How to Care for a Healthy Cat: TAPEWORMS (CESTODES)

The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care: TAPEWORMS (CESTODES)

Cats acquire tapeworms by eating any of three types of infected materials:

  1. prey, offal (discarded animal parts), or uncooked meat;
  2. raw, freshwater fish; or
  3. infected fleas or biting lice.

The common tapeworms (Taenia species and Dipylidium caninum) are acquired by ingesting prey or infected fleas and have similar life cycles.

The adult tapeworm has a head with hooks and suckers that attach to the host’s intestinal wall and a body consisting of a series of reproductive segments. It obtains nourishment by absorbing the nutrients in the host’s digestive tract directly through the cuticle that covers each body segment of the worm. Eggs produced by the adult tapeworm pass out with the cat’s feces and are eaten by an intermediate host (such as a rabbit, rodent for Taenia species, or flea for Dipylidiuim caninum) in whom they grow into an infective stage commonly called a bladderworm. When the cat eats an intermediate host, this immature form completes its life cycle by becoming an adult tapeworm in the cat. The life cycle of tapeworms acquired from fish is more complex.


how-to-care-for-a-healthy-cat-tapeworms-cestodes-300x282 How to Care for a Healthy Cat: TAPEWORMS (CESTODES)


Although heavy tapeworm infestation can cause poor growth, coat changes, variable appetite, or gastrointestinal disturbances, in general you will have no reason to suspect infection until you see tapeworm segments clinging to the hair or skin around the anus or in a fresh bowel movement.

Fresh tapeworm segments are opaque white or pinkish white, flat, and somewhat rectangularly shaped. They often move with a stretching out and shrinking back motion. When dry, the segments become yellow or off- white, translucent, and shaped somewhat like grains of rice. Tapeworm segments are not always present with tapeworm infection. When absent, diagnosis may possibly be made through microscopic fecal examination.


In most cases it is easy to rid a cat of tapeworms. If you demonstrate that your cat has tapeworms, most veterinarians will supply you with safe, tapeworm-killing medication that can be administered at home without unpleasant side effects such as vomiting or diarrhea. Praziquantel or epsiprantel are common veterinary prescribed antitapeworm drugs.
Sometimes, however, the deworming must be done in the veterinary hospital.

Avoid using antitapeworm drugs available in pet stores. Most are ineffective. Effective over-the-counter drugs containing arecoline can be dangerous. They may cause excessive vomiting, severe diarrhea, and sometimes convulsions followed by death; they are not recommended for use in cats. After deworming with a product recommended by your veterinarian, make an effort to prevent your cat from re-exposure to sources of tapeworm infection (e.g., flea control is very important). If you don’t, deworming may have to be repeated several times a year.


Can people get tapeworms from their cats? In general, the answer is no, but in certain cases tapeworms can pose a health hazard. Small children have sometimes gotten a tapeworm following accidental ingestion of a flea. The tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, which is mainly an intestinal parasite of coyotes, wolves, and foxes but may also affect domestic dogs, can also pose a health hazard. Cats can acquire Echinococcus infection by eating infected raw meat. Sheep, cows, horses, pigs, deer, moose, and rodents may all carry the infective stages, so these tapeworms are a problem mainly in rural areas. The tapeworms mature in infected cats and dogs, and their eggs are passed out in the stool, where they contaminate the soil and infect intermediate hosts such as sheep or humans. Humans may be infected by direct contact with the eggs whether they are on the dog or cat, the stool or soil, or on unwashed vegetables contaminated with infective soil.

When the bladderworm forms in human body tissues, severe disease can occur. If you live in a rural area, it is important to have your cat’s stool examined periodically by a veterinarian; do not allow your cats to scavenge raw meat or hunt. Practice good hygiene to prevent infection: Hands, utensils, or food that may have come into contact with infective eggs on the cat or in the soil should always be washed before contact with your mouth. If your cat must be used for rodent control in areas where Echinococcus multilocularis is a problem, he or she should be dewormed monthly with antitapeworm medications (e.g., praziquantel), and you should keep in mind the risk of toxoplasmosis.