Oh No! My Cat Has Tapeworms – How Do I Clean My Home?

What are tapeworms in cats?

Tapeworms are a common intestinal parasite that live in the small intestine of cats and other animals. Cats become infected with tapeworms when they ingest infected fleas while grooming themselves. The most common tapeworm in cats is called Dipylidium caninum.

Tapeworms consist of a head, neck, and then multiple body segments. As the tapeworm grows, new segments are continually formed at the neck and mature segments containing eggs are shed from the end of the tapeworm. This allows the eggs to be passed through the feces and continue the lifecycle [1].

Tapeworm segments may sometimes be visible around a cat’s anus or in their stool. Other symptoms of a tapeworm infection include:[2]

  • Scooting or dragging rear along the ground
  • Licking or biting at the fur near the tail
  • Weight loss
  • Upset stomach or vomiting

If a heavy tapeworm infestation goes untreated, it can cause more serious symptoms like anemia, malnutrition, and intestinal blockages. Kittens and older cats may be more susceptible to complications from tapeworms.

How are tapeworms diagnosed?

Tapeworms are diagnosed through a physical exam and microscopic examination of a stool sample by a veterinarian. During the physical exam, the vet will inspect the cat’s fur and skin for evidence of tapeworm segments. Tapeworm segments may be visible around the cat’s anus or in freshly passed stool. The vet will also palpate the cat’s abdomen to check for intestinal irritation caused by the tapeworms.

To confirm diagnosis, the vet will take a fresh stool sample and examine it under a microscope. This allows the vet to look for tapeworm eggs and segments which can be identified by their distinctive shape and structure. The microscopic identification of tapeworm eggs or segments is the most reliable way to diagnose a tapeworm infection (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/tapeworm-infection-in-cats).

How are tapeworms treated?

Tapeworms are treated with a deworming medication called an anthelmintic, which can be given as a tablet or an injection. Common deworming medications used for tapeworms include praziquantel and epsiprantel 1. The medication causes the tapeworm to dissolve within the intestines so it can pass in the stool.

After treatment, it’s recommended to have follow up exams and stool tests to ensure the tapeworms have been fully eliminated. This is because tapeworm medications kill only adult worms, not eggs. Repeat treatment may be needed in 2-3 weeks to kill any newly hatched worms from leftover eggs 2.

Thoroughly clean the litter box

It’s crucial to thoroughly clean and disinfect your cat’s litter box after a tapeworm diagnosis. The eggs and larvae can survive in the litter box for months if not properly sanitized.

Here are the steps for cleaning the litter box:

  1. Scoop all of the litter and feces out of the box. Dispose of the waste properly.
  2. Wash the litter box with soap and hot water, scrubbing all surfaces. This helps remove any remaining eggs or larvae.
  3. Rinse the box and allow it to fully dry.
  4. Disinfect the litter box with a bleach solution or other cat-safe disinfectant.
  5. Rinse and dry the box again after disinfecting.
  6. Replace the old litter completely with fresh, new litter.

Following these steps helps remove any traces of tapeworm from the litter box and prevent reinfection or spread to other pets. Be sure to wear gloves when cleaning and wash hands thoroughly afterwards.

Wash bedding and soft surfaces

Washing bedding and soft furnishings like blankets, pillows, cushions, and pet beds is an important step when cleaning for tapeworms. The heat from hot water washing and drying will help kill any tapeworm eggs or larvae that may be present.

The CDC recommends machine washing all bedding and soft furnishings your cat may have come into contact with on the hot water setting. Add bleach or another disinfectant to the wash cycle if possible. After washing, transfer items directly to the dryer and dry on high heat.

For items that cannot be washed, thoroughly vacuum all surfaces to remove eggs and larvae. Use the hose attachment to reach into crevices. Steam cleaning carpets and upholstered furniture can also help sanitize these items.

Once finished, make sure to safely dispose of the used vacuum bag or wash reusable filters to prevent recontamination. With diligent laundering and vacuuming, you can rest assured soft furnishings are free of infectious tapeworm eggs and larvae.

