Cats are at risk from a number of intestinal parasites. Commonly referred to as “worms,” these greedy interlopers can steal a cat’s nutrition and even make humans sick.
What do vets want you to know about worms in cats? Here’s the scoop.
Common Worms in Cats
Worms come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be regionally specific, seasonal, or even make their way through a specific cat population. Here are a few of the most common worms in cats.
The most common intestinal parasites in cats, roundworms measure about 3-4” long and resemble spaghetti (yuck!)
Much smaller than roundworms, hookworms are usually less than 1” long and live in cats’ small intestines. They can cause life-threatening anemia in adult cats and especially in kittens.
Tapeworms are long and flat, resembling strips of tape. They are segmented and can be anywhere from 4-24” in length. Over time, a tapeworm infestation usually causes vomiting and/or weight loss.
How Cats Get Worms
It’s much easier for cats to get parasites than you might think. Cats usually pick up worms themselves by ingesting the feces of other infected cats. For this reason, outdoor cats are far more likely to suffer from worms.
Since worms live in a wide variety of hosts, cats can get certain parasites by ingesting infected animals like snails, slugs, fleas, or even rodents. Mother cats can also pass worms on to their kittens during nursing or even through close contact.
Cats who don’t receive regular preventative care are most at-risk of worm infestation. Since fleas can harbor a wide variety of bacteria and parasites, keeping your cat flea-free is the first step towards keeping them worm-free, too.
How to Tell if Your Cat Has Worms
Worms present in a variety of ways. Some cats display lots of visible symptoms while some don’t show any signs at all. Evaluation for parasite infection is one of the most important reasons for a qualified veterinarian to see your cat at least once a year.
A few of the most common signs your cat might have worms include:
- Visible worm segments or whole worms in your cat’s feces or around his anus
- Bloody stool/diarrhea
- Unexplained weight loss (especially if hunger level is unchanged)
- Bloated or especially rounded belly
- Constant coughing
- Difficulty breathing
If you have any reason to suspect your cat might have worms, make an appointment with a veterinarian immediately. Only a vet can accurately diagnose your pet with worms and provide your cat with the medicine he needs to get rid of parasites.
Also, remember that it is possible for cats to transmit certain kinds of worms to humans! Roundworms, for example, can easily travel from feline to human host. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching a cat you suspect might have worms and to use gloves if handling his feces.
How to Treat and Prevent Worms
Treating worms is usually relatively simple. Once the specific type of worm has been identified, your vet will prescribe your cat a course of medication designed to eradicate the infection. These medications differ by worm type; i.e. roundworm treatment won’t work to kill hookworms.
After being treated for worms, you’ll notice worms and/or worm segments in your cat’s feces. Don’t be alarmed – this is just his body ridding itself of the parasites – but do be cautious when handling or disposing of the excrement.
The best way to prevent a parasitic infection in your cat is to keep him out of harm’s way. Cats who live indoors are less likely to get worms, as are cats who stay flea- and tick-free through the use of prescription prevention medications.
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