Cats With Worms: What You Need to Know

Black and white cat laying on the ground

If you have a cat with worms or suspect your cat is experiencing the symptoms of worms, you’re probably frustrated and perhaps a little scared for your feline. After all, these pesky parasites are detrimental to your cat’s well-being and health when they make themselves at home in your pet’s digestive system. Rest assured, today’s worm treatments for cats are quite effective, and your little furry friend will be back to feeling good in no time flat.

How Do Cats Get Worms?

There are several ways that cats may become infested with intestinal worms. In the case of tapeworms, they may develop a worm infestation by eating a rodent infested with worms or by swallowing a flea carrying tapeworm larvae.

Roundworms typically infect kittens by passing from the mother cat during nursing. Hookworms can also pass to kittens in utero or during nursing. Cats can also get hookworms by coming into contact with the infested stool of other cats in a litter box or elsewhere.

Heartworms are possible in cats, but not as common as the number of cases seen in dogs. Infection of heartworms can occur when a mosquito carrying a juvenile heartworm bites the cat.

Symptoms of Worms in Cats

Sometimes, intestinal worms in cats, particularly tapeworms, will become visible — look for white segments that look like tiny grains of rice in your cat’s bedding, around their anus and in their stool. These are pieces of the tapeworm that have broken off and been expelled by your cat. It is not unusual for whole roundworms, another common intestinal worm, to also be dispelled. Roundworms can be up to 10 centimetres in length.

Some other red flags are often indicative of worms in cats. Watch for these symptoms:

  • Bloated or distended stomach and weight loss. Your cat with worms may retain her healthy appetite, or she may begin eating less than her customary amount, resulting in weight loss. Remember, any time that your cat loses weight, it’s time to consult your vet. However, if your cat experiences weight loss along with a bloated stomach, this is nearly always a sign of a worm infestation.
  • Coarse or dull fur or other changes in the condition of the cat’s coat. The cat’s fur takes on a rough feel and loses its shine.
  • Diarrhea or other change in bathroom habits. With roundworms, it is not uncommon to see mucous in the cat’s poop. In hookworm infestations, the stool may become black and tarry. Keep in mind that you should have your cat checked out any time that diarrhea or other bowel changes occur.
  • Lack of energy or disinterest. If your cat suddenly becomes lethargic and has no interest in things that once interested her, she could be suffering from a bout of intestinal worms.
  • Dragging bottom on the floor. Worms cause itching and irritation, so if you notice your cat dragging herself along the floor, particularly carpeting, this is a good indicator that she may have worms.

Treatment of Cats With Worms

Proper worm treatment must commence as soon as you discover your cat is dealing with an intestinal worm infestation. Be sure to get in touch with your veterinarian as soon as possible to begin treatment.

Keep in mind that kittens are often born with worms or they experience an infestation of worms in their early weeks or months. This is especially true of roundworms because this type of worm can easily pass the threshold between the mother and her kittens via milk. For this reason, in addition to vaccinations kittens need, all kittens should be wormed when they are 2, 4, 6, 8 and 12 weeks old, followed by a dose of wormer every 3 months. Nursing and pregnant cats should also be treated with a vet-recommended wormer, both during pregnancy and prior to giving birth. Cats with the heaviest intestinal worm problems may require an additional dose 10 days after the first dose.

Wormers come in a variety of forms, the most popular of which is the tablet. This type of wormer comes in a very small format that is generally coated in a flavour that appeals to cats, making it easier to get the cat to take the medicine. Pastes and spot-on treatments are also available. Which is the best for your cat is best determined by your veterinarian, who is also a good source for tips on proper use and administration.

Worms in Cats and Flea Control

Cats can contract one type of worm — the tapeworm — by swallowing fleas. For this reason, it is vital that worm control and flea control go hand in hand. One strategy is to administer a worming tablet alongside flea prevention medications and other control measures. Work with your vet for suggestions on controlling both fleas and worms. 

Is It Always Worms?

It is important to know that there are some parasites that cause the same symptoms of intestinal worms. Two examples are coccidium and toxoplasmosis. The organism coccidium can make its way to your cat’s intestines from eating rodents or undercooked or raw meat. Toxoplasmosis results from a multisystemic parasite that can even be passed to humans. Because symptoms of parasitic infection can mimic intestinal worm infestations, it is important to reach out to your vet if your cat is exhibiting classic symptoms of worms.

Preventing Worms in Cats

Preventing worms in cats is a far better alternative than treating a worm infestation. Regular worming can prevent infection. This includes monthly preventative treatments for kittens and regular worming of adults. Controlling fleas can also lessen the incidence of worms in cats. Work with your vet to protect your cat and your household from worms and get the best recommendation for worm control for your precious pet.

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