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Key takeaways

Tapeworms are a common gastrointestinal parasite in cats. Tapeworms are transmitted by ingestion of fleas or raw meat infected with tapeworms.

  • Tapeworm infections are normally asymptomatic but occasionally result in weight loss, abdominal distension, anal itch, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Diagnosis involves detection of tapeworm segments in fecal samples, which appear like grains of rice or maggots on the feces or around the anus
  • Microscopic eggs are sometimes seen during fecal analysis
  • Treatment involves antiparasitic medication
  • Prevention involves reducing access to raw meat, controlling hunting behavior, and flea control
  • Response to treatment is usually rapid and prognosis is excellent
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A closer look: Tapeworms in Cats

Tapeworm is a general term for parasitic worms of the Eucestoda subclass, which are distinguished by their flat shape and repeating segments called proglottids. In cats, tapeworms live in the intestines and feed off nutrients present in the bowel from the host diet.

Tapeworms can be transmitted to cats in raw meat and by fleas. Most cases of feline tapeworms respond well to treatment. Staying up to date with routine veterinary check ups and recommended parasite prevention, including external flea and tick control. Note: always consult a veterinarian before choosing flea and tick control for pets. Many over the counter parasite control products are toxic to cats.

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Risk factors

Tapeworms are a common intestinal parasite in cats that are usually asymptomatic. Kittens are at higher risk for developing symptoms. Serious illness from tapeworms is very rare in cats. Prevention is straightforward and most cases respond well to treatment. Cats with outdoor lifestyles are more likely to be exposed to tapeworms through fleas or by eating wild birds and rodents.

Variation in symptoms depends on the worm burden in each patient. Cases involving small numbers of worms usually have no symptoms whereas moderate to severe worm burdens are more likely to present with weight loss.

Since some species of tapeworms are transmitted by fleas, cats with tapeworms might have become infected due to ongoing exposure to fleas. Tapeworm infection might appear concurrently with flea infestation and symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis.

Possible causes

Transmission of tapeworms depends on the species. Dipylidium caninum is the most common tapeworm in cats. Other less common forms include Taenia and Echinococcus.

Fleas are the intermediate host for Dipylidium caninum. Cats with a flea infestation overgroom in response to flea bites and ingest infected fleas.

The infective forms of Taenia and Echinococcus species are present in rodents and birds and ingestion occurs most commonly in outdoor cats that hunt and eat their prey.

Tapeworms attach to the wall of the small intestine and grow up to 30cm in length. Small sections of the tail (proglottids), containing eggs, break off and infect the environment. Proglottids are often seen in the feces of infected cats. They must mature and be ingested by a flea or small prey animal prior to becoming infective to another cat.

Main symptoms

Cats with tapeworm infections often have no symptoms.

Sometimes adult tapeworms are visible in the vomit.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of tapeworms involves:

  • Physical examination
  • Detection of adult worms or proglottids in the feces
  • Fecal analysis

Steps to Recovery

Internal antiparasitic medication is the definitive treatment for tapeworms. External flea and tick control is also recommended to prevent recurrence.

Prognosis is excellent. Most cases respond well to antiparasitic medication


Prevention depends on the species of tapeworm.

  • Dipylidium caninum transmission occurs via flea bites and prevention involves control of the flea population on the cat and in the home
  • Taenia and Echinococcus transmission occur via ingestion of infected meat. Prevention involves regular preventive use of antiparasitic medication. The interval between treatments varies depending on the individual risk. Prolific hunters that eat their prey require regular treatment whereas indoor cats are low risk for contracting tapeworm. Using a bell on the cat collar, or other methods to reduce success when hunting may reduce infection

Are Tapeworms in Cats common?

Tapeworm infestation is a common presentation in cats.

Typical Treatment

  • Antiparasitic medication
  • Flea control

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