How to Get Rid of Tapeworm in Cats
The idea of a creature growing inside our pets is a rather disturbing one. Parasitic tapeworms can feed off your animal's food source, but it is difficult to know one is present. Unfortunately, if your cat is infected by a tapeworm, then they will not be able to tell you about it. You need to look carefully at your cat's behavior and check for the signs of a tapeworm infection. Although not life threatening, tapeworms can make your kitty uncomfortable and provide some other unpleasant issues for the whole household. oneHOWTO shows you how to get rid of tapeworm in cats so your pet can have the standard of comfort it deserves.
How do cats get tapeworms?
There are some rather disturbing videos of tapeworms online wherein you will see them depicted as a long string of yellowed material which gives the tapeworm its name. In humans, they can grow up to 30 feet, depending on the length of the host's intestines. In cats, they won't be as long as this, but it's important to know this is not how they start off.
It is very unlikely your cat will find an adult tapeworm and ingest it, it would not be appealing even to a cat. What is more common is that it will eat the tapeworm larvae (eggs) from a source which is known as the intermediate host. This is a host which is carrying the larvae, but not protecting the eggs enough so that they develop into an adult.
There are two main types of tapeworm in cats with two main types of intermediate hosts. The first is called Dipylidium caninum and is sometimes known as a flea tapeworm or a cucumber tapeworm. The first is because small insects such as fleas are the intermediate hosts. Cats will catch and eat fleas, the eggs incubating in their digestive tract. The reason they are called cucumber tapeworms is because the tapeworm isn't made up of one long worm, rather from individual segments. These segments are about the size and shape of cucumber seeds, but have been described as looking like rice or sesame seeds.
Taenia taeniaeformis is less common than Dipylidium caninum, but it is similar in that it grows in segments. It is perhaps less common because it needs to be at a specific stage of development called the strobilocercus stage which is about 2 months into the tapeworm life cycle. This type of flatworm has vertebrates, mainly rodents, as its host and cats have to eat an infected part of the host, such as the liver.
Once the cat ingests and becomes infected by the tapeworm (known scientifically as cestodiasis), it is now the determinate host. The life cycle of this type of tapeworm can be anywhere up to 3 years and sections of it can be ejected from the anus of a cat and capable of crawling long distances.
Tapeworms are not just ingested through live hosts, although this is likely the main cause of tapeworms in cats. They can also be passed through coprophagia (eating faeces) and can also be passed down from mother to kitten. These worms being passed on to humans is very unlikely, but there are some rare cases of being passed on and these mainly occur in young children due to their interaction with cats.
What are the symptoms of tapeworms?
Tapeworms in cats are practically asymptomatic (meaning they don't show symptoms), but they can show the following:
- Cats dragging their anus across the ground
- Licking their anal area
- Paleness in gums
- You see small sesame seed sized segments of the tapeworm in their faeces or around the cat's anus
- Increased vomiting
- Reduced lustre in coat
- Increased appetite
Unfortunately, some tapeworm segments are too small to see. It is almost likely your cat will have had a tapeworm for a significant amount of time before you see any symptoms.
Are tapeworms dangerous?
As we said, tapeworms are generally asymptomatic, but it doesn't mean they aren't doing your cat harm. In saying this, they are not generally life threatening. The parasite lives off of the host, but it does not infect them on a cellular level.
However, as they are taking nutrients from the cat, it can lead to emaciation and reduced immunity. If this is the case, other secondary infections or diseases can develop. In rare cases, tapeworms in cats can also cause a blockage in the intestines. If this happens, the cat can become bloated and can cause other digestive issues. They can also cause irritability in your cat and reduce its overall standard of health. Cats are very unlikely to die from a tapeworm, but if they are unwell, they can exacerbate or lead to other life threatening conditions.
How to treat tapeworms in cats
The best way to get rid of tapeworm in cats is prevention. If your cat is an outdoor cat, remove any dead animals which may be on your property and discourage hunting. Give you cat a suitable flea and tick prevention ointment. This is usually placed on the nape of the cat's neck. You part the fur and dab the treatment directly on the skin. Do this on a couple of spots and don't let the cat get wet for at least 24 hours.
Once your cat develops a tapeworm infection the only way to get rid of it is through oral medication. These are:
Dipylidium caninum - epsiprantel or praziquantel
Taenia taeniaeformis - fenbendazole or praziquantel
Niclosamide is a medication which can also be used. They are administered orally and most commonly in a single dose. The dose will differ on the size and weight of the cat. Here are the guidlines to show how much praziquantel is needed to get ride of tapeworms in cats:
- Weight <4 lbs - ½ Tablet
- Weight 5-11 lbs - 1 tablet
- Weight >11 lbs - 1½ Tablets
Unlike some infection medication, there is no need for fasting when taking this drug and it should take around 2-3 weeks to take effect and rid your cat of the tapeworm. If your cat has tapeworm, your veterinarian will be able to diagnose and prescribe the correct medication, so make sure you arrange a visit before trying to administer any treatment.
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