Tapeworms are long, flat, segmented worms that can take up residence in your cat's intestines. They latch onto the wall of the intestine via their hook-like mouthparts. Many cats have tapeworms, and since the signs are not always very obvious, they go undetected for long periods of time. A tapeworm infection in a cat is not, in and of itself, a life-threatening problem. However, it can weaken your cat and make him more susceptible to other illnesses. Thus, it's important to know how to detect, prevent, and treat tapeworms in your cat.
Detecting Tapeworm Infections
Some cats with tapeworm develop a rough coat and begin to lose weight, but others show no outward signs of tapeworm at all. Thus, the best way to detect tapeworm in your cat, as gross as it may sound, is to closely watch his feces and rear end. If you see what look like little, moving pieces of rice either in the feces or around the anus, your cat has tapeworms. These are segments that the worm has shed – they contain its eggs. Take a look at your cat's rear and feces every day for a week or two. If you see nothing in this time, you can assume your cat is free of tapeworms. Do repeat the evaluation every few months, so that if your cat does develop tapeworm, you detect it promptly.
Treating Tapeworm Infections
If your cat has tapeworm, you must obtain a deworming medication that is specifically formulated to kill tapeworms. Usually, these include the active ingredient praziquantal and are available over the counter at most pet supply stores. Administer the wormer according to package instructions, paying close attention to the dosage, which is generally based on the weight of your cat.
Since tapeworms are spread by fleas (fleas often harbor tapeworm eggs, and when your cat ingests the flea, the tapeworm egg hatches), it's wise to give your cat a flea treatment at the same time you give the wormer. The spot-on treatments that you squeeze onto the back of your cat's neck tend to work well. If you have seen fleas in your home and are positive you actually have a flea problem, then you'll also need to treat your home with flea powder or flea bombs to ensure your cat does not become re-infested.
Preventing Tapeworm Infections
The best way to prevent tapeworm is to prevent fleas. Make sure your cat is getting regular, preventative flea treatments. Your vet can recommend a brand that is right for you, and tell you how often to apply it. Keep your cat inside, where he is less likely to come into contact with other animals who have fleas and can pass them on.
Fleas and tapeworms go hand-in-hand in cats, so if you can keep your cat flea-free, you'll likely keep him free of tapeworms too.
For professional veterinary care, consider pet services at Rivers Animal Hospital or do an online search.