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Cat Tapeworm Infections

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites of animals. Because they are classified as Cestodes, they belong to a different family than the hookworms and roundworms (called nematodes). There are several types of tapeworms in cats; Dipylidium caninum is by far the most common.

The cat tapeworm uses its hook-like mouthparts for anchoring to the wall of the small intestine. Eventually, adult tapeworms may reach several inches in length. As the adult matures, individual segments (proglottids) break off from the main body of the tape worm and pass into the catís feces.

What cats are likely to get feline tapeworms?
Fleas are the intermediate host for the tape worm. In
Suggested Treatment
other words, the tape worm is unable to complete its life cycle without the presence of fleas in the environment. Regardless of whether the owner may have seen fleas, the feline must have ingested a flea in order to have tapeworms. Consequently, tape worms are more common in environments that are heavily infested with fleas. Lice are also reported as intermediate hosts for tape worms but they are relatively uncommon parasites of cats.

How do felines get tapeworms?
First, tape worm eggs must be ingested by flea larvae (an immature stage of the flea). Contact between flea larvae and tape worm eggs is facilitated by contaminated bedding or carpet. Adult fleas do not participate in this part of the tape worm lifecycle.

Next, the feline chews or licks its skin as a flea bites; the flea is then swallowed. As the flea is digested within the catís intestine, the tape worm hatches and anchors itself to the intestinal lining.

What are the clinical signs of tapeworms in cats?
Tape worms are not particularly harmful to the feline and few cat tapewormclinical signs are attributed to their presence. Usually, the feline is presented because of the ownerís reaction to the presence of the crawling proglottids. Rarely, tapeworms may cause debilitation or weight loss if they are present in large numbers. A feline will occasionally scoot or drag its anus across the ground or carpet due to the anal irritation caused by the proglottids.

Occasionally, a tape worm will release its attachment in the intestines and migrate to the stomach. When this happens, the feline may vomit an adult tape worm several inches in length.

How are feline tapeworms diagnosed?
Usually, owners recognize that the cat has tapeworms and bring this to the attention of the veterinarian. When terminal segments of the tape worm break off and pass into the stool, they can be seen crawling on the surface of the feces. These proglottid segments look like grains of rice. Less commonly, they are seen crawling around the catís anus. Each of these proglottid capsules contains up to 20 tape worm eggs.

When these proglottids are released into the environment, they dehydrate and harden; they become small and take on a golden hue. Eventually, they break open and release their eggs. Be aware that tape worms are not readily diagnosed with routine fecal examinations. So, you should notify your veterinarian when tape worm segments are found in your catís stool.

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Any information contained on this site relating to various medical, health and fitness conditions of pets and their treatment is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for the advice provided by your own veterinarian.

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