Preparing for parasites: How to recognise and treat tapeworm in cats
By Rachel Mulheron, helpucover
As much as we care for and do the best for our cats, there is a chance they may be affected by worms at some point in their lives. Owners need not panic as tapeworms are a relatively minor ailment and easy to treat. However, it is important to know and check for the common symptoms and take appropriate action if found, as serious health problems could occur for your cat if left untreated.
What is tapeworm (also known as cestodes)?
Tapeworms are intestinal parasites, with the two most common found in cats being dipylidium caninum and taenia taeniaeformis. They look like thin, whiteish flat strands, are several inches long and resemble a ribbon or tape.
Are they harmful to humans?
It is very rare for a human to be infected, but it’s imperative to supervise young children around your cat if you think it may have worms. In the most extreme cases, children who ingest the eggs can sometimes suffer eye damage or even blindness as the worm larvae move through the body and cause tissue damage.
What symptoms to look out for
By using your cat’s intestines as a host, the tapeworms rob the body of nutrients, and in large numbers, cause significant weight-loss, diarrhoea and appetite changes.
As a tapeworm grows, pieces of it break off into segments and pass through a cat’s intestines, so you can sometimes see signs in your pet’s faeces. Dried, white/cream segments, can also stick to fur under the tail.
Cats may bite or lick the anus, or drag their behinds across the floor as a result of the worms causing irritation and itching. A heavily infested cat will have a rough, patchy coat.
How do cats get tapeworm?
Tapeworms are developed by consuming the larvae, which is normally carried by fleas. Cats often swallow fleas when grooming themselves and this is how they contract the disease. This type of tapeworm is commonly called Dipylidium caninum.
Another form of the disease is Taneia taeniaformis, which occurs 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.
Other sources that are potential transmitters, include prey such as rabbits, birds, and rodents.
Your vet will perform a thorough physical examination on your cat and a faecal sample will normally be enough to indicate the presence of tapeworms.
Because tapeworms flourish on fleas, a regular and comprehensive flea-prevention regimen is crucial to keep your cat tapeworm-free.
Keeping your cat’s living area clean is also a must. Change dirty litter immediately and inspect your cat’s bedding for fleas on a regular basis. If your cat goes outdoors and hunts, perhaps consider keeping them inside until the infection has cleared.
Regular veterinary check-ups are also highly recommended. While your cat may not show signs of tapeworm, every animal reacts differently and needs to be professionally examined.
How to treat tapeworms
Unfortunately, worms are impossible to fully prevent and there is currently no treatment available that will totally stop your cat becoming infected. However, medications are available which are highly effective at removing tapeworms and treatment for adult tapeworms is given either by injection or by oral medication.
For kittens, use creams or syrups as preventatives, which are available from pet stores and vets and usually the easiest to administer. Treatment needs to be every two to three weeks at first, lessening to once a month at three to six months, and thereafter once every three months.
Adult cats, having a more developed immune system, do not need to be treated as frequently as kittens. Once a quarter is normally sufficient.