Intestinal Parasites and Worms Common to Cats

A cat’s digestive tract can host a number of intestinal parasites. All cats will have acquired intestinal worms at some point. In fact, it is more unusual to have a cat that hasn’t been exposed to worms at all.

How do cats get worms?

Cats get worms by coming into contact with eggs or infected feces. They step on feces and ingest them while grooming themselves. Outdoor cats prey on rodents that have worm larvae in their tissues. When the cat eats the rodent and ingests the infected tissue, the worm larvae thrive and grow in the cat’s intestines. Other means include eating fleas with worm eggs or being bitten by worm larvae. Even kittens can get some types of roundworms while nursing from its infected mother.

Worms Common to Cats

CAT ROUNDWORMS: These spaghetti-like intestinal parasites are the most common in cats. Adult worms are three to four inches long. Adult cats can acquire cat roundworms by ingesting infected rodents or infected cat’s feces. Kittens are not spared. Nursing kittens can get these types of worms from an infected mother’s milk. They may look normal but may have poor hair coat or suffer from stunted growth. Cat roundworms can cause parasites blockage in small kittens. In older cats, a heavy infestation can lead to a poor appetite, weakness, diarrhea, and a tender abdomen. Adult worms can sometimes be seen in the stool, rarely in vomit.

People can get infected with cat roundworms by ingesting eggs found in the soil (via poorly washed fruits and vegetables). Eggs that hatch into larvae can travel through body tissues, leading to severe organ problems and even blindness. Parents and guardians of little children must be cautious of sandboxes as these are attractive places for cats to poop.

CAT HOOKWORMS: These intestinal parasites reside in the small intestine and are smaller than cat roundworms. It is less than an inch long. Since cat hookworms feed on blood, its presence can cause severe anemia. Hookworm eggs are passed in the stool and then later hatch into larvae. Cats can get infected through ingestion or mere skin contact. If acquired via skin penetration, cat hookworms can result in skin irritation and sores. Common signs that a cat is infected include diarrhea and a decreased appetite. People infected with cat hookworms may develop itchy skin lesions and gastrointestinal infections.

CAT TAPEWORMS: Cat tapeworms are long (around four to 28 inches), flat, and look like grains of rice. Infestation can cause weight loss and vomiting. Cats acquire tapeworms through an intermediate host such as an infected rodent or flea. You know your cat is infected because tapeworm segments or actual sections of the cat tapeworm are visible on the cat’s fur or hind end. You can even find cat tapeworm segments crawling on the floor.

How are Cat Worms Diagnosed and Treated?

Cat worms are diagnosed through a physical exam, an examination of your cat’s stool sample under a microscope, or blood test.

Treatments are given by mouth at intervals. Doses are dependent on the type of cat worm and degree of infestation.

If you are a cat parent, the most loving thing you can do is to be proactive. Have your feline children get a regular blood and fecal exam. Be meticulous with the litter box by cleaning and changing it frequently. Protect your cat by strictly adhering to a regimen of flea prevention (oral meds, topical applications or collars). Protect yourself as well. Always wash your hands and wear gloves when cleaning the litter box. Wear gloves while gardening as outdoor cats use gardens as litter boxes.

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