Veterinarian treating a kitten with worms

Key takeaway

Tapeworm in cats can lead to a number of symptoms, such as unthriftiness, diarrhea, and the presence of tapeworms in your cat’s stool. Commonly caused by eating infected fleas, mice, or other rodents, tapeworms can be treated with deworming drugs prescribed by veterinarians.

Cats are normally warm, cuddly creatures that nuzzle up to you on the couch. So if you start to notice your cat acting differently, you probably have a million questions rushing through your head. Are they sick? Did I do something wrong? What happened to my usual cuddly kitty?

There are various factors that could be causing your feline friend to act out. But one of the most common health problems that many cats silently suffer from is tapeworms.

Tapeworms are a common parasitic infection that can affect both indoor and outdoor cats. Cats can get tapeworms from either eating infected feces, fleas or rodents. Tapeworms settle in a cat’s small intestine, but the most common types of tapeworms in cats aren't usually dangerous. However, if left untreated for a long period of time, tapeworms can lead to serious complications and can even potentially be fatal.

Fortunately, a tapeworm infection in cats is relatively easy to prevent and treat, so your furry friend can go back to their warm and cuddly selves as quickly as possible.

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing what causes tapeworms in cats, tapeworm symptoms in cats, how to treat tapeworms, and more. Continue reading, or use the links below to skip to a section of your choice to find out more about tapeworms in cats.

What Are Tapeworms?

Tapeworms are part of the invertebrate class called Cestoda. Cestoda is a group of parasitic flatworms with about 5,000 species. Tapeworms are long, flat, and white parasites that can range in size from 1mm to 15m. Tapeworks can affect humans, domestic animals, and even fish1.

Tapeworms are internal parasites that affect vertebrates' liver, brain or digestive tracts, such as domestic animals like cats, by attaching suckers or hooks into the host’s intestine and feeding off of any digested food. Tapeworms often have a head, which is the part that attaches to the host, and segments that can break off and leave the host’s body through stool. If the segments or any eggs get into soil or water and are consumed by cats or other animals or humans, they can get infected2.

What Causes Tapeworms in Cats?

There are various types of tapeworms that cats can acquire in different ways. A cat won’t get tapeworms from just accidentally eating one. In order for a cat to get tapeworms, it must consume an intermediate host that contains the parasite21.

The most common causes of tapeworms in cats include cats eating fleas, or indoor or outdoor rodents like mice or rats, that are infected with tapeworms. Tapeworm can also be caused by a cat eating the feces of an animal that is infected with tapeworm where larvae, eggs, or segments of the tapeworm pass2.

Causes of tapeworms in cats include fleas and ticks, eating infected indoor or outdoor rodents like rats and mice, and eating animal feces with tapeworm eggs or larvae.

Dipylidium caninum is the most common type of tapeworm in cats and it’s acquired when a cat eats fleas. A less common type of tapeworm in cats is called taenia taeniaeformis, and it’s acquired by a cat eating mice, rats, or other infected rodents. Tapeworms can also latch onto reptiles, amphibians, and even fish as their hosts. So if your cat ends up consuming any of these, the tapeworm can transfer into them2.

Indoor cats are most likely to be infected with tapeworms if they live somewhere that is prone to fleas. Outdoor cats that hunt are most likely to be infected with tapeworms that come from rodents or other types of prey. Ultimately, cats can get tapeworms anywhere, including both indoor and outdoor spaces. If your cat eats a host infected with tapeworms, they can end up getting the infection themselves.

What Are Tapeworm Symptoms in Cats?

So now that you know what causes tapeworms in cats, let’s discuss the various tapeworm symptoms in cats. Tapeworm infection in cats is very common. However, sometimes symptoms might not be noticeable, making it hard to diagnose. Symptoms may also depend on the age, condition, cat breed, and degree of infection. However, if symptoms are present, they may include:

Symptoms of tapeworms in cats include unthriftiness, malaise, irregular appetite, poor hair coat, and diarrhea.

