Master Brand

Tapeworms in cats – how to spot the signs and protect your feline

Intro Text
As a responsible pet owner, it’s important to maintain your cat’s health by protecting them against parasites. If you don’t, you might encounter a new houseguest: the tapeworm.

Even the most home-loving cats are likely to catch worms at some point and tapeworms are particularly horrid - they can grow up to 80cm (31 inches) inside your pet!

Once you read our guide below, no doubt you’ll agree your cat is better off without one of these horrible intestinal parasites. Learn how to spot the warning signs and protect your cat from tapeworms with an effective treatment.

Cats can contract tapeworm when they swallow infected fleas while grooming
What are tapeworms?

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites, which affect both cats and dogs, growing inside them and stealing nutrients.

Cats commonly contract two types of tapeworm; the most common tapeworm species found in cats is Dipylidium caninum; but they can also be infected by Taenia taeniaeformis.

The adult tapeworm is a long, segmented worm that, hooks onto the wall of your pet’s small intestine. Here, they reproduce, filling each segment with around 20 tapeworm eggs. They can live here for months.

Eventually, these small egg-filled segments break off the worm and are passed out into the faeces of an infected pet. They’re recognisable because they look like grains of rice crawling around the back end of the animal, or in its poo. This can be very itchy, causing pets to rub their bottom along the ground, called ‘scooting’, in an attempt to relieve the itch. Tapeworms may also cause them to lose weight and become unwell.

How do cats get tapeworms?

Cats can become infected with a tapeworm in a few different ways, most commonly by swallowing infected fleas (which act as the intermediate parasite host) while grooming. When an infected flea is swallowed, the tapeworm larva is released into the cat’s intestine where it continues its lifecycle to develop into an adult.

It’s estimated that cats will swallow around 50 per cent of any fleas present on their coat when they’re cleaning themselves, so for unprotected cats there is a real risk of a tapeworm infestation.

Hunting cats also tend to be at particular risk of contracting tapeworm, which can be carried by infected small rodents they like to snack on.

Cats that like to hunt are at particular risk of a tapeworm infection
What do tapeworms look like?

When living inside an infected cat, tapeworms grow as long, segmented, flat worms that are white in colour. In a cat, they can grow up to 31 inches long.

Tapeworms grow as these long, white, flat worms inside an infected cat

When tapeworms pass through your pet, their long bodies break up into segments that resemble grains of rice.

A close-up view of the white tapeworm segments you might find on your pet if they have a tapeworm infestation
What are the signs my cat has a tapeworm?

It’s difficult to detect tapeworm in cats in the early stages. Often, pets don’t show any signs, despite the worm growing inside them. To combat tapeworm, it’s vital pet owners regularly worm their cat even if there are no visible signs.

Your cat may have a tapeworm if they show any of the following signs:  

  • Rice-like segments in the stools

Look out for small, white, rice-like particles in your cat’s poop, litter box or around their back end. These could be dead segments of the tapeworm that have broken off and passed through your poor pet. Although they’re not alive, they remain mobile for some time.

  • Itchy bottom

The mobile, rice-like tapeworm segments can lead to an itchy bottom in your pet. If you notice your cat ‘scooting’ along the ground on their bottom, they may be trying to relieve the itch caused by these tapeworm segments. Cats may also regularly lick their back-end or bite or scratch this area.

  • Vomiting up a tapeworm

It can happen that a tapeworm migrates from the cat’s intestines to the stomach, which can cause the animal to vomit up a tapeworm.

  • General sickness

Other symptoms of a tapeworm infection can include weight loss, vomiting and diarrhoea, a dull coat and general sickness.

Click here to read up on signs of other types of worms in cats.

How can I protect my cat from tapeworms?

Simply put, tapeworms are fairly disgusting – as well as potentially harmful – and leaving them unchecked inside your cat is not advisable. Luckily, treatment is straightforward; tapeworms in cats can be dealt with by using an effective worming product regularly.

Even after worming, remember to thoroughly wash your cat’s bedding, food and water bowls to remove any residual eggs.

Woman holding grey cat to apply spot-on wormer.
Do I need to treat my cat for fleas, too?

Flea control is key to preventing tapeworm infestation in your cat, so you should use an effective flea treatment alongside worming medication for full protection. Without it, a tapeworm infection can return within a matter of weeks.

Can my family or I become infected by tapeworms?

It is very unlikely a human will become infected with the types of tapeworm found in cats, but it is possible if they ingest an infected flea. However, there are other tapeworms which can affect humans; the most common way is by eating infected uncooked meat or by ingesting soil containing eggs directly or via unwashed hands.   

By using a regular flea preventative and tapeworm treatment for cats, it reduces the risk. It means you’re not just protecting your pet from tapeworm but you and your family too.

 Person applying spot-on worming treatment to red cat
Did you know...?

In 2017, doctors in India removed a tapeworm from a man that was over six feet long!1

Speak to your vet to find out more about how to treat worms in your cat.