Common tapeworms are parasites that live in the intestine of cats and other mammals. Infestation is usually manifested as small, white or off-white, egg sac segments excreted by the cat during defecation or in places it frequents. Tapeworms go through a series of developmental stages and need a primary and intermediate host to develop. Humans can get tapeworms, but not directly from cats.
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Tapeworms can infect any mammal. The main mode of transmission is by eating an infected intermediate host, a flea. Mammals who are exposed to high concentrations of fleas are more likely to be infected. Humans are less likely to get the worms, unless their homes and/or pets are heavily infested.
Eradicate flea infestations to cut down on the transmission of tapeworm larvae. Have your cat routinely tested and treated for tapeworms, especially if it roams outdoors, where it can also become infected by eating infected rodents or reptiles. Follow common hygiene practices to ensure that you do not ingest fleas that could transmit the worms.
Cats cannot directly transmit tapeworms to humans. It is possible for indirect transmission if the cat is chronically infected with tapeworms, thereby infecting any fleas that parasitise the cat.
Cats are treated for tapeworms with a tablet that breaks down the protective layer of protein that surrounds the parasite, allowing the worm to be digested. The treatment will only kill adult worms, so a follow-up dose is recommended one week later. The owner will normally not see any evidence of the infestation after treatment because the worms will be metabolised.
Careful hand washing, avoiding flea infestations by regular grooming and flea control of the cat, keeping cats indoors, and regular veterinary care are all important in preventing human tapeworm infections.
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