How to safely treat tapeworms in your cat

Tapeworms are common in cats

One of the most common intestinal parasites seen in domestic cats is tapeworms. There are several types of tapeworm possible, but the most common tapeworm seen in cats, known as dipylidium, comes from a cat’s direct ingestion of the common flea, which is the intermediate host of tapeworms. Upon ingestion of adult fleas carrying these tapeworms, tapeworms develop and lodge in the small intestines of affected cats, with their hook-like mouth parts.

These worms can reach up to several inches in length, and will shed immature segments known as proglottids into the stool of affected animals. The segments resemble grains of rice or cucumber seeds, and are often seen by animal guardians in the fecal material. They may also be seen actually moving slowly along the areas around the base of the tail and outside the anus of affected cats.  While it is rare to see the tapeworm eggs in stool evaluations of affected pets, diagnosis is usually made by seeing the moving proglottids in the feces and the areas around the anus.

In most situations, tapeworms cause very few symptoms in affected cats, unless there are large enough numbers to cause debility and weight loss. In very rare cases, affected cats may vomit up tapeworms. While dipylidium are the most common tapeworms seen in domestic cats, there are other more rare types of tapeworms occasionally found, such as taenia and echinococcus. These will often come from ingestion of intermediate hosts such as mice, birds, and rabbits, or in other cases from the ingestion of infected fleas.

While human infection is quite rare unless the fleas are ingested by people, people should still practice careful hygiene when handling feces of domestic cats, especially those positive for intestinal worms. Treatment of tapeworms involves careful flea control in both the environment and on the pet. Without thorough and adequate flea control, tapeworm infestations will likely recur, even with effective initial treatment.

There are several excellent medications effective against tapeworms, including praziquantel and Cestex.  Along with excellent flea control, prognosis for recovery from tapeworm infestation is very good.

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