Especially if you get to see your cat vomiting a pile of squirming worms, or if you find them in your litterbox. Yes, it's disgusting but it's something that can and does happen and every cat owner should learn all about the various types of worms that can affect a cat's health.
Types of Worms in Cats
There are four types of worms common to cats: roundworm, whipworm, tapeworm, and hookworm.
Tapeworms in Cats
These are intestinal parasites. The worm uses its mouth to attach to the intestinal wall and can grow to be several inches long. As it grows, pieces may break off and be passed through the intestines and end up in the litter box.
If your cat has tapeworms, he ingested a flea, whether or not you saw fleas on him or in the house. “The flea could have come from a mouse the cat caught, too,” says Dr. Cathy Alinovi, who has a rural practice in Pine Village, Indiana. “In my practice, I see a lot of barn cats. Obviously, their job is to keep mice and vermin out of the barn where food is stored for other animals. Tapeworms are common to see.” If your area is highly populated with fleas, one could have hitched a ride into the house on your clothing or on the dog.
First there are tapeworm eggs, likely in infected bedding or the carpet. The flea larva eats the eggs and grows into an infected flea who then migrates to the cat and starts the whole process all over again as the cat licks his fur and swallows the flea.
How do you know if your cat has tapeworms? You’ll see them in the litter box, moving around. Tapeworms are not as harmful to cats as they are disgusting to cat people, which is how most tapeworm cases end up at the veterinarian’s office. New medications are effective in ending the cycle.
Roundworms in cats
Roundworms are like they sound—round worms. They don’t attach to the intestines like tapeworms, but are free-floating. They are more harmful than tapeworms, too—life-threatening to kittens and older cats.
Symptoms of roundworms in cats include:
- pot-bellied appearance
- stomach discomfort
- poor appetite
- vomiting (you may see a roundworm in the vomit— it looks like a small strand of spaghetti)
- poor growth for kittens
Roundworms can be three to six inches long. The larvae live in a mother cat’s mammary glands and are passed to the kittens in her milk. Roundworms pass through the cat’s body and end up in the intestines and eventually pass into the litter box. “Be sure to always wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter box or gardening,” says Dr. Alinovi. “If not, something as simple as eating finger foods or putting your finger in your mouth, as a kid might do, could pass roundworms to you if your cat is infected.” As many as 10,000 cases of roundworm infection in humans have been reported in one year in the United States, according to the VCA Hospitals website, which also says, “A variety of organs, including the eyes, may be affected as the larvae migrate through the body. In suitable environments, the eggs may remain infective to humans and cats for years.”
Treatment is fairly inexpensive, easy and done routinely for newborn kittens and mama cat. If your adult cat goes outside, you may want to deworm him periodically to be safe.
Hookworms in Cats
Hookworms are less common and smaller than roundworms, about ½ inch long or less, and not visible in the litter box. What you may notice is black tarry stools which indicate blood. Left untreated, this can lead to anemia and, in some cases, death.
It’s not certain how cats get hookworms—it could be from infected rodents or mama’s milk. Hookworms can live as long as the cat.
Hookworms are easily treated and should be, promptly, as hookworms can penetrate human skin as well.
Whipworms in Cats
Whipworm eggs can be found in the soil, food, and water, as well as in feces and animals that cats might eat. They can affect cats of any age.
Whipworms can be confused with irritable bowel syndrome or other causes of diarrhea. There may be no symptoms at all, or you could see dehydration, loss of appetite or anemia. A flotation test done by the veterinarian will confirm the diagnosis. Treatments are effective, but a follow-up visit with another flotation test will ensure that the worms, larvae and all eggs have been eliminated from Kitty’s body.
While some worms cause no serious complications, it’s best to have Kitty tested and treated at the first sign of any symptoms. As noted, some worms can transfer to humans and all are disgusting to deal with. Why let them use Kitty as a home?
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