Cats and Tapeworms: What You Need to Know

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Learn how this common parasite can affect your cat’s health.

Tabby cat cleaning its paw.

Tapeworms, one of the most common intestinal parasites found in cats, are fairly easy for your cat to pick up, and both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk. Learn how to spot the warning signs of tapeworms and find out how to help protect your cat.

What Are Tapeworms?

Adult tapeworms are long, segmented worms that can live in your cat’s intestines for months, anchoring themselves to the wall of the intestine and absorbing nutrients intended for your cat. Small, egg-filled segments break off the worm and are passed in your cat’s feces. These segments are not alive, but may be seen slowly moving in your cat’s stool.

How Do Cats Get Tapeworms?

Like other common intestinal parasites, tapeworms spread when their eggs are released into the environment through an infected animal’s stool. But your cat can’t get tapeworms simply by eating them; they have to eat another worm-infected parasite or animal.

Because cats are such fastidious groomers, the most common way they become infected with a tapeworm is by swallowing infected fleas while grooming. Once your cat swallows an infected flea, the tapeworm larva is released into your pet’s intestine, where it develops into an adult.

Outdoor cats that hunt small rodents are also at risk for contracting tapeworms. If they ingest animals infected with tapeworms on their hunt, they could become infected as well.

Humans can get tapeworms from cats. However, the risk of transmission of specific tapeworms from cats to humans is low: You, too, have to swallow an infected flea from your pet to get tapeworms.

What Are the Symptoms of Tapeworms in Cats?

While tapeworm infections can cause your cat discomfort, the good news is that severe complications are rare. You may not even realize your cat is infected with tapeworms — in many cases, no symptoms will be present or detectable. However, you might notice:

  • Tapeworm segments crawling around your cat’s back end or in their stool
  • Weight loss
  • General malaise or lack of well-being
  • Vomiting or gastrointestinal distress, though this is less common
  • An itchy bottom, causing your cat to lick or bite the area, or “scoot” along the ground in an attempt to relieve the itch, though this is seen more commonly in dogs than cats
 Tapeworms under a microscope.

How to Treat Tapeworms in Cats

Protecting your cat from worms is an important part of maintaining their health. If your cat has a tapeworm, treat them with an at-home pet dewormer or visit your veterinarian for a prescription.

Additionally, you can take the following steps to help reduce the risk of parasites for your cat:

  • Administer a flea control product to your cat to help protect your pet from potentially parasite-carrying fleas.
  • Remove or prevent rodents in and around your home.
  • Keep pet areas clean.
  • Regularly remove pet waste in the yard or litter box.
  • Wash your hands.

Tapeworms can be a nuisance for both you and your cat, but knowing the signs to watch for and adding preventive measures to your routine can go a long way in protecting your cat from tapeworms.

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