Cats & Tapeworms
Tapeworms are not uncommon in cats and certainly, they cause a lot of troubles for felines including irritability, seizures, mild diarrhea, etc. Despite being common, not all pet parents know about two different species of tapeworms found in cats. We will discuss how you can get rid of them and how differently both the species can get to your cat. It is always advisable to visit your vet as soon as possible when you think your kitty has got any parasites. Let’s first see how you can confirm the presence of tapeworms.
Identification of Tapeworms in Cats
Tapeworms, as the name suggests, are flat and long worms thriving inside the guts of a cat. They can be as long as 60 cm and are divided into different segments. A tapeworm attaches itself with the wall of the intestine and the segment is known as ‘head’. The segment attached with the head is known as the neck of the tapeworm and as the tapeworm grows, new segments are produced from the neck and push the older ones towards the edge of the worm.
Each segment produced from the neck acts as an independent body and has its own digestive as well as the reproductive system. When a particular segment reaches towards an end of the tapeworm, it only has the reproductive system left in it, basically, it’s a sack of tapeworm eggs. This segment eventually separates itself from the main body and leaves the body of the cat through the anus.
These segments are called proglottids. It looks like a rice grain and may move. However, you won’t be able to see a long tapeworm unless your cat is on a deworming medication. This is because of the fact that a tapeworm won’t get out of the intestines unless they are killed with the medication.
A proglottid typically contains thousands of eggs. Look for small rice-grain like structure in your cat’s fur and where she sleeps or spends most of her time. If you find a proglottid in your cat’s surroundings, that means your cat has tapeworms in her intestines.
In addition to this, comb your cat meticulously while placing her on a white sheet. If you find black flea dirt and creamy white proglottids, your cat has fleas as well as tapeworms of the kind that’s associated with the presence of fleas.
Bring a Sample of Proglottid to Your Vet
Before your vet advises you on preventive measures of tapeworms, your vet has to know the species of the tapeworms your cat has got. It might be difficult for you to identify which species it is. So simply take a big piece of sellotape and stick a proglottid on a sticky side and attach the tape on a plain card. Take this sample to your vet for an examination.
Flea Infestation is a Sign of Tapeworms
As I said, there are two different types of tapeworms that are commonly found in cats. Both of these tapeworms have intermediate hosts. One of them is Dipylidium caninum and spreads through fleas in cats.
The hungry flea larvae feed on flea dirt (dried cat blood and flea excreta) when they come into this world. They innocently eat up proglottids present with the flea dirt and act as intermediate hosts. Tapeworm eggs don’t hatch until the flea larvae grow into adult fleas.
Cats groom themselves so much and when they accidentally swallow a flea with tapeworm eggs, worms find their way to a cat’s intestines to thrive. That said, flea infestation should be addressed as soon as possible and you should use the best flea prevention and treatment for cats.
Medication can kill the worms present inside a cat’s GI tract but if fleas are still present in the surrounding, the cat will still be susceptible to get tapeworms.
Hunting Cats too Get Tapeworms
The next common type of tapeworm, Taenia taeniaeformis, make their way to a cat through small rodents like mice and rats. These tapeworms are present in the larva form inside rodents. Rodents get these worms from the contaminated food they eat in the wild.
If you allow your cats to stay outdoors and they hunt often, your cats will likely have Taenia tapeworms. In this case, your cats should be wormed every three months.
Take a proglottid sample found on your cat’s fur or present around your cat as discussed in one of the previous sections. Your vet will be able to identify the type of tapeworm looking at the sample.
However, it is important to note that the medication to be prescribed by the vet will be the same for the treatment of both kinds of tapeworms. But it will be helpful for your vet to advise you on future prevention of the infections.
Your vet will prescribe the medication which contains praziquantel as the key ingredient. In fact, praziquantel is the only substance that is effective in killing tapeworms. Nevertheless, many other products come with praziquantel combined with another ingredient that works against roundworms as well.
Let’s know a bit more about how praziquantel works. The medication when taken attacks the tapeworm’s nervous system and paralyzes it. The worm gets passed out and loses the grip on the bowel wall. Praziquantel makes the phospholipid integument, the skin of the tapeworm, permeable to ions of potassium, calcium, and sodium. The massive influx of ions is the main reason behind paralysis in tapeworms.
The worming medication does not guarantee the future prevention of tapeworms. The medication helps in killing them and get out of the gastrointestinal tract of a cat. Considering that, you should worm your cat every one to three months. However, depending on your cat’s health, if she is generally healthy you can check for worms every four to twelve months too. But in order to prevent your cat from getting tapeworms, you will have to get rid of fleas completely from your cat’s surroundings. Also, if your cat hunts, you should start correcting the habit. All in all, preventive measures along with the mediation is how you will be able to get rid of tapeworms completely.