Cats are wonderful companions and we would do anything to keep them healthy, happy, and protected. But despite our best efforts, occasionally our feline friends do get infected with parasites such as tapeworms. Left untreated, your cat can die from a tapeworm infestation, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms your cat may exhibit. As with any medical condition, if you suspect your cat has a tapeworm infestation, you should seek the advice and care of a veterinarian as soon as possible.
There are two common types of tapeworms common in cats; Dipylidium canium and Taenia taeniaeformis. Both of these are specialized parasites which are delivered into your cat's system through specialized means. D. Canium eggs are typically eaten by fleas, these fleas then are eaten during grooming and the larvae (or "cysticercoid") are introduced into the cat's digestive tract when the flea is digested in the stomach. T. Taeniaeformis is usually ingested when your cat catches a rodent and eats (or partially eats) it. In both cases the flea and the rodent were the medium into which the tapeworm is introduced into the cat's system and is actually a required part of the tapeworm's lifecycle in many cases.
Tapeworms lodge in the intestinal wall and feed off of the nutrients passing through the intestines. Often this results in the cat losing weight despite eating normally or overeating. Vomiting, unusual defecating habits, and loose stools are also possible signs of tapeworm infestation. Another sign to look for is bits of the tapeworm stuck in the fur around the anus, in the fecal matter or even a still-connected segment of the tapeworm protruding from the anus of the cat. The bits of tapeworm may become dry very quickly and resemble grains of rice; regardless, treat them with caution as they contain the eggs of the tapeworm.
The best prevention of Tapeworm infestation is to take precautions against fleas (such as topical anti-flea medication or flea collars) as well as preventing your cat from eating mice, rats, or other rodents. Tapeworms cannot be treated effectively with over-the-counter medications so it is important to see a veterinarian for the right medication. Also, ensure that other cats in the household are checked out for possible early infestation to prevent their infection.
Like many living organisms, Tapeworm parasites are adaptive to their environment. Failing to follow your veterinarian's orders, including timing of doses as well as finishing off the medication, can result in a re-infestation of the parasite in your cat. Your veterinarian may have to use stronger or more expensive medication to treat your cat a second time around, so be sure to get it right the first time.
Though it is rare, it is possible for humans to acquire these varieties of tapeworm if precautions are not taken. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and lots of soap after handling an infected cat's fecal matter or fur where the eggs may lay dormant. It is also advisable to change the litter, wash the bedding, and disinfect the other areas your cat may lay upon or come in contact with eggs or remnants of the parasite.