Tapeworms belong to the gastrointestinal family of parasites which infest humans and animals. They are long, flat and tape-like worms which grow about 4 to 24 inches in size. They have a ribbon-like structure comprising a head and small, interconnected sections containing eggs. Tapeworms usually occur in cats when they ingest fleas. The tapeworm eggs present in fleas then grow as tapeworms inside cats.
Tapeworms are divided into segments and the eggs are located in the sections towards the unattached end which is shredded. These are then released into the environment when the host defecates. A tapeworm needs at least two hosts to survive, wherein the intermediary carries the larvae. The development of larvae occurs in the primary host tissue.
If a cat gets infected with tapeworms, it will have the following symptoms.
- Rice-like bodies (proglottids) are present around the anus of the cat.
- Tape-like worms hang from the anus.
- Tape-like worms are present in the stools.
- Blood is present in stools.
- The cat starts licking its genital areas frequently.
- The cat starts to cough continuously.
- A sudden weight loss is observed.
- The cat starts vomiting.
- It is infected with diarrhea.
- The cat experiences breathlessness.
- It is suffering from pneumonia.
- The cat starts appearing lethargic.
- It has a fluctuating appetite.
- Dullness in the fur coat of the cat might be observed.
- The cat has an itching sensation around its genital areas.
- The cat experiences irritation around its genital areas.
- The cat starts suffering from anemia.
- The cat experiences severe hair loss.
- The cat may appear to have a bloated tummy.
- The primary source of getting a tapeworm infection is through the tapeworm eggs (cysticercoids) present in the fleas feeding on the cat. These eggs hatch in the intestines where they grow into adult tapeworms.
- The tapeworm eggs also get into the body of a cat as it licks or scratches itself.
- A cat may also ingest the tapeworm by eating raw or uncooked meat, raw fish and dead animals.
- Cats also get infected with tapeworms during their grooming.
- Dewormed cats may also get reinfested, if their litter box and bed are not cleaned.
- Fleas found on house carpets are a likely source of transfer.
- A mother cat who breastfeeds, passes on the infection to her kittens.
Cats are usually infected by five types of tapeworm species. The manner in which these species of tapeworms infect the cat is different.
- Dipylidium caninum is the most common type of tapeworm found in cats. It infects cats when they ingest fleas which have larvae of tapeworms present in them.
- If a cat eats a prey which is already infected with the Taenia taeniaeformis species then it may get the same.
- Echinococcus infects the cat if it eats raw or rotten meat.
- Dibothriocephalus latus and Spirometra mansonoides infect a cat if it eats raw freshwater fish or snakes present in water.
Tapeworm infection in cats is not a severe problem. It may lead to appetite loss, energy loss, diarrhea and anemia. The tapeworms spiral around a cat's intestines and feed on the food consumed by the cat. This damages their guts by causing consistent blood loss. It also seems like the cat has a bloated tummy.
Prevention and Treatment
It is important to take your cat to a vet if you notice symptoms of tapeworm infestation. The tapeworms are found as segments in the stool and the hair around the cat's anal region. These tapeworm segments often resemble long grains of rice or segments of pasta noodles and they are easily visible to the naked eye.
Though the vet can often identify the segments on sight, he may want to do a fecal examination to confirm infestation, particularly if this is your cat's first infestation.
Give the medication that your vet prescribes. You may see dead worms in the cat's stool, but there is no need to be alarmed since it is quite normal.
To prevent further infestation in your cat, start some flea control. Try as far as possible to stop your cat from hunting and eating small animals which are also the causes of infestations. If your cat is suffering from repeated infestations, try to get a prescription from the vet for the medications. After the deworming treatment, sanitize the litter box, carpet and bed of the cat to prevent the recurrence of the infection. The cat litter and feces should be disposed off immediately. Ensure your house is a flea-free zone for the better health of your pet.
Can Humans Get Infected?
There is a possibility that the feline parasites can infect humans too. It is usually the children who bring infection home from the playground which may be infected with feces. Also, accidental infection may occur while consuming fruits and vegetables that may be contaminated with feces of a cat. So, it is always important to clean all fruits and vegetables before consuming. It is advisable to wear gloves before disposing off the litter and feces of cats. Hence, try to check the feces regularly and get your cat dewormed regularly.
- Many people assume that indoor cats do not get infected by worms. However, both outdoor and indoor cats are prone to getting tapeworms from fleas.
- Most of the pet owners are convinced that over-the-counter medicines and home treatments will help in getting rid of worms. This is a wrong belief. Please take your cat to a vet. Do not treat it by resorting to over-the-counter medicines or online home remedies.
- Many people believe that the tapeworms won't return after the deworming is done. This assumption is false. Eggs of tapeworms remain in the intestines and hatch again. Repeat the deworming cycle in consultation with your vet if required.
- There is a notion that older cats are more susceptible to getting infected with tapeworms. However, this understanding is wrong. Scientific studies have revealed that both younger and older cats can get infected. Kittens get infected when their mother breastfeeds them.
Though tapeworms in cats is not a serious problem, you should not ignore your cat's health. A cat's behavior often varies from its normal routine during the tapeworm infestation. The presence of tapeworms also changes the food habits of a cat. Try to follow the simple guidelines mentioned above. These can help you go a long way to keep your feline companion happy and healthy.
Disclaimer: This CatAppy article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.