The most common tapeworm in cats in North America is called Dipylidium caninum (DIE-pih-LID-ee-um K-nine-um). The infection is common and found throughout the world.
How did my cat get the Dipylidium tapeworm? By swallowing a flea infected with a tapeworm larvae. A cat may swallow a flea while grooming. Once the flea is digested inside the cat, the larval tapeworm is free to develop into an adult tapeworm.
The adult tapeworm in cats is made up of many small segments, called proglottids (pro-GLOT-ids), each about the size of a grain of rice; adult tapeworms may reach 8 inches in length. As the tapeworm matures inside the intestines, these segments (proglottids) break off and pass into the stool.
HOW DO I IDENTIFY TAPEWORM IN CATS?
Although cats are rarely ill as a result of a Dipylidium tapeworm infection, the proglottids can sometimes be seen crawling near the anus or on the surface of a fresh bowel movement. Proglottids contain tapeworm eggs; these eggs are released into the environment when the proglottid dries out. The dried proglottids are small (about 2 mm), hard and yellowish in color and can sometimes be seen stuck to the hair around the pet’s anus.
WHAT KIND OF PROBLEMS ARE CAUSED BY TAPEWORMS IN CATS?
Tapeworm in cats are not usually harmful. Weight loss may occur if your cat is heavily infected. Sometimes, an infected cat will “scoot” or drag its anus across the ground or carpet because the segments are irritating to the skin in this area.
Occasionally, a tapeworm will become attached to the intestinal wall and move into the stomach. This may irritate the stomach, causing the cat to vomit; if this happens, a worm several inches in length may be seen.
HOW IS A TAPEWORM IN CATS DIAGNOSED?
Tapeworm infection is usually diagnosed when the moving segments are seen crawling around the anus or in a bowel movement. Dipylidium tapeworm eggs are rarely released into the feces and are therefore not usually detected by routine fecal exams performed by your veterinarian. Because of this, veterinarians depend on you to notify them of possible tapeworm infection in your pet.
CAN I GET A TAPEWORM INFECTION FROM MY CAT?
Yes. For a person to become infected with tapeworm in cats, he or she must accidentally swallow an infected flea. Most reported cases involve children. The most effective way to prevent infections in cats and humans is through flea control. The risk of infection with this tapeworm in humans is low but does exist. A child who is infected will usually pass proglottids in a bowel movement or have visible tapeworm segments stuck to the skin around the anal area.
HOW IS TAPEWORM IN CATS TREATED?
Treatment for both cats and humans is simple and very effective. A prescription drug called praziquantel is given, either orally or by injection (cats only). The medication causes the tapeworm to dissolve within the intestines. Since the worm is usually digested before it passes, it may not be visible in your cat’s stool. The drugs are generally well-tolerated.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I THINK MY CHILD IS INFECTED WITH TAPEWORMS?
See your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment.
HOW CAN TAPEWORM IN CATS BE PREVENTED?
- Control fleas on your cat and in their indoor and outdoor environments.
- Have your veterinarian treat your cat promptly if he has tapeworms.
- Clean up after your pet, especially in playgrounds and public parks. Bury the feces, or place it in a plastic bag and then put it in the trash.
- Do not allow children to play in areas that are soiled with cat or other animal feces.
- Teach children to always wash their hands after playing with the cat and after playing outdoors.
This article is for information only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about tapeworm in cats or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.