Tapeworms (cestodes) have long flattened bodies that resemble a tape or ribbon. The body is comprised of a small head connected to a series of segments that are filled with eggs. The adult tapeworm lives in the small intestine with its head embedded in the mucosa. As the segments farthest from the head become fully mature, they break off and are passed in the feces. These segments can be observed near the cat’s tail and rectum, or in the feces. The segments are about one-quarter inch long, flat, and resemble grains of rice when fresh or sesame seeds when dry. When still alive they will usually move by increasing and decreasing in length. Microscopic examination of fecal samples may not always reveal the presence of tapeworms, because eggs are not passed singly, but as a group in the segments. Although the discovery of tapeworm segments can be quite alarming to cat owners, tapeworm infections only rarely cause significant disease in cats.
Cats usually become infected with tapeworms by ingesting infected fleas while grooming or by eating infected rodents. Fleas and rodents become infected by eating the tapeworm eggs that are in the environment. Modern medications are highly successful in treating tapeworm infections, but reinfection is common. Controlling the flea and rodent populations will reduce the risk of tapeworm infection in cats.
Some tapeworm species that infect cats can cause disease in humans if the eggs are accidentally ingested; but good hygiene virtually eliminates any risk of human infection.
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