Cats, like all mammals, are prone to becoming hosts to a number of internal parasites. One of the most common, and arguably most misunderstood, parasites that can infect cats is the tapeworm. If you are a cat owner, knowing the signs of tapeworms and what can be done about them is key.
What are tapeworms?
Tapeworms are actually a whole family of related worm species. They are all flat with segmented bodies, and they live inside the intestinal tracts of various mammals. Different species of tapeworms affect different species of animals. In other words, the tapeworms that affect cats are not usually the same species that infects horses. In cats, the most common species of tapeworm seen is called Dipylidium caninum. This species also affects dogs. Although humans can become infected by Dipylidium caninum, this is rare.
How do you know whether your cat has tapeworms?
The signs of tapeworms in cats can be easy to overlook if you do not know what you're looking for. While some cats do eventually lose substantial weight and become really skinny when infested with tapeworms, many cats do maintain a normal weight. They may or may not develop a bloated appearance.
The key sign of tapeworms in cats, however, is the appearance of tapeworm segments. These look like off-white, wiggling grains of rice. You may see them in your cat's feces or even sticking to the hair around your cat's anus. These segments are known as protoglids, and they are actually sacks that carry tapeworm eggs.
How does a vet treat tapeworms?
If you take your cat to the vet and tell the vet you have seen protoglids, the vet may test your cat's stool to confirm the infestation. Once this is done, they can administer medication that will kill the tapeworms. You may need to give your cat a second dose a few weeks later at home.
If your cat is diagnosed with tapeworm, the veterinarian will probably also give them a medication to kill and repel fleas. This is because tapeworm eggs tend to be passed from cat to cat via fleas. Keeping fleas off your cat will also help keep them from contracting tapeworms again.
Tapeworms are a bother for many species of animals, including cats. Keep an eye on your cat so that if signs of tapeworm infestation do appear, you can seek veterinary care as soon as possible.