shedding segments of itself—scientists call the segments proglottids. The proglottids, about the size of a grain of rice, break off from the main body of the tapeworm and pass into the cat’s feces.
Cats can get tapeworms in several ways. The most common way is through fleas. Tiny flea larvae can be infected with tapeworms. If your cat digests an infected flea while grooming herself, that flea can transmit a tiny tapeworm into your cat and grow into a full-sized adult worm. Cats can also get tapeworms by eating small animals like squirrels and mice.
How Do Tapeworms Affect My Cat?
Cat tapeworms are gross, but we consider them a minor parasite. That’s because they are unlikely to do any lasting harm to your pet. That being said, if your cat is heavily infested with tapeworms, she might experience weight loss from the worms digesting the nutrition from your cat’s food. In addition, a tapeworm will sometimes break off from the small intestine and travel into a cat’s stomach. When that happens, your cat might vomit up a still-alive worm, which can be a startling sight for a cat owner if you were unaware your cat was infested.
How Can I Tell If My Cat Has Tapeworms?
Vomiting up pieces of worm that is still alive is a good indicator, of course. Other signs your cat might be suffering from a tapeworm infestation include unexplained weight loss, though the most common sign your cat is infested with tapeworms are the proglottids. You’re likely to see those rice-sized, egg-filled tapeworm segments in either your cat’s feces or crawling near her anus. You might witness your cat “scooting” across the floor if the segment is irritating her skin, but this behavior is much more common in dogs.
What is the Treatment for Tapeworms in Cats?
Luckily, treatment for cat tapeworms is pretty easy and effective. If your cat is infested, your vet will give you a tapeworm medicine called a dewormer. Typically, dewormers are oral medications, though they can also be given as a drop on product.
The deworming medication causes the tapeworm to dissolve in the intestines. Since the worm has been digested, you shouldn’t expect to see evidence of it in the litter box. The deworming medication should not cause your cat any adverse side effects, like vomiting or diarrhea.
The best-case scenario is to keep your cat from getting infected in the first place. You can greatly reduce your cat’s risk of ever getting tapeworms by using flea control treatments regularly. Tapeworms are not contagious, like a cold, per se, but they are transmittable — through fleas — from animal to animal and in rare cases to humans. Just like your cat, if your dog eats an infected flea while chewing his skin, he can get tapeworms. If you or your child accidentally ingests a flea, you could get tapeworm, too.
Is There More Than One Type of Tapeworm?
There are two types of tapeworm. The most common, and the one discussed throughout this blog, is known scientifically as Dipylidium caninum.
The other type — which is far more dangerous and far more rare — is called Echinococcus.
If you have any concerns about tapeworms in your cat please talk to us today about effective treatment.