Why Feline Tapeworms Are Creepy but Treatable

Updated March 13, 2019
creepy illustration of a tapeworm

If a veterinarian mentions that your cat may have feline tapeworms, don't panic. While indeed gross sounding, these little buggers are one of several relatively minor intestinal parasites that may find their way into your pet's digestive system. Treating them is not difficult.

What Are Feline Tapeworms?

Tapeworms are long, white worms that live in an organism's small intestines. Growing to up twenty inches long, tapeworms survive by absorbing nutrients as food passes through your cat's digestive system. This particular kind of worm is segmented, and egg-filled portions will break free from its body and appear in your cat's stools. These pieces eventually dry and break open, releasing the worm's eggs in hope of finding a new host.

Tapeworms are not limited to cats or even pets in general. These bothersome parasites live in people, too. Fortunately, tapeworms are easy to treat and don't generally cause any major health problems in pets.

Does Your Cat Have a Tapeworm?

Probably the most common sign that your cat has a tapeworm is small white or yellow bits appearing in your pet's stool. Fresh worm segments look like tiny, wiggling grains of rice. Tapeworms are not bloodsuckers like hookworms; they steal nutrients from your cat's diet.

Common Side Effects of Tapeworms in Cats

Since they are pilfering valuable vitamins from your cat, symptoms of advanced tapeworm infestation are often similar to malnutrition. These include:

Contrary to popular belief, rectal bleeding is not a common symptom of feline tapeworms. More intense infestations can lead to anemia, lethargy and irritability. If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, see your veterinarian immediately.

Treatments for Tapeworms in Kittens and Cats

Treating a tapeworm in your cat is usually as easy as giving him a pill. Your vet will usually prescribe a single-dose of de-worming medication, and once the worm is dead, the intestine will absorb it. That's it! Treating tapeworms in cats is simple compared to other intestinal parasites.

How Long Does It Take for Tapeworm Medicine to Work in Cats?

Feline tapeworm medications can work quickly to kill adult tapeworms in your cat, sometimes even as fast as 30 minutes to two hours after the dose. Most, if not all, tapeworms will be dead within 24 hours of the first dosage.

  • If the medication does not kill off the entire infestation, your veterinarian may have you give the cat another dose three to four weeks later.
  • You should notice within that 24-hour period or shortly after sections of the tapeworms in your cat's feces or in the litter box.
  • If you don't see signs of them, this does not necessarily mean they were not killed as their tiny body segments may dissolve before passing out of the cat's body.

How Did Your Cat Wind Up With a Tapeworm?

Fleas usually infect cats with tapeworms. Tiny flea larvae eat the eggs dropped from detached worm segments, which then infect the flea. If a cat eats an infected flea while grooming itself, the flea is broken down in the cat's digestive system, releasing a small bit of tapeworm. Once inside your cat, the worm attaches itself to the lining of the small intestine where it grows into an adult worm and begins dropping its own egg-filled body segments.

Prevention of Cat and Kitten Tapeworms

Perhaps the easiest way to help your cat avoid tapeworms is by preventing a flea problem. Once a month prescription medications such as Advantage and Frontline are readily available from your veterinarian, and he or she can help you find a flea-free solution that will work for you and your pet.

Can You Catch a Tapeworm From Your Cat?

The short story: odds are, no.

The long story: while it is uncommon for people to contract feline tapeworms, it is possible. Just like your cat, if you swallow an infected flea, you may very well end up with your own wiggly intestinal friend. Thankfully, it's pretty easy to prevent infection by making sure that you've got any persistent flea problems under control. If you can successfully treat your pet for fleas, you won't have to worry about contracting a feline tapeworm yourself.

Feline and Human Tapeworms Are Not the Same

Human tapeworms are a very different from what your cat has. Contracted by ingesting contaminated water or food (such as raw meat), there are several species of tapeworms that commonly infect people. If you believe you have a tapeworm yourself, please consult a physician.

Tapeworms Are Not Usually Serious in Cats

While definitely icky, cats can live for years with a tapeworm and suffer no outwardly ill effects. If your cat does indeed have a tapeworm, you can take care of it with a simple visit to your vet's office for a de-wormer and some anti-flea medication.

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Why Feline Tapeworms Are Creepy but Treatable