No matter how cautious you are, most cats will contract a worm infection at some point in their lives.
Tapeworms are one of the most common types of intestinal parasites found in cats and can easily be passed from one cat to another.
If your cat has been diagnosed with tapeworms, you need to provide deworming medication to fight the infection. However, being highly contagious, one of the most common questions owners ask is “Should I quarantine my cat with tapeworms?”.
Indeed, quarantining your kitty is necessary to help stop the infection from being transmitted to other animals. If you only own one cat, a few days of isolation should suffice which gives enough time for the deworming medication to take effect. However, if you have other animals in your home your cat may need to be quarantined for longer.
In this article, I provide more information on this fundamental question and why a quarantine period is so important. I’ll also give you a step-by-step guide on how to effectively isolate your cat to help their recovery and prevent worm infections in the future.
What Are Tapeworms?
Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that are made up of several segments. They have a hook-shaped mouth which they use to anchor themselves to the wall of the small intestine. Once attached, the worms grow and grow, with some tapeworms reaching up to 30cm in length.
As the tapeworms grow, segments of the worm start to break off and are passed out of the body with the feces. As such, you’ll often see these segments known as “proglottids” in the feces of an infected cat or on the fur around their anus. Each segment is around the size of a grain of rice and contains as many as 20 tapeworm eggs. As the proglottids dry up through exposure to the air, they start to break down and release the eggs into the environment.
These eggs are then ingested by another animal that acts as the intermediate host. The most common tapeworm in cats is the Dipylidium caninum which is carried by fleas. The flea larvae ingest the eggs and act as a carrier for the parasite. The tapeworm egg stays inside the fleas as they mature into adult fleas.
When a cat ingests a flea that contains tapeworm eggs, the cat will contract worms. This is extremely likely in cats that are infected with fleas as they can accidentally ingest the one when grooming their coat or nibbling at a flea bite. During digestion, the tapeworm larvae is released from the flea and latches onto the intestine of the cat where it will start to mature and grow.
Another type of tapeworm the infects cats is the taenia taeniaeformis. These tapeworms are passed on by rodents acting as the intermediate host such as mice and rats. As cats hunt mice and rodents, they can easily end up eating one that is infected. This again leads to a tapeworm infection as the animal and the eggs are broken down through digestion.
This way in which tapeworms are contracted makes them highly contagious. Just one cat with worms can leave hundreds of eggs behind. If there are fleas or other animals in the environment to pick up these eggs, the worm infection can soon be passed around to multiple animals in very quick succession.
What Are The Symptoms of Tapeworms in Cats?
It can be hard to know whether a cat has tapeworms as many infected cats won’t show any symptoms. As a general rule, healthier cats will exhibit fewer symptoms than kittens or elderly cats with an impaired immune system. However, there are some signs that you can look out for, which include:
- Mild diarrhea and/or vomiting
- White tapeworm segments in feces and around the anus
- Unpredictable appetite
- Weakness and lethargy
- Irritability towards people and animals
- Intestinal blockages and complications
Not all cats will have all of the above signs and there is extreme variety on a case-by-case basis. However, despite tapeworms rarely posing a serious health concern, it is important to watch for these symptoms and take your cat to the vet if you think they have contracted this intestinal parasitic infection.
Why Should I Quarantine My Cat with Tapeworms?
Due to the contagious nature of tapeworms, you are always required to quarantine a cat that is infected once you have started the deworming process. This is necessary for several reasons:
1. Limits the Size of the Infected Area
Quarantining your cat can help to contain all tapeworm segments and eggs in one location. This helps to limit the spread of infection and makes it easier to ensure you thoroughly clean everywhere your infected cat has been. Not doing so could result in re-infections in the future.
2. Reduces the Risk for Other Pets
As tapeworms are highly contagious, they can easily infect all other animals in your home such as other cats and dogs. This can make it nearly impossible to completely rid your home of the parasite. You want to prevent as many of your pets from contracting tapeworms as possible, and isolating your infected cat is an effective way to do this.
3. Avoid Passing the Infection to Humans
Some tapeworms can be passed to humans. Therefore, you and your family also benefit from keeping your cat isolated. However, try not to worry as the likelihood of this happening is extremely low. Just as with cats, for a human to be infected with tapeworms they have to ingest an infected flea. Still, it is worth being cautious just to be on the safe side!
If you just have one cat, keep them in quarantine for a few days at a minimum. The exact length of time will depend on the type of deworming medication. Some dewormers work as quickly as 24 hours, whereas others can take a few weeks. Where possible, you need to keep your cat in quarantine until the parasite is entirely out of its system.
If you have other animals in your home such as another cat or a dog, this separation period is even more crucial. Moreover, you ideally want to keep your cat quarantined for slightly longer if you have other animals. This is to ensure the parasites have truly been eliminated. Otherwise, they will continue to be passed around between your pets.
How Do I Keep My Cat with Tapeworms Isolated?
So, you now understand you need to keep your infected cat isolated, but what is the best way to do this?
Where possible, I suggest keeping your cat contained within one small room in your home. This helps you know precisely where there is a risk of you and other animals contracting worms and paying extra care when touching or cleaning this area.
Within the room you are keeping your cat, you need to keep all their essentials. This includes their food and water bowls, a clean litter box, and plenty of toys to help keep them entertained while they are isolated. Putting their bed, cat tree, and scratching post inside will also help them to make this area feel like home throughout their isolation period.
When your cat is in quarantine, keeping the room they are in clean is essential. As tapeworm eggs are eliminated in their feces, ensure you completely clean their litter box daily while they are in isolation. It usually takes at least 24 hours for the eggs to be released from the proglottids, so removing all excrement within this timeframe prevents the release of eggs into your home.
