Feline Worms: Identifying and Treating One of the Most Common Cat Health Problems
on December 30, 2018
Posted in Cat parasites
When adopting a new cat, one of the first things recommended to pet owners is to have the cat dewormed if it hasn’t been already. Worms, those nasty little internal parasites, are one of the most common health problems in cats, and they can be tricky to spot.
Even after deworming kittens, both indoor and outdoor cats can get worms of all kinds from a variety of sources. Intestinal parasites are the most common and can be contracted through feces of infected cats, contaminated food and water bowls or rodents or insects that your pet might kill and eat.
It’s estimated that nearly half of all cats have worms at any given time, meaning a lot of felines around the world are dealing with an unwelcome guest or two. Because they are so common, it’s important to know the signs and effects of each major worm type, so you can eradicate them once and for all.
Roundworms are the most common type of intestinal parasites in cats, affecting up to 75 percent of all cats at one point in their lives. As the name suggests, roundworms are round and thin and can grow between three and five inches long.
Once inside your cat’s intestinal tract, roundworms will grow and eat the food being processed by your cat’s gastrointestinal system. This process takes nutrients away from your cat and may cause some of the most severe symptoms of all worms.
Roundworms lay eggs inside cats, which are later expelled in your cat’s feces to potentially infect other cats.
Hookworms are a much smaller type of worm, measuring only around a half-inch long. Because of their small size, hookworms are not commonly noticeable in a cat’s feces.
Hookworm eggs can be ingested through feces. Additionally, hookworm larvae can penetrate your cat’s skin and find their way to the intestines. Once there, hookworms will grow into adults and attach themselves to the intestinal wall, feeding on your cat’s blood. This can cause anemia in cats and kittens, as well as severe symptoms like diarrhea and lethargy.
Tapeworms, similar to those found in humans, are another common form of worm found in cats. They are commonly contracted when cats eat fleas or rodents containing tapeworm eggs.
The tapeworm lives in the large intestine of the cat, feeding off its nutrients. Pieces of the worm will break off over time, becoming visible in your cat’s feces. These pieces typically look like grains of rice or seeds—light in color and small in size.
Tapeworms don’t usually produce as severe of symptoms as roundworms or hookworms will.
Another form of intestinal worm is the hookworm. These small parasites are not frequently found in North America.
Whipworms live in the intestines, feeding off nutrients like roundworms and tapeworms. These worms also produce more mild symptoms.
Spotting signs of worms in your cat
It can be difficult to spot signs of worms right away; signs usually become clearer over time as the worms’ presence begin to affect your cat’s appearance and behavior.
The most common symptoms of worms include vomiting, diarrhea, a lack of appetite and lethargy. In the case of roundworms and tapeworms, your cat might begin eating a lot of food while losing weight. Additionally, your cat’s fur may start to look duller as the nutrients are zapped from its coat. Pet parents might also notice signs of worms in their cat’s feces.
However, some cats show no signs at all and can go weeks or even months with worms without exhibiting symptoms.
Kittens tend to experience much more drastic symptoms because they are losing too many nutrients that their growing bodies need to function.
You can help your cat avoid worms by giving it a routine worm prevention supplement designed to maintain a healthy gut. These types of products help strengthen the intestinal lining to deter worms from latching onto it.
If your cat does contract a parasite, though, you’ll want to visit the vet to have the exact type of parasite identified through testing. Vets will usually ask for a stool sample to examine and determine the particular worm causing problems in your cat’s intestines.
Once the worms have been identified, the vet may prescribe a specially formulated medication for the particular parasite, which will kill the worms and flush them out of your cat’s system.
You should also consider adding a daily probiotic to your cat’s diet. Probiotics can be useful after a round of intense antibiotics or at any time in the cat’s life to really balance out the bacteria in the gut and make intestinal problems less troublesome for your cat.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan