Parasitic worms are a common problem for cats, especially outdoor cats and kittens. Kittens should be regularly examined by a veterinarian and placed on a regular deworming schedule, and adult cats should receive year-round parasite prevention. If you suspect your cat has worms, it is important to get rid of them as soon as possible. Worms can seriously damage your pet's health and weaken their immune system. Severe infestations can lead to life-threatening conditions, like malnourishment and anemia.
How do cats get worms?
There are several ways your cat may get worms, including by inadvertently ingesting the worm eggs or being bit by an infected insect. Roundworms are passed from a mother cat to her kittens, while tapeworms come from fleas. Heartworm is transmitted to cats by mosquitoes. Cats can also be infected with worms through exposure to a contaminated cat's feces by the ingestion of small animals in the wild.
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Types of worms in cats
Several types of worms may exist in cats, including:
- Roundworms: These parasites live freely in the intestines, where they can cause digestive problems and a buildup of gas. If they are contracted by young kittens, they can stunt their growth and development.
- Tapeworms: Anchored in the small intestine, tapeworms feed on the nutrients that are passing through your cat's digestive tract. These common intestinal parasites are most often spotted as tapeworm segments in a cat's stool.
- Hookworms: Hookworms use their hooklike mouth to attach themselves to the lining of the intestinal wall. There, they feed on the cat's blood and tissue fluids. Infection can result in severe anemia.
- Heartworm: They are not as common as intestinal worms in cats, but an infestation can still occur. Heartworm disease can cause significant damage to the heart and lungs, making it a serious health problem.
Symptoms of worms in cats
Symptoms that your cat may be experiencing an infestation of worms may include:
- Gastrointestinal upset: Cats may experience vomiting, diarrhea, bloody or tarry stool, or bloating.
- Itching and discomfort in the hind end: You may notice excessive licking of the area or butt scooting.
- Weight loss: This may be due to loss of appetite from gastrointestinal discomfort or nutritional loss from the worms feeding in the cat's intestines.
- Change in coat quality: A cat's coat is a good indicator of cat health. An infected cat may present with a poor, scruffy, or unhealthy coat appearance.
- Worms in your cat's poop or vomit: They will look like small white strands of spaghetti or grains of rice.
- Changes in breathing: In more advanced infections, cats may start coughing or wheezing or may have difficulty breathing.
Preventative care and regular deworming are important so that cats don't progress to more advanced infections. This includes both outdoor and indoor cats. Cats may also show no signs of worms, which is why it's important to have them dewormed regularly even if they appear to be fine.
How to get rid of worms in cats
If left unaddressed, worms may lead to serious health problems for your cat, so it's important to understand how to eliminate a worm infestation.
Take your cat to the veterinarian
A veterinarian can diagnose the type of worm or worms your cat is infected with. This usually involves studying a stool sample under a microscope. The veterinarian will prescribe the correct medicine and dosage for your pet. It's not a good idea to skip this step and treat your cat with an over-the-counter remedy. Some cats have reactions to these medicines, or they may prove to be ineffective.
Give your cat the prescribed medication
Give the prescribed dewormer as directed. Don't skip any doses. Deworming medication must be given at specifically targeted times to kill all the worms and all their eggs. To give your cat a pill, tilt their head back and insert the pill as far back in their throat as possible. Squirt a small amount of water in their mouth to help them swallow the pill. Stroke the outside of the cat's throat to encourage swallowing.
Treat your cat with a flea preventative
Since infected fleas can pass worms to your cat, it is important to use a flea control medication as well. Consult your veterinarian for advice on the best type for your cat. If your home is infested with fleas, take measures to eradicate them with one of the many flea-killing products on the market or call an exterminator.
Protect the people in your household
Some worms that infect cats can be passed to humans. To prevent this, discuss a regular deworming plan with your veterinarian for your cat. Practice good hygiene by scooping litter boxes promptly and disposing of soiled litter, washing your hands after handling cats and litterboxes, and ensuring that children wash their hands after playing with and petting cats. If you have children who may have been exposed to the cat's fecal matter, consult their pediatrician for possible testing and treatment.
How to prevent worms in cats
The best way to prevent worms in cats is through regular exams and deworming medication. Experts recommend preventative examinations every six to 12 months. This will give them the best chance to identify and treat an infestation early. For kittens, these exams should occur at least four times during their first year. The frequency of your cat's exams may vary depending on their lifestyle and any other health-related factors.
Kittens should start their preventative treatment at 2 weeks of age. Repeat this treatment every two weeks until they are 2 months old and then monthly until they reach the age of 6 months. At this time, they should be transitioned to year-round broad-spectrum parasite control. They will receive this treatment along with year-round heartworm preventative throughout their adult life. Be sure to discuss preventative care with your veterinarian at the same time as your cat's routine vaccinations.
If your cat has recently dealt with a worm infestation, you will need to take steps to clean your cat's environment thoroughly to prevent reinfestation. Replace your cat's litter box and wash all bedding that they may have been using. Thoroughly vacuum the furniture and the entire house. If you have other cats in the household, they may need treatment as well.
Parasitic worms are common in cats, but they can lead to health problems if they aren't addressed properly. To prevent your cat from experiencing a worm infestation, you should adhere to a regular deworming regimen, including year-round preventative treatments, including heartworm preventatives, and annual veterinary exams. If you do suspect that your cat is experiencing a worm infestation, contact your veterinarian. They will be able to prescribe an effective dewormer to kill adult worms, eggs, and larvae, stopping their lifecycle and clearing up the problem. It is also important to practice good hygiene in your home, including washing your hands after handling cats and litterboxes, as some worms can be passed to humans.