Tapeworms are a very common parasite in cats and if you discover that your pet has tapeworms there is no need to feel unduly worried or that you are a bad owner. If your cat goes outside and particularly if it is a bit of a hunter, catching and eating rodents, it is likely to get a tapeworm at some time in its life. The tapeworm it will catch this way is taenia taeniaeformis. The other common type of tapeworm is Dipylidium canium; this tapeworm needs a flea to complete its lifecycle, so if your ct has just one flea (unlikely, but possible) then it can easily get a tapeworm of this type. Prevention is simple, so is cure, so the main thing to know when dealing with tapeworms is how to spot that your cat has fallen prey to this most insidious parasite.
Signs to watch out for
Your cat can have tapeworms for ages and show no signs if it is otherwise well. If it is run down or suffering from some other disease or if the tapeworm infestation becomes particularly heavy, it may start to show a staring coat, or to lose weight. It will also probably be rather lethargic and tired. One thing to remember is that tapeworms will not increase in the gut. The secondary host is necessary to continue the cycle so if the cycle is broken and the tapeworm in the cat’s intestine dies, then the cat is clear. There may be as yet undigested and unhatched tapeworm larvae in the intestine, so this is why most tapeworm medication has to be given more than once, just to make sure the animal is clear. There may be what look like grains of rice, or sesame seeds around the cats anus. These are the segments shed by the tapeworm which contain the eggs. These need to be eaten by a flea larva to develop further and it is when your cat eats a flea larva when grooming itself that it ingests the larvae of the tapeworm and starts the cycle going all over again. A sign that the cat is shedding these segments is that it will spend a lot of time grooming in the area and may even make it quite sore with the constant licking and biting.
Occasionally your cat may vomit up a tapeworm, or parts of one. This can be a totally horrific experience for the owner (and presumably not too great for the cat, either). Tapeworms can grow very long and a portion over eight inches in length emerging from your cat can be very unsettling. This is unusual but not rare, but don’t worry if you witness it, the cat will be better off for not having it inside anymore and it will be a more than timely reminder that perhaps it is time to have a go at worming it.
Prevention and cure
Cats can get tapeworms from fleas or ingested rodents. Fleas are pretty easy to cope with, the rodents can be a little more tricky. If your cat is a hunter, it is a hunter and short of keeping it in, it is not really possible to break it of the habit. If your pet is in the habit of bringing half eaten rodents in as a little present for you, you should be even more vigilant in making sure their worming protocol is up to date. Fleas can be combated by using regular anti-flea products and again, if your cat goes outside then you should make sure that the products are applied regularly. If a cat is always inside and is fully up to date with both flea and worm prophylactic medication, there should be little risk of them having a tapeworm, but this is not a reason to stop giving them.
There is no need nowadays to wrestle your cat to the floor forcing pills down its throat, as there are ‘spot on’ treatments which are so simple to use that it hardly feels like medication at all. There can be adverse reactions from these products, but they are relatively rare; always read the contraindications on the leaflet in the pack before using any medication. To remove fleas without chemicals, regular use of a flea comb is very effective and if you and your cat like to have some ‘me-time’ this may be a good way to get some.
Tapeworms and humans
Dipylidium canium, the tapeworm that needs the flea to complete its lifecycle can be transmitted to humans and has much the same effect on them as on the cat. In other words, it is really best not to have them, but they are not life threatening. Taenia taeniaeformis, the worm spread by rodents, is not transmitted to humans and is anyway a rarer form of tapeworm in the cat. It is always a good idea to make sure that after grooming or petting a cat that you wash your hands thoroughly and this is even more important in the case of children. It is good to have a lot of contact with your pet; it is very relaxing as well as a good way to keep an eye on their general wellbeing, but it is also wise to keep hygiene to the fore when planning where they sleep. A cat on the bed is nice on a cold night, but only if you are sure it is flea and worm free.