Tapeworms are the most common
internal parasite in adult cats. They live in the small
intestines, and vary in length from less than 1 inch (25 mm) to several feet (1
foot is .3 meters). The scolex (head) of the parasite fastens itself to the
wall of the gut using hooks and suckers. The body is composed of segments that
contain egg packets. To eliminate tapeworm infection, the head must be
destroyed. Otherwise, the worm will regenerate.
The body segments containing the eggs are passed in the feces. These are
called proglottids. Fresh moist segments are capable of moving. They are about
.25 inches (6.3 mm) long. Occasionally, you might see them in the fur about
your cat’s anus or in her stool. When dry, they resemble grains of rice.
Weaning is the process of transitioning kittens from mother’s milk to solid food. During weaning, kittens gradually progress from dependence on a mother’s care to social independence. Ideally, weaning is handled entirely by the mother cat. However, if the kitten in your care has been separated from his mother or if you are fostering a litter or a pregnant cat about to give birth, seeing the young ones through a successful weaning process may be up to you.
There are two common tapeworm species found in cats; both are transmitted by
an intermediate host. Dipylidium caninum is acquired from fleas or lice that harbor
immature tapeworms in their intestines. These insects acquire the parasite by
eating tapeworm eggs. The cat must bite or swallow the insect to become
infested. The tapeworm Taenia taeniaformis is acquired by eating rodents,
uncooked meat, raw freshwater fish, or discarded animal parts.
Dibothriocephalus latus and Spirometra mansonoides are two uncommon
tapeworms cats might acquire from eating uncooked freshwater fish or a water
snake. Spirometra mansonoides is seen primarily in outdoor cats along the Gulf
Coast region. Dibothriocephalus latus might be seen in the Gulf Coast region or
around the Great Lakes. Echinococcus tapeworms are rarely found in cats.
Treatment: Praziquantal is one of the most effective medications for both
common species of cat tapeworm. Other suitable treatments are fenbendazole and
espiprantal. Use under veterinary guidance. Deworming must be combined with
control of fleas and lice, in the case of Dipylidium caninum, and by preventing
roaming and hunting in the case of other tapeworms.
Public health considerations: A child could acquire a tapeworm if they
accidentally swallowed an infected flea. Except for this unusual circumstance,
cat tapeworms do not present a hazard to human health.
WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"