You don’t want your cat to get tapeworms. Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that use their hook-like mouths to attach themselves to your cat’s insides. Dipylidium caninum is the most common tapeworm species seen in cats.
Because they’re parasites, tapeworms are easily transmitted by other parasitic hosts, particularly fleas. They’re not seasonal, which technically means your cat can get tapeworms at any time.
But how do you know!?
Gross Tapeworm Sign: Worm Segments in Your Cat’s Poop
We warned you…tapeworms are gross! The most surefire sign your kitty has contracted a tapeworm are finding segments of that worm in his fecal matter. Tapeworms can grow up to two-feet in length inside a cat and as they slough off segments, they have to come out. Usually appearing like little grains of rice, tapeworm segments might be spotted in your cat’s poop or on or around his general anus area. Each of these seed-like proglottids, as they’re called, can contain dozens of tapeworm larvae.
Important: If you see a tapeworm segment coming out of your cat’s anus, do not attempt to pull it out! If the worm is long and wrapped around his intestines you could cause serious internal damage. Call your vet immediately.
Gross Tapeworm Sign: Your Cat is Puking Constantly
Cats barf. It’s just something they do. But if your cat seems to be vomiting more frequently than usual, especially if it’s happening more than a couple times a week, he could have a tapeworm. Sidenote: Some cats with tapeworms actually vomit up living, squiggling parts of the worm! Now that’s gross.
Vomiting accompanied by diarrhea makes it even more likely your cat has worms (or an infection of some kind), so you’ll definitely want to call your vet for testing. Without treatment, a cat who can’t keep food or water down is bound to become seriously dehydrated.
Gross Tapeworm Sign: Drastic Weight Loss by Your Cat
Okay, this one’s not really as gross as it is concerning, but it’s definitely a sign of something. Parasites like tapeworms feed off your cat’s own nutritional supply which means a lot of the nutrients your cat is eating aren’t getting to him at all. Noticeable weight loss, particularly when it’s not easy to explain because your cat is still eating normally, is definitely a warning sign for tapeworms.
Okay, So What Do I Do If I Think My Cat Has (Shudder) Tapeworms?
Unfortunately, the most effective way to tell whether or not your cat has a tapeworm is to notice the signs, particularly those nasty worm segments. Fecal panels can’t generally detect the presence of a tapeworm unless there are worm segments in the sample itself. The good news is, most vets have seen enough tapeworms to last a lifetime and can offer a fairly confident diagnosis based on the symptoms you report.
There are a wide variety of deworming solutions available, all with different levels of effectiveness. Because it can be difficult to determine exactly what kind of tapeworm your cat has, your vet might have to try more than one solution to figure out what works. All the most effective deworming solutions available to cat owners are by prescription only.
Most deworming medications are given orally, although some are available via injection. All dewormers work by “dissolving” the worm into your cat’s intestines (and you thought the grossness was over!) so you shouldn’t expect to see a giant two-foot worm come out in your cat’s bowel movements.
Who Gave My Cat Tapeworm!?
Remember that tapeworms aren’t really contagious (like a virus) but that they can be passed around. Any time your cat comes into contact with tapeworm larvae – inside a flea, a louse, or even just by snuggling a tapeworm-infested blanket – he can be infected.
Who did this to your precious baby!? Honestly, odds are it was a flea. Transmission-by-flea is by far the most common way cats get tapeworms and all cats are vulnerable to being bitten by fleas if not on a monthly flea preventative. Yes, even indoor cats. It’s absolutely critical to keep your cat’s flea, tick, and heartworm prevention medication(s) up to date to ensure he steers clear of nasty disease-carrying parasites.