Today’s post is going to obviously be about tapeworms, so if you’re squeamish or not interested, please pass this post by. I totally would have myself in the past if I hadn’t gone through an experience with them.
For context, I’m going to be providing information on the type of tapeworm that cats and dogs get from fleas, not the type from raw meat like eating raw rodents and such or contracted usually by trappers (even I couldn’t handle any of that research). Back in October we adopted twin stray nearly solid black kittens to make things all the more lively with having two older cats all ready. Zane and Izzy are now almost a year old and although I may slip and call them “the kittens”, they’re really not anymore. Just a heads up on that.
Anyway, one day as we prepared for bed (we are day sleepers since he works overnight), we noticed what looked like white rice around the backside on Zane. L held Zane and I removed them with a tissue, and promptly freaked out when one moved. Although it was way whiter than the following picture shows, here is an example.
We thought it was mucus or something until the bugger moved. Thankfully on a black cat they’re extremely noticeable and one of the few times I’m thankful that the twins tend to moon us frequently instead of keeping that tail lower. LOL After it moved L looked closer and said he thought it looked like a tapeworm, but maybe he was wrong and it was a different kind of worm. He was certain it was a worm, so I jumped into researching. After a few hours of research I discovered a lot of contradictory and even downright false information, but confirmed that the three were indeed involved with having a tapeworm. So, I wanted to provide the correct information here in the hopes that it helps someone.
Let’s start with getting to know the truth about the tapeworm itself. Usually your cat has only one infecting it and by the time they are mature, they average between 5-8″ inside the intestine, with the head latched onto the intestine. It is made up of three parts: the head that connects to poor kitty, the neck, and a long body of segments. This picture gives a great example.
Now, this worm tends to be difficult for the vet to detect unless segments have detached and the owner finds them, since it’s not detectable in a blood test and is really tough to test for in a standard fecal exam (unless the segments are breaking off). Now comes the creepy, crawly part. That segment that breaks off and passes through is actually an egg sac. First they’re a bit lively when they’re freshly out of kitty (or pup) and the nasty buggers have the ability to move around to find a host. You can even see them snake their way out of the anus sometimes (insert gagging). After exposure to the air and lack of finding an immediate host, they drop off and dehydrate.
You can find these anywhere the cat has walked, played, or slept. At this point they will not move and are waiting for a host. The important thing to know now is that tapeworms need an intermediary host, such as this variety needing to be ingested by flea larvae, which then grow into infected fleas. (Note: the dry segments/egg sacs, break open and the eggs are released, which the larvae can then infest.) The sacs can not infect you or your pet directly, even those nasty crawling ones, and they’re not going to go back into kitty’s backside. If your cat roams the house freely, you have a high chance of finding these dehydrated sacs in your own bedding as well, so don’t freak out if you see these tiny, really weird gold looking, sesame seed-like, hard sacs.
Here are the top keys to taking care of this. First, make sure that kitty is treated with a flea preventative, preferably one that kills fleas and larvae ASAP. Contact your vet and buy tapeworm anti-parasitic treatment from them (oral or liquid application, so whichever you’re more comfortable with. Since we use the liquid flea treatment, it made since to use the same for the other), and thoroughly clean anywhere kitty has been or where fleas could have gone, especially vacuuming anywhere possible. Now, I am not addressing a heavy flea infestation with this, but instead the random type. If you have an infestation, contact your vet and follow their recommendations to the “T”. Also, it is worth the extra cost of buying the tapeworm treatment from your vet instead of an OTC version, because the OTC isn’t usually as strong and sometimes doesn’t kill the worm itself, so you may get this issue all over again once that worm is at a reproduction stage again. Now, poor kitty may spend a lot of time in the litter box trying to get the irritating matter to pass like fecal matter (which won’t happen, so the poor thing is just getting kinda tortured trying to care for itself) and every so often, although it’s more common in dogs than cats, they may scoot on the carpet to remove what is irritating their backside. Thankfully Zane didn’t do that or I’d have probably set fire to that area of the carpet and just dealt with L’s anger later. *laugh*
Now, those infected larvae grow into fleas and kitty either eats one while grooming or while nipping at the itch of fleas biting, and ingests it then. Within three weeks of eating the infected flea (most vets seem to agree that the flea can still be infected even if it is dead and the cat grooms up that dead flea), the worm living inside the flea then attaches to the intestinal wall. Note: the worm MUST go through the flea to complete the life cycle, according to our vet and most documents I found written by actual vets.
