One of the most common types of parasites found in cats is the tapeworm. Tapeworms can survive in cats for years. If left untreated, the tapeworm can grow up to 23 inches long – or more. Many kittens are born with tapeworms. They become infected with tapeworms through the mother or after birth they may become infected with them through the mother’s milk. Kittens have a weak immune system, so viruses and parasites are easy to catch. Tapeworms are not only transmitted to kittens through the mother in the belly or through the milk after birth. Fleas carry tapeworms as well. If your cat has fleas, he can’t transmit an actual tapeworm to his owner, but he can easily transmit the fleas that carry the tapeworm. Because tapeworms are easy to transmit, you should keep the infected cat isolated until he completes treatment and the vet confirms that the cat is worm free.
Cat Worms Symptoms and Control
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Tapeworms live in the cat’s intestines and they can cause:
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss
- Inability to exercise
- Distended abdomen, especially in kittens
- Dull coat
Tapeworms can be treated with antibiotics, diet changes, and exercise. While tapeworms are rarely fatal if treated early, another type of worm called “heartworm” can cause sudden, serious, and even fatal disease in the cat. Even a small number of heartworms can be serious. Symptoms of heartworm include respiratory stress (difficulty breathing or rapid shallow breathing), gagging or vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
In addition to recognizing symptoms of tapeworms in cats, it is important to recognize what tapeworms look like and where to spot the. Tapeworm segments look like little grains of rice. In addition to your cat’s food, tapeworms may be found on or buried in your cat’s fur, around his anus, and around his paws (from scratching). It is not uncommon to find cat worms in your pet’s ears as well.
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Fortunately, there are ways to prevent tapeworms. One of the best ways to prevent a serious cat worm infection is to have your cat screened for worms twice per year. If your cat is considered high-risk for worms, you should have him screened more than twice a year. High-risk cats typically live in condensed urban areas and they usually live in a home with more than one pet. Outdoor cats are especially susceptible to worms. Remember, fleas are a source of certain types of tapeworms. When a cat accidentally swallows an infected flea, the tapeworms can hatch in the cat’s intestines. These types of tapeworms can also be transmitted to humans as well. Animal carcasses such as rodents and rabbits may also contain tapeworms, so if you have an outdoor cat, it will be impossible to keep your cat away from them. You may want to rethink allowing your cat to roam around freely outdoors.
Caring for a cat with tapeworms or any type of parasitic worm should be done only under the care of a vet. Most non-prescription medications just don’t work. Your vet will have access to a number of cutting edge preventatives that are extremely effective against the most aggressive types of parasites such as roundworm, whipworm, hookworm, and heartworm.
It’s also a good idea to keep your cat clean and well groomed. You should also dispose of cat feces immediately. Never leave it in piles in the litter box. Whipworm and roundworm eggs can remain infectious for years, and hookworm larvae can multiply quickly in dirty litter boxes.
Note: Worm medications are available in tablets, syrups, and pastes. You can purchase worm products over the counter, but again, most over the counter medications don’t work and there really is no substitute for a vet’s care. Don’t put your other pets or other members of your household at risk. Take your cat to a vet right away if you suspect that he has worms.