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How to Get Rid of Tapeworms in Cats

Finding worms on your cat or in its litter box can be a frightening experience that no pet owner wants to endure. Tapeworms are just one of several intestinal parasites that can infect cats, and they can commonly be spotted with the naked eye. Let’s discuss the signs of tapeworms in cats, where they come from, and, most importantly, how to get rid of them.

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What are tapeworms?

Tapeworms are long, flat, ribbon-like parasites that can live in the gastrointestinal tract of many animals, including pets like cats and dogs. Rarely, they can also infect humans. They attach to the wall of the small intestine and absorb nutrients from the host animal while they continue to grow; they can reach lengths of over ten inches.

There are multiple species of tapeworms, but the most common to infect cats is the Dipylidium caninum. As Dipylidium caninum tapeworms grow, segments of their bodies, known as proglottids, break off and travel through the intestines. These segments eventually pass through the animal’s waste, becoming one of the telltale signs of tapeworms that pet owners notice.

How do cats get tapeworms?

The most common way cats become infected with tapeworms is through fleas. This is why the most common tapeworm, the Dipylidium caninum, is often called 'the flea tapeworm.' Fleas are intermediate tapeworm hosts; they feed on tapeworm eggs and carry the developing larvae inside them. When fleas land on cats, they can be accidentally ingested during grooming. As an ingested flea travels through a cat’s digestive tract, the tapeworm larvae get released, where they can then grow and become attached to the intestinal walls.

As a tapeworm grows, the segments shed through waste (the proglottids) contain eggs, which are then released into the environment. Any fleas in the environment will then ingest these eggs, beginning the tapeworm life cycle once again.

In rare cases, other types of tapeworms, Echinococcus and Taenia, can also infect cats. Instead of fleas, these tapeworms are typically passed through wild rodents cats may prey on or through raw feeding.

How do cats get tapeworms

What are the signs of tapeworms in cats?

The most common sign of tapeworms in cats is the proglottids passed through the cat’s feces. These small segments that resemble grains of rice are often noticed by the cat’s owner in the cat's feces or stuck to the cat’s fur around their backside. They may also see their cat occasionally scooting across the floor or excessively licking its hind end to relieve irritation from the proglottids.

While less common, signs of tapeworms in cats can also include weight loss, diarrhea, and vomiting, especially if there are several tapeworms. In rare cases, some cats even vomit tapeworms. Any signs of a tapeworm infection (or flea infestation) in your cat (or dog) should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian right away.

How are tapeworms in cats treated?

If tapeworms are suspected, your veterinarian will prescribe a deworming medication. This medication may be given by tablet or injection, depending on the specific type. Common prescriptions to treat tapeworm in cats include antihelminthic (antiparasitic) drugs, such as epsiprantel, praziquantel, and fenbendazole.

Another important step in tapeworm treatment for cats is flea control. If your cat (or home) is infested with fleas, it’s likely your cat will end up with more tapeworms. There are a multitude of products that can help treat and prevent fleas, including topicals, chewables, and sprays. You may even need to bathe your cat with a special flea shampoo. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options based on your cat’s lifestyle. You may also need to go through a deep cleaning and treatment process to rid your home of fleas.

While you can find over-the-counter cat dewormers and flea control products, it’s always best to talk to your veterinarian before administering anything. The most effective products are only available by veterinary prescription and some over-the-counter products can even be dangerous to cats.

What if I have multiple cats?

Identifying which cat has tapeworm in a multi-cat household can be difficult, especially if they all use the same litter box. It can also be likely that if one cat has tapeworms, they all do. Your veterinarian will assess the situation and might recommend deworming and flea treatments for all the cats.

To prevent the flea-tapeworm cycle from continuing, it is also essential to incorporate flea control and tapeworm prevention strategies for multi-cat households. This includes having all the cats on flea prevention and regularly monitoring the litter box for signs of parasites.

Does pet insurance cover tapeworm treatment in cats?

Some pet insurance covers tapeworm treatment in cats, depending on the plan. Parasite treatment and prevention fall under preventive care and are only covered in wellness plans. Wellness plans are typically offered as add-ons to standard (accident and illness) pet insurance plans. Wellness plans cover your pet’s preventative care needs, like annual exams, vaccines, and parasite treatment and prevention, including tapeworms and fleas.

What are the risk factors for tapeworm infections in cats?

While it just takes one flea to cause a tapeworm infection in cats, tapeworm risks for indoor vs. outdoor cats are vastly different. Indoor cats have a much lower risk of being exposed to fleas that cause the most common type of tapeworm infections and the rarer types contracted through wildlife.

Outdoor cats are at a much higher risk of being exposed to fleas that can cause a tapeworm infection. They can also carry fleas with them, spreading them throughout the home and to other pets. This can quickly lead to a flea infestation in the house and a tapeworm infection in other pets. Outdoor cats that hunt birds, rodents, and other wildlife also have a higher risk of contracting different tapeworms and parasites.

Other tapeworm risk factors include cats not on flea preventatives, regardless of whether they roam indoors or outdoors. Cats fed a raw diet or improperly cooked homemade food can also be at an increased risk for certain types of tapeworms found in raw meat and fish.

Tapeworm prevention for cats

Preventing tapeworms starts by preventing fleas. Since most cat (and dog) tapeworm infections come from fleas, preventing fleas from ending up in your home is the most effective way to prevent a tapeworm infection. You can prevent fleas on your pets by using veterinary-prescribed flea preventatives, but it’s also essential to prevent fleas in your environment. Fleas are just one of many pet parasites that can impact human health.

A flea or two getting into your home can quickly lead to an infestation; flea larvae burrow in carpets and bedding, making them impossible to detect. Fleas often go unnoticed until there is a large infestation. Routine cleaning of pet bedding and vacuuming carpets can help reduce the chances of fleas taking up residence in your home. Sometimes, you may also need to treat your yard with pet-safe flea control products.

Routinely checking your pets for signs of fleas is also essential. At least once a week, use a flea comb to check your pet’s fur and look for signs of flea bites or flea dirt (tiny black spots) on the skin. You may want to do this more often if your pet spends much time outdoors. If you find signs of fleas on your pet, contact your vet immediately.

Once fleas get onto your pets and into your home, eliminating them can be a several-month process of deep cleaning your furniture and carpets and treating your pets for fleas (and likely tapeworms). When it comes to fleas and tapeworms — prevention is key.


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