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/tapeworm/gen_info/faqs.html

Disinfect non-porous surfaces

It’s important to disinfect hard, non-porous surfaces like floors and countertops to get rid of any remaining tapeworm eggs. According to Quora, you can use a solution of bleach and water or a commercial disinfectant cleaner to do this.

Focus on areas like tile and vinyl floors, countertops, sinks, toilets, and other bathroom and kitchen surfaces. Scrub thoroughly and let the disinfectant sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing. You may need to repeat this process a few times over the course of a couple weeks.

Veterinary sites like VetInfo recommend using a disinfectant that contains quaternary ammonium, phenolic derivatives, or potassium peroxymonosulfate. Make sure to follow label instructions closely.

Along with hard surfaces, you’ll also want to disinfect doorknobs, light switches, and any other high-touch areas.

Clean up backyard/litter areas

Tapeworm eggs and segments can be present in your cat’s feces, so it’s important to promptly remove all feces from your yard or litter area. According to Catster, you should check the yard at least once a day and use gloves and a plastic bag to immediately dispose of any feces you find.

You’ll also want to keep the grass in your yard short to help spot feces easier. Mowing frequently can help cut down any long blades of grass where feces could be hidden. Avoid using hoses or power washers to clean the yard, as this can spread tapeworm eggs around. Simply picking up feces carefully and promptly is the best way to clean up any backyard or litter areas.

Practice good hygiene

Good hygiene is critical for humans to avoid contracting tapeworms from infected cats. Some key tips include:

Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after cleaning areas contaminated by tapeworm eggs or proglottids. This includes after scooping litter boxes, washing bedding, or disinfecting surfaces. According to the CDC, handwashing can help prevent transmission of Dipylidium tapeworms.

Avoid contact between your hands and mouth or face after cleaning, until hands have been washed. Accidental ingestion of tapeworm eggs via contaminated fingers is a primary route of infection.

Do not allow cats to lick around your mouth or face. As carriers of tapeworms, this contact can potentially transmit the parasite.

Wash any fruits and vegetables from your garden thoroughly, since cats may use garden beds as litter areas and contaminate the soil. Proper cooking kills any tapeworm eggs.

Following good hygiene practices is key to protecting yourself when tapeworms are present in your cat’s environment.

Prevent reinfection

To prevent your cat from getting reinfected with tapeworms after treatment, there are a couple key steps to take:

Monthly deworming is crucial. Tapeworm medications only kill the adult tapeworms, but not the larval stages. Larvae can mature into adults within 3-4 weeks. So regular monthly deworming is needed to kill newly matured tapeworms before they reproduce again. Your vet can provide tapeworm medication as needed. Common dewormers for tapeworms include praziquantel and epsiprantel.

Effective flea control is also very important. Tapeworm eggs are spread through ingesting infected fleas during grooming. Flea infestations provide a continual source of reinfection. Using monthly flea prevention products prescribed by your vet can break this life cycle. Also thoroughly clean the home environment to remove any flea eggs or larvae.

Keeping your cat indoors can also lower reinfection risk by preventing hunting and ingesting rodents or wildlife hosting tapeworm larvae. Cleaning the yard or litter area regularly helps remove rodent/wildlife feces that may contain tapeworm eggs. Properly disposing of garbage reduces access to tapeworm sources as well.

With diligent monthly deworming, flea control, and environmental cleaning, you can help prevent your cat from getting reinfected and continue shedding tapeworm segments in the home.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

There are certain situations where you should seek veterinary care for possible tapeworm infection in your cat:

  • If you see rice-like proglottid segments around your cat’s anus or in its feces, this is a sign of an active tapeworm infection and you should take your cat to the vet for treatment (Source)
  • Kittens with tapeworms should always go to the vet as they are more susceptible to illness. Deworming medications can be harsh on their systems, so veterinary supervision is advised (Source)
  • If your cat is showing any signs of illness such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or weight loss, it needs to be evaluated by a vet even if you already dewormed it. The symptoms could indicate an underlying issue (Source)

Getting prompt veterinary care provides the best chance at effective treatment and preventing transmission or reinfection. Your vet can prescribe the appropriate deworming medication and advise on additional cleaning protocols.

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