Tapeworms are the most common intestinal parasites of cats. These external parasites can also infect humans, but rarely cause medical problems. When the worm is inadvertently ingested by a human, it can attach to the intestinal lining where it will grow less than one inch until eaten again. A tapeworm infection in your cat is not serious, but it can be annoying and uncomfortable for both you and your pet.
Identification of Cat Tapeworms
The adult tapeworm head looks like a small piece of rice with four circular hooks around its perimeter. The eyespot or scolex at one end helps guide these larvae into their intermediate host–in this case your cat’s intestine. Mature tapeworms grow to a length anywhere from 4-9 inches and range in thickness from a piece of thread to a pencil, ending with the tapering tail known as the strobila. Under the microscope, they resemble an accordion, which is why this parasite is called a flatworm. If you have found them on your cat or in his stool, then he has been infected by tapeworms at some point. Sometimes you will see these parasites on your pet’s rear end because he constantly itches himself there trying to get rid of them.
Life Cycle of Cats Tapeworms
Cats become infected when they eat fleas or other insects that contain tapeworm larvae. The larva migrates through the stomach and attaches to the intestinal mucosa where it penetrates into the bloodstream. From there, a larva will travel to your cat’s liver by way of its blood-rich circulation system. Once in the liver, larvae mature into adult tapeworms over a period of two months. After mating, each worm can release thousands of eggs daily for 1-2 months while attached to the intestine wall through its hook-like scolex. In order for these tapeworms to complete their life cycle they must rely on outside hosts such as humans or other animals that may accidentally ingest them.
Preventing Cats Tapeworms
The best way to prevent a tapeworm infection is by practicing good flea control with your cat. Eliminate fleas with topical treatments or an oral medication like Comfortis. Only use tapeworm-specific dewormers when necessary because they can be tough on your pet’s system, causing worming side effects. Benzimidazoles are the most common type of tapeworm medications and praziquantel is another effective specific treatment for cats tapeworms.
Wash all bedding regularly in hot water to remove eggs attached to the fabric.
Keep food preparation areas clean so that you do not accidentally ingest these parasites while eating or preparing meals for your family. A good rule of thumb is if you have animals, then the kitchen should be off limits to them unless invited by you.
Frequently grooming your cat will help remove attached worm larvae on his fur. Undigested flea bites are the primary way that tapeworms find their way into your home, so you can also work to reduce flea infestations by using a quality product like Advantage II.
Whats the Treat Tapeworms in Cats
If your veterinarian diagnoses tapeworms in your cat, then he will usually prescribe either an oral medication or a topical medication for you to apply yourself at home. Oral medications such as praziquantel and fenbendazole result in stronger and faster results than topical treatments do because they take effect much faster once ingested by the animal. Topical products vary from a shampoo that you lather into your cat’s fur to a cream or ointment that you apply externally.
Both types of treatment eliminate the adult tapeworm as well as any larvae attached to your pet, but oral medications may take several days before they begin to work on those worms still inside him. In addition, you should have your entire family treated for intestinal parasites due to contamination from his stool if he lives indoors or from contaminated bedding if he is an outdoor cat. Proper hygiene and sanitation practices will help reduce a future infestation with these parasitic worms.
Treatment with either medication will not prevent reinfection by fleas, so it is important that you continue using products like Advantage II in order to kill the fleas on your cat and ultimately prevent a tapeworm infection from ever occurring again.