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What are Tapeworms?

There are various types of tapeworms that can infect cats. The most common is calledDipylidium caninum and is associated with fleas. The second most commonly seen tapeworm is called Taenia taeniaeformis and is linked to small mammals, birds and reptiles. Tapeworms can live up to two years if untreated, but often do not cause great harm to their host. These worms can grow up to 20 inches long, however, they are usually smaller. Tapeworm infestations are fairly common in cats, and veterinary treatment is very effective at eradicating them. 

Tapeworms are a type of intestinal parasite called a cestode. They take the shape of long, flat worms that resemble off-white ribbons. To infect a cat, they must be ingested. Tapeworms are unable to digest food, so to gain nutrients they attach themselves to the intestinal walls of other animals and absorb digested food through holes in their skin. The worms are made up of segments called proglottids that can break off and release eggs. These segments exit a cat with its feces and may be visible as small, rice-like worms.

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Tapeworms Average Cost

From 302 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$250

Symptoms of Tapeworms in Cats

More often than not, an infected cat will not exhibit any notable symptoms other than the visible worm segments in its bowel movements. In extreme cases of infestation involving multiple worms, other symptoms may be seen. These include:

  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Dull coat
  • Anemia
  • Weakness
  • Dragging, licking or biting at anus due to itchiness
  • Worm or worms in vomit (rare)
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Causes of Tapeworms in Cats

Tapeworms generally need to be ingested by at least two different insects or animals to complete their life cycle. The first is referred to as an intermediate host, and is the primary source of infection to other animals. Different types of tapeworms have different intermediate hosts.

Dipylidium caninum

These worms use fleas to progress to their next stage of life. An infected flea may bite a cat to feed, leaving tapeworm eggs in the bite wound. Once a cat licks or bites at the wound due to itch or as a part of general grooming, the tapeworm eggs may be ingested. As the eggs reach the intestines they hatch and attach to the walls using hook-shaped appendages.

Taenia taeniaeformis

The intermediate hosts of these tapeworms can be many small animals including mice, birds and rodents. As these are common prey of outdoor house cats, tapeworms may easily be spread to cats from these animals. The tapeworms create egg filled cysts on the intermediate host’s liver, which, once ingested, hatch inside the cat. 

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Diagnosis of Tapeworms in Cats

Often, tapeworms are found by the owner of the cat while cleaning out the litter box. Once a cat has been brought in to a veterinary clinic, the vet will complete a physical examination including a close look at the cat’s anus, as proglottids are sometimes seen near the opening. If a cat is diagnosed with fleas, it is wise to assume that Dipylidium caninum tapeworms are also present.

Various fecal examinations will be needed to confirm the type of worms that have infested the cat. Examination of the eggs alone is often not accurate, as many worm eggs resemble each other. Approximately one teaspoon of fresh fecal material may need to be collected from your cat to perform a fecal flotation test. The excrement is then mixed with a substance that is heavier than the worms. After 20 minutes, all worm eggs will float to the surface of the mixture and can then be collected for microscopic analysis and identification. 

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Treatment of Tapeworms in Cats

Treatment to rid your cat of tapeworms is readily available and very effective. Always consult your veterinarian before choosing a treatment, and seek prescription medications over pet store options. 

Deworming Medication

 

Many medications have been manufactured for the purpose of ridding cats of tapeworms. These treatments come in the form of injections, tablets and skin drops. Certain medications may have side effects of vomiting and diarrhea. Commonly prescribed deworming medications include praziquantel.

Flea Medication 

If your cat has been confirmed as carrying Dipylidium caninum tapeworms, it may be necessary to also start a regular flea medication to eliminate the possibility of reinfection. Flea medications are often administered on a once a month basis. 

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Recovery of Tapeworms in Cats

Eradication of tapeworms with deworming medication is very successful. Many owners choose to deworm their cat on a regular basis as a precautionary action. It may be necessary to keep your cat indoors to prevent it from hunting small animals that carry tapeworms. While cat to human transmission of tapeworms is rare, it can happen, especially with children. Teach any children in the home proper hygiene habits when handling the cat. 

If the cat is recovering from a flea infestation also, extra precautions may be necessary. Wash all of the cat’s toys and bedding in hot water and hoover daily. Clean the litter box daily and safely dispose of all feces. Disinfect the litter box on a regular basis. In extreme cases, the home or yard may need to be treated for fleas to prevent reinfection. With proper care, tapeworms can be permanently removed from your cat.

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Tapeworms Average Cost

From 302 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$250

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Tapeworms Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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cat

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Thirteen Years

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss

Hi, I have a female cat that's possibly a maine coons that has been losing a lot of weight recently. I would guess that she weighs less than 4 pounds and you can feel ever bone in her body. Her appetite has increased a lot. She usually eats dry food but I have been giving her wet food to see if that will help with her weight. She acts like she's starving. She is an outside cat but stays in the garage and has a heated cat bed. You can also hear sounds from her stomach constantly like it's her food digesting. She is still completely active. Could this be a tapeworm? She's on the left in the pic.

Jan. 27, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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7 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. While parasites are possible we need to rule out anything more serious given her symptoms. We can see dramatic weight loss despite a good appetite with e.g. an overactive thyroid, cancer or diabetes. While we should ensure she is up to date with a good quality wormer such as Panacur, I would also have her seen by a vet who will likely run some tests such as blood tests so we can get a definitive answer and start any needed treatment.

Jan. 27, 2021

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tabby

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7 weeks

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Worms In Stool

I dewormed 6 week old kittens that were left outside almost 2 weeks ago. the vet gave me a second dose of dewormer to give them in 3 weeks and a vet app right after. the littlest one is now having mild diarrhea with long dead worms in the stool. they all make it to the litterbox. is this an emergency enough to take them back to the vet? or should I give them the additional dewormer early

Sept. 24, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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7 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. The worms will come out as they are dying. It would be best to follow your veterinarian's instructions with the dewormer. If they are still having problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 23, 2020

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Tapeworms Average Cost

From 302 quotes ranging from $200 - $500

Average Cost

$250

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

Plan ahead. Get the pawfect insurance plan for your pup.

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