As the proglottids can sometimes get stuck to the fur surrounding your cat’s anus, they can be spread to other areas of the room aside from the litter tray. Therefore, you also need to clean all other surfaces in the room. You can find a full article titled “My cat has worms! How do I clean my house?” here which will walk you through the entire cleaning process.
Don’t be afraid to visit your cat while they are in quarantine. Although there is a chance humans can contract worms, the chances are slim. This isn’t going to be a nice time for your cat and so they will really appreciate your love and affection. Just be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after handling them to reduce your risk of infection.
How Does Dewormer Medication Work?
As mentioned, you need to keep a cat infected with tapeworms in quarantine until their dewormer medication is effective. This depends on the precise medication used as recommended by your vet and their mechanism of action.
Dewormer medications are anti-parasitic agents that help the tapeworm detach from the intestine. The worm and its eggs are then passed out of the body through the feces. Most treatments for worms will kill and remove adult worms in as little as 24 hours after administering the drug. However, some do take slightly longer so always consult with your vet.
Moreover, in severe tapeworm infections, a second dose of dewormer medication might be required 3-4 weeks after the initial dose. This is to ensure all the worms are killed by the medication. If this is the case with your pet, you won’t need to keep them in isolation for the entire 3-4 weeks. However, it is advisable to try and keep your cat indoors until this time and, where possible, away from other pets.
Because deworming medication works to flush the worms out of your cat’s system, it does not have any preventative action. Thus, a cat that has been treated with worms can easily become re-infected. This can happen immediately, but it can take around three months for the new tapeworms to mature and grow to a size that will cause your cat harm.
How Can I Minimize the Risk of Worm Re-Infection in Cats?
Once you have eliminated tapeworms from your cat and your household, you’ll want to keep the risk of re-infection to a minimum. Besides, prevention of worms in cats is far easier than treatment. To help you do this, here are my top tips on how to minimize the risk of tapeworm infections:
Flea Prevention Medication
Tapeworms are usually contracted by cats through fleas as an intermediate host. Therefore, if your cat is never infected with fleas, there will be substantially less chance they will contract tapeworms. Ensure you administer flea prevention medication all year to keep fleas at bay. You may choose to use a flea collar or oral medication. If in doubt, you can always chat with your vet and discuss options.
Keep Everything Clean
After deworming and throughout quarantine and beyond, you want to ensure you keep your house as clean as possible. In this way, you can remove as many worms and their eggs that are lying around on surfaces waiting to re-infect your pets. You should pay particular attention to the litter box and their food and water bowls, but general home cleanliness will also help.
Keep Your Cat Indoors
One of the most effective ways at reducing the chance of your cat contracting worms is by keeping them indoors. This will reduce the exposure cats have to tapeworms and infected animals in their environment. Mice can also act as intermediate hosts, and keeping your cat indoors means they will be unable to hunt and consume infected rodents.
Regular Veterinary Appointments
You should be taking your cat to the vet for regular check-ups already to ensure they are in good health. At your next appointment, ask for your vet to start performing fecal analysis as part of their routine examination. This can help catch tapeworm infections early, thus preventing complications and helping to limit the spread of the infection between other animals in your home.
What Other Types of Worms Can Cats Get?
Tapeworms are one of the most common types of worms in cats. However, there are a few other key types that you also need to be aware of and protect your cat against.
Roundworms look similar to regular garden worms but are much thinner. Rather than attaching to the intestinal wall as tapeworms do, these worms swim freely within your cat’s intestines. They are often present in their immature form in a mother cat’s milk and are easily passed onto kittens during nursing. They can also be contracted through the consumption of a host animal that has ingested the eggs, such as worms, rodents, and birds.
Hookworms are similar to tapeworms in that they have a hook-shaped head that attaches to the intestinal wall. However, these worms are much smaller and are barely visible to the naked eye. They latch into your cat’s intestinal lining, feed on your cat’s blood, and pass their eggs through your cat’s feces. These eggs can survive in soil and on carpets for weeks, and consumption can cause an infection in cats.
As the name suggests, these worms are shaped like a whip and are around 45mm to 75mm in length. Whipworms are contracted by ingesting food, water, or animals that are contaminated with whipworm eggs and larvae. The eggs take around three months to hatch and will then feed on the nutrients that your cat ingests, resulting in weight loss and inflammation of the bowels.
Tapeworms and these three other types of intestinal worms are most commonly diagnosed in cats.
However, there are a few other types of worms to be aware of. Although less common, they can cause serious health issues and have the potential to be fatal.
These worms include:
These are parasitic worms that live in the airways of cats. Lungworms lay eggs that hatch into larvae and burrow through the lung tissue. Infestations can cause breathing difficulties and, in worst cases, pneumonia.
These are parasitic worms in the bladder and urinary tract of cats. Infestations cause similar symptoms to urinary tract infections, including frequent and painful urination, difficulty passing urine, or incontinence.
These are parasitic worms that live in the blood vessels of infected cats and are usually transmitted by a mosquito as an intermediate host. There are no specific signs to look out for, but infected cats may have a cough and difficulty breathing. Heartworms can cause seizures, sudden collapse, and death.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
In summary, the answer to the question “Should I quarantine my cat with tapeworms?” is yes!
All types of worms are highly contagious, and tapeworms are one of the most common intestinal parasites in cats. As their eggs are found in an infected cat’s feces, they need to be kept in isolation until the deworming medication passes all the eggs and worms from their bodies.
Keeping your cat in quarantine is beneficial for several reasons. It helps to prevent other animals and people in your home from contracting worms. Moreover, it makes cleaning your home and removing all traces of the parasite much easier. This is important in preventing re-infection and keeping these pesky parasites away for good!