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Worms in Cats: Even Indoor Kitties Can Get Them!

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by

A cute kitten sits outside in the grass.

Indoor-only cats benefit from both the mental and physical stimulation that going outdoors during the summer months provides, however, it also brings the risk of acquiring worms in cats, or intestinal parasites, as they indulge in their natural predatory behavior and are exposed to contaminated environments. It may not be obvious even if your cat has worms, so it’s a good idea to have a regular program of preventative deworming treatments, especially during the summer.

Symptoms of Worms in Cats:
The signs associated with intestinal parasite infections are fairly nonspecific and adult cats infected with worms may show no clinical symptoms at all. But here are some things to look for:
-Dull haircoat
-Coughing
-Vomiting
-Diarrhea
-Mucoid or bloody feces
-Loss of appetite
-Pale mucous membranes
-A pot-bellied appearance.

Kinds of Worms in Cats:
1. Roundworms
These are the most common intestinal parasite of cats with a very high prevalence in kittens. There are two species of roundworms, Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonina. As their name suggests, roundworms are round, up to four inches long, and white to pale brown in color. They are often described as looking like spaghetti noodles. I can recall a number of emergency phone calls over the years from distraught and horrified owners whose cats vomited up live roundworms. The roundworms live in the cat’s intestine, soaking up nutrients from the cat’s diet. The adult female worm produces fertile eggs that are passed in the infected cat’s feces. The eggs require several days to several weeks to develop into the infective larval stage. The eggs are hardy and can remain infective for months or years.

Cats become infected with Toxocara cati by ingesting eggs or eating rodents that have larvae in their tissues. Kittens can become infected by larvae that are passed through an infected queen’s milk. Cats become infected with Toxascaris leonina in a manner simlar to Toxocara cati, except that it is not transmitted through the milk.

Toxocara larvae can cause diseases in humans called visceral larval migrans and ocular larval migrans which are produced by the migration of the larvae through the tissues of people. Children are most frequently affected, and often have a history of eating dirt. Good hygiene is an important preventative measure. Outdoor sandboxes should be covered when not in use to prevent cats from using them as litter boxes, and gloves should be worn when gardening.

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2. Tapeworms
These are also very common in cats. They are flat worms composed of many segments. Segments containing worm eggs are passed out in the feces. These segments resemble grains of rice in appearance and can sometimes be seen around the anus of the cat, in the feces and on the cat’s bedding.

The most common types of tapeworms that infect cats are called Dipylidium caninum and Taenia taeniaeformis. Dipylidium is transmitted to cats by fleas. Immature fleas (larvae) ingest the eggs of the worm and infection is passed on to a cat when it swallows an infected flea during grooming. Taenia is passed on to cats by small rodents like mice and rats. Worm eggs are eaten by rodents and passed on to cats when they hunt and eat an infected rodent. This infection therefore can occur in any cats that hunt.

Some tapeworm species that infect cats can cause disease in humans if the eggs are accidentally ingested, but good hygiene virtually eliminates any risk of human infection.

3. Hookworms
These types of worms less commonly infect cats. They are slender, thread-like worms that live in the cat’s intestine. Because of their small size, they are usually not visible in the feces of infected cats. Adult cats usually become infected by larvae that penetrate their skin or are ingested. It is uncertain whether cats can become infected by eating rodents containing larvae in their tissues, or ingesting queen’s milk that contains larvae. Hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin. As they migrate under the skin, they cause a dermatitis called cutaneous larval migrans.

Diagnosis:
Worms are most often diagnosed through microscopic stool examination, but a single fecal test can be misleading as eggs are not always being shed into the feces. Broad spectrum dewormers are often used in cases where intestinal worms are highly suspected, and it is reasonable to routinely deworm cats that go outside and hunt.

There are many deworming medications available that are effective against more than one species of worms. However, there is no medication that is effective against them all. In addition, deworming products are available over the counter, but many of them are not very effective. Therefore, it is important to consult with your veterinarian to help determine which product is best for your situation and the frequency of use that is recommended. Some of the newer deworming products are spot-on medications that are safe, very effective and easy to administer to your cat.

Prevention and Treatment:
Pet insurance doesn’t cover parasite treatment, so it’s a good idea to take precautions early on. Intestinal parasite control and preventing reinfections requires good sanitation procedures. This includes daily removal of feces, washing the litter box with a disinfectant on a regular basis, avoiding overcrowded conditions, avoiding diets with raw meats, and controlling intermediate hosts (fleas and rodents). Good parasite control is the key to a healthier cat.

For more information about pet health or to learn more about pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

*Pets Best Insurance plans do not cover parasite prevention or treatment. For more information about what’s covered under Pets Best Insurance cat plans visit the cat insurance page.

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2 Comments

  1. Kathleen says:

    Doesn’t the medication Profender treat for all types of worms in cats? My vet recommended this medication.

    • Dr. Jane Matheys says:

      Profender is an excellent product and I use it regularly. It treats the three main intestinal parasites in cats (roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms), but it does not cover all intestinal parasites such as giardia and coccidia.

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