Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that develop from the ingestion of a flea. The parasites drain nutrients from the host, causing a variety of health problems. The white tubular tapeworm segments, about a centimetre in length, can be visible on fecal matter or around the anus of a cat. These segments appear similar to grains of rice and will often crawl out of the anus when the host is relaxed. Tapeworms quickly shrivel and die from exposure to the air. Shrivelled, deceased worms become a tiny, solid, dark yellow ball.
Look for advanced signs of nutrient deficiency in the cat's fur or demeanour. Cat's with advanced tapeworms will have patches of fur loss, excessively dry skin, weight loss, or walk as though in pain. A combination of these symptoms is likely caused by tapeworms, however a veterinary visit is crucial for confirmation as these symptoms can also be signs of kidney failure or other problems. Cats might also scoot or drag their bottoms across the ground or floor if bothered by tapeworms.
Examine the fecal matter of your cat immediately after it is deposited in the litter box and look for thin white tubes about one centimetre in length. Living worms will typically appear on the outside of solid fecal matter.
Examine areas where your cat frequents for small dark yellow or light orange balls about the size of a two strawberry seeds. Tiny black specks on your cat or areas where your cat sleeps are usually fecal matter of fleas and indicative of an infestation on your cat. Cats that are infested with fleas will frequently ingest the bugs while bathing themselves and likely have visible tapeworms within two to six weeks after ingestion. Cats can also ingest tapeworms when feeding on rodents or fish that are infected.
Pay attention to the rear of your cat for any sign of squirming worms. Tapeworms can grow up to 2 feet and longer worms that finally crawl out of the anus might need to be cut from your cat. Tapeworms attach their hooklike mouth to the intestinal lining and should never be forcefully pulled from an animal. It is best to administer medication and allow the worms to pass naturally. If a worm naturally becomes unhooked, it can migrate to the stomach and be vomited by the cat.
Place any potential worm findings in a sealed bag and take them to a veterinarian for confirmation. Veterinarians can examine faeces with a microscope and identify signs of tapeworms, such as eggs or worm segments.
Take your cat to a veterinarian for a scratch tape test, blood test or ultrasound. According to the Mayo clinic, tapeworm eggs can be scratched off the anus for microscopic identification. Certain antibodies produced to fight tapeworms can be identified in a blood test. Tapeworms might also be visible on an ultrasound, X-ray, MRI or CAT scan.
Never forcefully pull tapeworms from an animal; although segmented, the worm mouth is likely still attached to the intestinal wall.