If you use a good flea treatment, then all traces of fleas on them, even the larvae, will be dead within 24 hours. Your vet will let you know how soon after the flea treatment that you can administer the parasitic treatment. The good thing is that a prescription based tapeworm treatment will kill the whole thing within 12 hours and only needs the one treatment! (Again, this is not the case in a heavily flea-infested environment or if your pet is able to go outside, since their exposure possibilities are nearly endless outside. Your vet will be your best instructor on this. Do NOT rely on the internet for guidance on this, please!! A LOT of the information people post is so wrong.) Also, make sure you clean the litter boxes often, just as an in-case preventative, especially while in the possible “something might still be alive” window.
At this point it is a good idea to clean thoroughly again, especially since there will be dry sacs and dead fleas in your linens and carpet. There’s contradictory information, but you can also use a cleaning spray solution such as Lysol or a bleach or borax and water solution, and spray anywhere you can’t reach with other cleaning methods. The jury is out on the safety of Lysol around cats, however, thankfully mine hate it and stay away from any wet spray, and they won’t lick dry spots either. With having a compromised immune system, Lysol helps give me an extra peace of mind, knowing that it’s killing any other germs or bacteria that may be hiding and can affect my system later, as well as making me feel confident that this is DONE.
A few more key notes now. It is extremely rare for humans to get this type of tapeworm. Basic hygiene should prevent this. You have to ingest an infected flea in order for the possibility of getting infected, so, in normal circumstances, you have nothing to worry about, even if you have a compromised immune system. Next, most vets all agree on only giving the tapeworm treatment to those that show they have been infected. As our twins have a tendency of sharing their grooming (blech!), we all agreed it was probably best to treat Izzy too, while the flea treatment was done on all four. And now the biggest thing to know. You must continue to use flea preventative all year long to prevent this from happening again, even if you have a foot of snow, since one can hitch a ride from a house that has fleas on something they bring over or on their clothing, or something of that nature, thereby bringing the infection into your house. It seems insane to treat even when the ground is frozen, everything outside is dead, and there’s snow everywhere, but if you never want to deal with these nasty buggers, it’s worth the cost of treatment. One last note that I almost forgot – if your pets roam your house freely, make sure to also vacuum your mattress pad while your linens are in the wash (warmest temps for washing and drying that the manufacturer recommends)! I don’t know how they can get around like that, but I found dry sacs on the mattress pad itself, despite us using several layers of blankets and sheets, so don’t half-ass clean (excuse the language please). For something without a brain, they’re very creative and goal oriented.
It’s up to you what flea preventative you want to use, but make sure it can also kill the larvae. Our vet actually recommends the new Revolution Plus, since it prevents a lot of other issues too that may affect kitty.
The only signs now that we had an issue is that I need to brush the twins’ fur where they had the treatment applied, since they have some funny fur patterns from the dried solution on the back of their necks, my house is way cleaner than it has been in a long time and all laundry got washed including anything the cats could have laid on, and I am out of energy spoons for the foreseeable future. *laugh* However, I was really upset that something common and so easily treatable didn’t have accurate information easily handy, despite the availability of information on the internet! I felt an obligation to help provide some accurate knowledge about this as a result. If you would like to read an actual trustworthy article, click HERE for the site that our own vet trusts.
So, other than a step back with my recovery due to using up too much energy and getting a little injured during the cleaning, and some irritated cats that hate getting their monthly treatment, life is returning to normal for our little menagerie. Zane is catching up on missed sleep from when he was kept up by his issues, the others are enjoying fresh bedding and a new heated cat bed, and all of them are super affectionate right now for some reason. I truly hope you never have to deal with this, but if you do, hopefully this helps prevent you from freaking out like I did, and also gives you a solid base of information to get this under control. Our key take away is that we will be giving year long flea preventatives with treats afterward and never dealing with this again. (And in case you wonder, nope, we didn’t have a single flea found on the pets or in the house. A great way to find out if you have an issue is to walk around wearing white socks. It’s easier to see them jumping on you and getting tangled in the material before making their way toward their food source and gives you a good idea of how bad of a flea situation you’re dealing with. With my immune issues, if there is a flea around, typically it comes after me and I react with a big red bite, or a series of them if I enter a place that has an infestation.)
Anyway, sorry for such an icky topic, but I really hope that it’s helpful, even if it’s just education to keep in the back of your mind for “just in case” purposes. In the meantime, happy pampering and please do a little extra for me, since I’m too tired to even get out of bed right now. 😀