Health Hygiene Parasites

Parasites in Cats: Tapeworms & Their Rice Grain Butts

Meet a tapeworm and learn how he gets into your cat, what he does while he’s in there, and how to get him out!

We’re going to talk about the oddly fascinating and equally repulsive world of parasites in cats. This post will focus on my arch nemesis, tapeworms. I cannot tell you how many cats and fosters I’ve had with these gross buggers. The good news is that tapeworms are a very minor parasite, causing few issues minus being gross, and are easily treatable.

To have a little fun with this topic, I wrote it in first person, from the tapeworm’s point of view. Enjoy!

Hi, I’m Oliver the Tapeworm

Liz accessorized me because she said I needed it. In real life, my suckers don’t look like donuts with sprinkles and my hooks don’t look like orange hair.

I’m a flat, segmented white dude who uses my hook-like mouth to attach to the walls of the cat’s small intestines (it’s really nice in there). It’s basically an endless smorgasbord of food! While I can grow up to 20 inches, most of my friends and I are around 8 inches. As I get older, segments at the end of my body, called proglottids, continually fall off. They wiggle through the intestines and crawl out of the cat’s butt. Each segment contains male and female reproductive organs and about 20 eggs. What can I say? I’m pretty cool. These segments dry up and look like little pieces of rice.

The end segment falls off and comes out your cat’s butt.

How Tapeworms Get into Your Cat

Honestly, we basically use fleas as Uber rides to your cat’s small intestines (another name for fleas in this instance is an intermediate host). So, when a baby flea (flea larva) eats one of my eggs, the egg continues to grow inside the baby flea until it’s an adult flea. The flea gets ingested by your cat, often during grooming. As the dead flea is digested and gets to the small intestine, my egg then hatches a worm and attached to the cat’s small intestine, and yay, we’re in business. A cat cannot get tapeworms from ingesting eggs. The eggs must continue to develop in the flea first. No flea, no dice. I can’t multiply without them.

Flea gettin ready for a night out.

I Try to Mind My Business

Look, I’m just trying to eat and have a good time. I don’t bother anyone! If there are a lot of me in a cat, they may lose weight but for the most part, I’m a mild parasite, and more gross than anything else (so I’ve heard from others; I think I’m pretty fab).

How Can You Tell If Your Cat Have Tapeworms?

If you see what looks like little pieces of rice by their butt or where they sleep, then yes, I’m probably in their small intestine. Remember, these are my end segments that fall off. Although they may wiggle the instant they come out, they’ll quickly stop moving and dry up. Don’t worry.

Also, you cannot get me from your cat.

How to Treat Your Cat

Will you stop looking at my butthole? K, thanks!

There is a group of worm-killing drugs that I hate called anthelmintics. Specifically, a drug called praziquantel is used to kill me, either by injection or in pill form. It paralyzes me so I detach from the intestinal wall and am then digested. It’s a horribly way to go, but we tapeworms still call it a good death.

Please keep in mind, most broad spectrum dewormers do not kill me, so tell your vet you need one that kills tapeworms.

Lastly, treat your cat for fleas to prevent new tapeworms.

Gross Knowledge Is Better Than No Knowledge

Okay, it’s Liz again. I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something about these gross parasites. Now you’re better armed to protect your cat. I’ll write about other parasites in the future. Come on, you know you can’t wait!

Miss my post on the parasite giardia, which smells like poop pooped poop? You can read it here.


VCA Hospitals, Tapeworm Infection in Cats, by Ernest Ward, DVM.

Hill’s Pet, How to Handle Tapeworms in Cats, by Kara Murphy.

Patient, Worm Medicine (Anthelmintics), by Dr. Laurence Knott.

By LizsKittyBootCamp

Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a cat behaviorist who provides advice and insights on cat behavior.

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