How Are Tapeworms in Cats Different from Other Worms?

Tapeworms in cats have a distinctive look and are easy to spot if your cat is infected. However, they also have many similarities to the other types of worms that may infect your cat.

Similarities Among Worms

All worms that infect your cat live internally and feed on your cat's tissues, blood or nutrients. Tapeworms specifically attach themselves to your cat's intestine and feed on nutrients that travel through rather than feeding on tissue. Thus, one of the most common symptoms of infection with many types of worms is increased appetite often accompanied by weight loss.

Worms are also commonly shed through your cat's vomit or stool. This is true of the three most common types: hookworm, tapeworm and roundworm.

Though any cat can contract worms, outdoor cats are more likely to contract any type of worm, including tapeworm, which are transmitted by fleas.

Tapeworm Distinctions

Tapeworms are distinctive from other worms in several ways. First, they have few symptoms. Other than spotting the worms in your cat's stool, he will display few other symptoms except possibly scooting on his rear.

Tapeworms are much longer than other worms, growing up to several inches long. They break into smaller pieces once digested, however, and look a lot like rice when passed through your cat's stool.

Tapeworms are also distinctive in the way they are passed. Tapeworms are passed by fleas, so if your cat has recently suffered from a flea infestation, consult your veterinarian about a dewormer as well as flea treatment. Flea and flea larvae ingest tapeworm from the feces of infected animals and then transmit the worms to their eggs. Cats who are infested with fleas may ingest a flea or flea egg while itching or cleansing, meanwhile ingesting a tapeworm. The tapeworm then grows to full size inside your cat's intestine before being passed into the stool to complete the cycle.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment of different types of worms is similar, usually through a pill called a dewormer that cleanses your cat's body of all potential worms. Most worms are easy to treat, allowing your cat to recover quickly.

Prevention of tapeworms, however, is unique to other worm types because preventing flea infestations eliminates the chance for tapeworm infestations. Since cats can only contract tapeworms from fleas, preventing your cat's exposure to fleas is crucial. Fortunately, many flea medications are available at pet stores or through your veterinarian. Flea preventative is available in both liquid and pill form.

If your cat has recently been exposed to fleas, clean your house thoroughly, keeping in mind that flea larvae can live dormant in your carpet for up to a year. Wash cat bedding in hot water and carefully clean all furniture where your cat rests.

Tapeworms are relatively symptom-free and easy to treat, but they are even easier to prevent. If your cat spends time outdoors, be sure to provide him with flea preventative to prevent tapeworm infections in your home.