  • Unthriftiness (the inability to absorb food or digest food properly)
  • Malaise
  • Irregular appetite
  • Poor hair coat
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Itchiness on the cat’s backside
  • Weight loss2

It’s also possible for parts of a tapeworm to break off into segments and end up in your cat’s feces. This will look like dried white rice or cream-colored segments, and you’ll find them either in your cat’s feces or stuck to the fur under their tail. If the tapeworm is in your cat’s stomach, they can also end up vomiting the worm up.

How to Get Rid of Tapeworms in Cats

The first step in treating tapeworm in cats is to bring your cat to the vet to get diagnosed. A veterinarian will diagnose a cat with tapeworms through a fecal examination. This means they will examine the feces of a cat to look for signs of larvae or eggs.

Once a tapeworm is identified in a cat’s feces, the vet will then need to diagnose the type of tapeworm. They can do this with either a diagnostic PCR test or a microscopic examination. It’s crucial for a vet to diagnose the specific type of tapeworm in a cat in order to treat them properly.

It’s also possible for your cat to have no physical evidence of tapeworms in their stool. In this case, you should collect a sample of your cat’s stool from their litter box and bring it to the vet so they can further examine it.

Treatments for tapeworms in cats include dewormer drugs, which can be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Now, we’ll discuss how to get rid of tapeworms in cats. Treatment ultimately depends on the type of tapeworm your cat has, but generally, medication is used to eliminate the parasite. Your veterinarian will likely prescribe a dewormer drug, such as fenbendazole, epsiprantel, or praziquantel, depending on the type of tapeworm2. If your cat is suffering from intestinal blockage as a result of tapeworms, additional treatment measures must be taken, like diagnostic imaging and further medication.

It’s also important to note that it’s possible for your cat to get tapeworms again. Just because you treated their tapeworm effectively once doesn’t mean your cat won’t go ahead and eat another flea, getting infected all over again. This is why it’s crucial to take certain measures to prevent tapeworms in cats, which we will get into below.

How to Prevent Tapeworms in Cats

Veterinarian treating a cat with worms

The most effective way to prevent tapeworms in cats is with flea control. Keeping your cat free of fleas ensures that they won’t end up accidentally consuming a flea infected with tapeworms. If your cat does get fleas, you can use flea and tick medication to treat them3.

It’s also best to get your cat vaccinated for fleas as a kitten. Deworming your kitten eliminates the risk of them getting tapeworms and other parasites as they get older.

Another way you can prevent tapeworm infection in cats is by stopping them from eating dead or prey animals. This is especially important for outdoor cats who have a tendency to hunt rodents and other small animals3. If you see your cat eyeing another animal, bring them inside immediately. You can also get them a collar with a bell on it, which can help to alert their prey that they’re close.

The right prevention method for your feline friend ultimately depends on the type of cat and the environment they live in. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine the best prevention options for your cat.

Final Notes

Tapeworm in cats is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to take lightly. So if you start to notice your cat is acting differently and you suspect they have a tapeworm, bring them to the vet as soon as possible so they can get treated.

Fortunately, tapeworms are relatively easy and inexpensive to treat. All you need is a quick trip to the vet and you can get the proper medication you need to treat your sick kitty. But what if you don’t have the time to physically bring your cat to the vet? That’s where Dutch comes into play.

Dutch provides vet telemedicine for pets, connecting pet owners with licensed veterinarians right from the comfort of their own home. These vets can prescribe treatment for a number of health conditions, including tapeworms. With Dutch, you can work with a veterinarian to determine the medication you need to treat your furry friend and it will be delivered right to your door within 7 days. Dutch-affiliated vets can help with everything from allergy treatment to treatment for fleas in cats.

With Dutch, you’ll never have to stress out about not having time to bring your pet to the vet. We’ll bring the vet right to you so your pet can be back to their happy and healthy selves.

References

  1. JR;, Georgi. “Tapeworms.” The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small Animal Practice, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3328390/.
  2. Peregrine, Andrew S. “Tapeworms in Dogs and Cats - Digestive System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/gastrointestinal-parasites-of-small-animals/tapeworms-in-dogs-and-cats.
  3. Peregrine, Andrew S. “Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/digestive-disorders-of-cats/gastrointestinal-parasites-of-cats.