Can I get a tapeworm from my cat? Theoretically, yes, it is possible to get a tapeworm from your cat but it will be mightily rare. I don’t think it’s something to be overly concerned about but it is always wise to be aware of the possibilities and to take proactive steps.
If it does happen it would probably be a child as most reported cases involved children. This points to one way in which a child can get a tapeworm from your cat or anybody else’s cat or dog. I have to mention dogs too as they are part of the story.
Poop on ground
Although dipylidium (flea tapeworm) tapeworm eggs are rarely released into the feces there is more than one species of tapeworm. For some species, pieces of the tapeworm inside a companion animal’s body break off and they can come out in faeces. So if there are dog faeces is on the ground, say in a park, and the child plays in that park they could touch it and then put their hands in their mouth and ingest a piece of tapeworm containing eggs, which grow to become a fully fledged tapeworm attached to the inner walls of the intestine (with the scolex), feeding off the food ingested by the child. That’s one way it may happen.
Ingest a flea
If a person, usually a child, accidentally swallows a flea infected with tapeworm larvae they may get a tapeworm. This is how cats and dogs get tapeworms. It is part of the tapeworm life-cycle. If you remove fleas from the home you remove the possibility of an animal or a person getting them. It does seem unlikely that a person will ingest a flea compared to a cat. Cats constantly groom themselves and therefore if they have fleas in their fur there are relatively likely to ingest one and develop a tapeworm inside of their bodies. But for a child or an adult to ingest a flea, it is quite difficult to envisage but it is possible. Perhaps a flea might jump off a cat right into the mouth of a child. That sounds gross but it does seem possible to me. It will be rare as mentioned in the second sentence.
So to avoid the possibility you have to make sure there’s no fleas in your home and on your cat or dog and you should clean up after your dog in public parks. Also, children should avoid areas where there might be companion animal faeces on the ground. Children should be taught to wash their hands after playing outdoors and perhaps after playing with their dog or cat although the latter seems impractical to me. Child should be educated about the dangers. P.S. Be very careful in the use of flea treatments.
More than one species of tapeworm
As mentioned, there’s more than one species of tapeworm and some species infect certain animals. It is also possible for a child or an adult to acquire a tapeworm infection through eating contaminated food containing the cysts of this parasite. Undercooked beef, pork or fish might contain the cyst of a particular tapeworm species. The food is ingested and the cyst survives the digestive system of the person and releases larvae which grow into an adult attached to the wall of the intestine.