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Cat Worms and Parasites to Look Out For

Intestinal and Internal Worms that Can Hurt Cats

By Lauren Leonardi . June 19, 2013 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Cat Worms and Parasites to Look Out For

Heartworms, hookworms, tapeworms, Oh My! These nasty parasites cause terrible damage to pets when allowed to take hold. Find out what these worms are and how to avoid them.

Worms are parasites, and parasites are... well... parasitic. They tend to attached themselves to an organ inside your cat’s body and feed off their blood. Aside from being horrible to envision, cat worms can be terribly detrimental to both felines and their humans. Worms are contractible by humans, especially little humans, children who tend to put their hands on things and then into their own mouths. As important as it is to keep a home flea and tick free, it’s equally important to keep worms at bay.

How Do Cats Get Worms?

Worms usually start their life cycles either in rodents, insects like fleas and mosquitos, or other housepets. Eggs hatch and develop inside a host’s body, which produces worms, and those worms make more eggs, which leave an animal’s body through the feces to be passed on to other animals. Each type of parasitic worm is contracted in a different way.

Ingestion is most commonly how a cat might get worms, but a cat doesn’t have to directly eat poop. Feces can leach into soil, spreading eggs around. If a cat eats from the soil, or drinks from puddles, eggs may be contracted.

Heartworms are transmitted through mosquitos, and more often affect dogs than cats. However, there is no medication to treat heartworms in cats, so make sure yours is protected with a heartworm preventative, like Heartgard for Cats.

Roundworm, the most common parasite in cats, can be contacted either through mother’s milk, if the mother is infected; or by eating infected feces from another animal like a cat or a rodent.

Hookworms are contracted through direct skin contact. If a cat steps on them, or rolls in an area where hookworms are, the worms can get right into your cat’s body through their skin. Gross! Cats may also get hookworm through ingestion.

Tapeworms are transmitted when your cat directly eats another tapeworm host. Hosts could be a flea or a rodent that’s infected with worms or eggs.

Whipworms are transmitted through ingestion, either by eating the feces of another infected animal, or by licking another animal who’s hosting the eggs or the worms. Whipworms especially can be found in water and soil.

Are Worms Dangerous?

Like many other common ailments, if caught and treated early, worm infestations are readily treatable. Cats, more often than not, recover fully.

If allowed to fester, worms can cause anemia and intestinal blockages. Worms pull the nutrients out of your cat’s food, so if a cat is made to live with worms for the long term, they will likely suffer from hunger, as well as varying degrees of malnutrition. The lack of proper nutrients can make them susceptible to other ailments.

How to Prevent Worms

Some monthly heartworm preventatives act against other types of worms as well, but not all, and there are no vaccinations against worms. Some good news: flea and rodent prevention IS worm prevention! At least in part. Keeping worm-causing pests at bay means your cat will have fewer chances to eat those pests, or eat their feces. Keeping a clean home also helps.

  • Every so often, dump your litter and disinfect the litter box with a bleach and water solution.
  • Don’t have too many cats in close quarters.
  • Be sure to pick up other animals' poop from the area where your cat may play, including the yard.
  • If possible, discourage your cat from eating mice, birds, squirrels, and the feces of other animals.

How to Treat Worms

The first step, as always, is diagnosis. Parasites are not typically physically evident. Small tapeworm segments may sometimes be visible on your cat’s bum. But other types of worms usually stay hidden. Internal parasite infestations must be confirmed and treated by a veterinarian.

What you may notice are symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stood, bloated belly. A cat might lose weight, and their fur may become dull, chalky, and coarse. The dehydration associated with both vomiting and diarrhea can make your cat weak, and expose them to other bacterial infections, so get to the vet quickly if these symptoms continue.

Not all cats exhibit these symptoms, however, so it's important to take your cat to the vet on a regular basis -- at least once a year. Your veterinrian may ask you to bring in fecal samples, since worms can often be detected under a microscope in a cat's waste.

Internal worms must be treated by a professional. Eradication medicine for one type of worm won’t affect worms of another type, so be sure to ask your veterinarian for the medicine your cat needs. As treatment continues, you may need to bring in new fecal samples so your vet and confirm when the worms are gone.

Note: There is no medicaiton to treat heartworm in cats, which makes heartworm prevention that much more important. Sometimes, surgery can be used to remove the worms, but it's a scary and tricky process.

More on Pet Parasites

What Are Fleas?
Can Cats Take Flea and Tick Medication for Dogs?
Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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