How do cats get tapeworms?

Does your cat have fleas? If it does you may have to deal with two kinds of parasites –ectoparasites and endoparasites. Cats that are infected by fleas are commonly infested with tapeworms too given that these tiny buggers that live on the surface of the cat’s body serve as intermediate hosts of tapeworms. Fleas are not the only carriers of tapeworm larvae. Cats can be infected by these intestinal parasites by eating feces of infected animals and by eating infected prey. Tapeworms can be passed on to the kittens by an infested mother.

Tapeworms are one of the parasites that would feed off the intestines of the cat. Tapeworms are whitish in color and have a ribbon-like appearance. This type of worm that can grow to about 6 inches in length has a long flat body that is composed of segments. Each of the segments has its own digestive system. Tapeworms are hermaproditic. Each segment has its own reproductive organs. Because of the presence of both testes and ovaries, one tapeworm in the cat’s intestine can reproduce on its own. A tapeworm is composed of a head, a neck and the tail segments. On the head is the rostellum, a structure with hooks and teeth that will be used to grab onto the cat’s intestinal walls. Once anchored, the worm’s skin will absorb the nutrients from the food ingested by the cat.

There are two types of tapeworms that can infect a cat – the Dipylidium caninum and the Taenia taeniaeformis. The taenia taeniaeformis can be transmitted to cats by eating prey. Mice, birds, raccoons and other small animals serve as intermediate hosts of these intestinal parasites. We know how good hunters cats are. Even well fed pets would still have the inclination to hunts because hunting is their nature. A cat can get infected when it eats a prey that harbors larval tapeworm. Another way by which cats can get infected by tapeworms is by accidentally swallowing a flea that contains tapeworm larvae while grooming itself. This time the type of tapeworm that will be transmitted to the cat is the Dipylidium caninum. This type of tapeworm has fleas as its intermediate hosts.

Generally, tapeworm infestation would not have dangerous effects on the cat. Cat owners may not even be aware that the pet is infested. True, tapeworms would consume some of the nutrients from the food ingested by the cat but the cat would not be affected unless the infection is severe. Owners would only be aware of the free loaders on the pet’s intestines if the feces of the pet have moving rice-like segments. These tapeworm segments would appear like sesame seeds that cling on the hair around the cat’s anal area when they dry up. These dry sacs would break and release the tapeworm eggs on the fur and on the skin of the cat where larval fleas are also feeding on organic debris and on black flea dirt. To nourish the larvae, adult fleas would shed digested blood. The flea larvae will consume the flea dirt along with the tapeworm eggs. The flea larvae will grow into an adult flea with the developing tapeworm egg inside it. The tapeworm-carrying flea would jump into another cat. Cats are fastidious groomers. While licking the fur, it can accidentally ingest the flea. The flea would be digested inside the cat’s stomach. Guess what will happen…the young tapeworms will be released! The tapeworms will attach its suckers into the intestinal walls and the cycle will begin again. Tapeworm medications can be administered to get rid of the intestinal parasites. However, to prevent the pet from being reinfected, it would be necessary to resolve the flea infestation of the pet as well.