Diagnosing Cats' Tapeworm Infections

Cats' tapeworm infections are one of most common intestinal parasites in felines. When a cat is infected with tapeworms, he or she may act strangely or irritated.


Tapeworms are an intestinal parasite known as "Cestodes". Dipylidium caninum is the most common type of tapeworm in cats, followed by the Taenia taeniaeformis. They are hermaphroditic parasites, meaning they do not need a mate to reproduce. Tapeworms tend to look like ribbons and can grow up to 60 cm in length.

Tapeworms require two hosts for survival: an intermediate host and then the animal they infect. The intermediate hosts tapeworms use are flea larvae. A tapeworm's eggs are passed on through cat feces, which are then eaten by the larvae. The egg then hatches inside of the flea. A cat then can contract the parasite, if fleas are present.

Cats ingest fleas while grooming or biting the instects. The acids in a cat's stomach will then break down the flea, releasing the tapeworm into the cat's system. The tapeworm will then attach onto the small intestine until it reaches maturity, eating food the cat ingests in the meantime.

When the tapeworm is mature, segments will break off of its body and leave the cat via its feces. These segments are able to move independently and are filled with eggs to be ingested by new flea larvae.

Symptoms of a Tapeworm Infection

When a cat has a tapeworm, it may have difficulties with bowel movements and the cat may have anal irritations. Sometimes one may notice a lump in a cat's abdomen or the cat may look like it has a little potbelly. Intestinal grumblings can also be heard in some cats that are infected with tapeworms. A cat's appetite may increase because the tapeworm eats some of the food the cat ingests so it can survive. A cat may also develop diarrhea or begin vomiting. A serious tapeworm infection may result in drastic weight loss.

Diagnosing Tapeworm Infections

Tapeworms many times can be diagnosed when segments of it are seen either dried up or crawling around the anus of a cat or in cat feces. Dried tapeworms often look like small grains of rice, sesame seeds, or lice that are off-white in color. As tapeworms do not lay eggs in the host's body, these visual cues often work well. However, a veterinarian may study a stool sample from the cat under a microscope to make a solid diagnosis.

Treating Tapeworm Infections

Treating a tapeworm infection in a cat is usually easy. A veterinarian can give the cat an injection that will kill the tapeworm, or give the cat a pill that will have the same effect.

It is important that a cat be treated immediately when tapeworms are suspected or noticed. Tapeworms can grow substantially and cause cysts to grow in various parts of a cat, including the brain. In other cases, cats may be allergic to tapeworms and develop complications when they are infected.