Just like humans, your dog or cat can experience a problem with a tapeworm. However, the symptoms of a tapeworm in cats will vary from those in dogs.
WHAT IS A TAPEWORM
A tapeworm is a long, segmented parasite with a large head that lives by attaching itself to the wall of the intestines and the lining of the stomach and feeding itself from a portion of the food its host consumes. This parasite can vary in length, even as long as 20 inches, with each segment filled with eggs. As a segment dies or dries up, the eggs are released into the host. While the amount of food eaten by the host will remain the same, they will experience weight loss as if they were eating less; which in reality is exactly what is occurring when a tapeworm invades its digestive tract. The lifecycle of the tapeworm relies on a host to survive, and ideally a continuous ingestion of its eggs by its current host is essential to thrive and continue to live. Tapeworms will utilize feces, fleas and spread by contact to infect a host. A cat or dog licking or grooming their body can ingest a tapeworm easily via an infected flea or through contaminated food. This parasite is also highly contagious from pet to humans; therefore, it is important to properly treat infected pets as soon as possible to avoid infection. Always wash your hands thoroughly when handling feces or cleaning litter boxes. Young children are highly prone to infection, so it is a good idea to make sure they wash their hands often, keep them out of their mouths and do not handle pet bedding.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Although both cats and dogs can be infected by a tapeworm, they are affected differently and the signs may vary:
Infection can occur from mother to kitten, flea infestation (by swallowing the eggs when it grooms itself) and through stools from an infected cat in a litter box used by multiple cats, or eating an infected rodent.
- Weight loss – when the amount of food consumed has not been reduced
- Loss of appetite – as the tapeworm gets larger, the cat eats less because it
- Feels fuller sooner
- Running around – more than usual, almost as if paranoid, signals discomfort
- Convulsing – due to a toxin the tapeworm emits
- Excessive anal itching – which occurs as the parasite releases egg filledsegments that stick to the cat’s anal area during feces elimination
- Whining – as if in pain
- Excessive licking or biting its belly
Treating your cat for a tapeworm infecton is relatively simple. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication in the form of tablets which you can crush over their food, or administer orally. Although there is “over-the-counter” treatment available, it is best to consult a medical professional to determine the best option for your cat, based on severity of symptoms, age (kittens cannot handle the stronger medications), or any other condition that may inhibit the effectiveness of the treatment. Tapeworms should be treated the quickest way possible, as cats who refuse to eat can become critically ill quickly. Once you have begun treatment, it is important to keep bedding, carpet and the litter box meticulously clean to prevent re-infestation.
The Dipylidium Caninum is the tapeworm found most often in dogs. Dogs can become infected by ingesting eggs from this parasite that may be found in your home’s carpet, your dog’s bedding, in fleas he may consume while licking his own fur, or even by eating infected rodents and lizards while outdoors. Symptoms include:
- Small, white, rice-sized objects in feces
- Scooting – to relieve itching in the anal area from eggs in feces
Tapeworm in dogs is one of the most common problems. One way to help prevent a tapeworm is to keep fleas under control. Good grooming habits and keeping your dog’s bedding clean will help maintain a healthy environment for your dog. Tapeworms in dogs relatively easy to treat. Your veterinarian may prescribe a tablet (Droncit, Drontal, Telmintic are some available medications) that will kill the parasite. Along with the treatment you should clean all carpet and bedding thoroughly, as well as shampoo and groom your dog to make sure there are not some eggs remaining on his body.
It is important to address any abnormal symptoms your cat or dog may be experiencing as soon as possible, in order to prevent additional complications or a more serious condition. Diarrhea and vomiting can quickly dehydrate your pet, so do not assume these conditions are temporary or will disappear on their own. If these symptoms last for more than 24 hours, you should get your pet thoroughly checked by a veterinarian to get the proper diagnosis and also to make sure there is not an underlying condition that needs to be treated.
Did you pet ever have tapeworms? How was it treated? Tell us the story in the comments!