Preventing, Identifying, and Treating Worms in Cats
Cat worms include heartworms (which infect the heart) and intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Some of these worms can also be passed to humans, so be sure to reach out to a local veterinarian to learn more about the best ways to prevent infection and transmission of these parasites.
How Are Worms in Cats Transmitted?
Cats generally become infected with intestinal worms by ingestion of worm larvae from the environment, eating an infected prey animal (usually a mouse or rat), or through penetration of your cat’s skin by the larvae.
Heartworms are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Even strictly indoor-only cats can be exposed to heartworm disease by mosquitoes that enter the house.
Symptoms of Worms in Cats
The most common signs of a possible intestinal worm infestation are vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly weight loss. Roundworms can also cause a pot-bellied appearance and a failure to thrive in kittens. However, many adult cats can have a small load of intestinal parasites and appear to be relatively healthy; it is only when the parasite load becomes excessive that your cat starts showing signs. So the only way to diagnose most intestinal worms in cats is with your veterinarian’s help.
The most common signs of heartworm infection are cough, difficulty breathing, and wheezing, but many cats will not show signs despite the heart damage that is occurring.
Diagnosis of Worms in Cats
The diagnosis of most intestinal worms is accomplished with a fecal exam. A small sample of fecal material is collected from your cat and is examined for eggs using a microscope. Evidence of some worms, such as tapeworms, can sometimes be detected without a fecal exam. These worms shed segments of their bodies via your cat’s intestinal tract. These segments look like dried grains of rice, and can sometimes be seen in your cat’s stool or around their anus. Other types of intestinal worms, however, can typically only be diagnosed with a fecal exam by your veterinarian.
Heartworms can be diagnosed by taking a small sample of your cat’s blood and testing for a specific protein that is present only if heartworms are present. This can usually be performed at your veterinary clinic while you wait. X-rays of your cat’s chest may also help with diagnosis.
Treatment of Worms in Cats
Treatment for adult cats involves a single dose or a short series of doses of an oral dewormer as prescribed by your veterinarian. Relatively healthy kittens are treated the same way, but those that are more severely affected may require hospitalization for fluid therapy and nutritional support.
There is generally no treatment available for cats with heartworm disease. Symptoms of difficulty breathing and wheezing may be relieved by steroid administration and oxygen therapy at your veterinary clinic.
Prevention of Worms in Cats
Prompt cleaning of your cat’s litter box will help keep the worm larvae out of the environment. All cats should be on some form of monthly dewormer; kittens and nursing mothers should be dewormed every two weeks until the kittens are old enough to be started on a monthly preventative (usually 8 weeks of age). Kittens should have a fecal exam at least twice during their first year, and at least once yearly thereafter.
There are many safe and effective medications to prevent worms in your cat, and all are relatively inexpensive. In addition, many of the intestinal worms could potentially be passed to humans; prevention and treatment of these worms in your cat is the key to keeping you and your family safe.
Reach out to a veterinarian near you to learn more about the recommended parasite preventatives and dewormers to be given at your cat’s annual wellness exams.