If the thought of worms living in your cat gives you the heebie jeebies, save this article to read when you’ve got an empty stomach. In this blog, we cover the most common types of worms that affect cats and how you can protect your feline friend.
For all the information on heartworm, check out our article all about it here.
The four most common types of worms that affect cats are:
This article will also cover:
Where Do Cats Get Roundworm?
Roundworms are very commonly found in kittens as the mother can pass them on in her milk, so it is very important to worm mothers while they are pregnant to prevent this from happening. Roundworms in kittens are so common that you can assume that all newborn kittens are infected and should be treated appropriately. Cats can also pick-up roundworm from sniffing or playing in infected soil and then ingesting the eggs. Eating contaminated prey such as rodents or wildlife is another way your cat can contract roundworm.
Symptoms of Roundworm Infection
The following symptoms may appear in cats infested with roundworm. Adult cats often only display mild or no symptoms of infection.
- Poor body condition
- Pot belly (especially in kittens)
- Diarrhoea (sometimes eggs or worms can be seen in faeces)
- Vomiting (sometimes worms can be seen in vomit)
- Stunted or slow growth (in kittens)
- Poor hair or fur condition and dull coat
- Lethargy or weakness
- Mucus in stool
- Lack of appetite
- Severe infection can lead to death
Diagnosing a Roundworm Infection
If roundworms are visible in a cat’s vomit or faeces, they are described as looking like strands of spaghetti and are light in colour. An accurate diagnosis can only be made with a stool sample so it is a good idea to take one along to the vet if you suspect your cat has roundworm.
Where Do Cats Get Hookworm?
Hookworm eggs and larvae can be ingested by cats that have been playing in infected soil or if a cat has eaten an infected animal such as rodents or wildlife. Hookworm can also burrow in through the skin to infect cats, typically entering through the paws or belly of the cat. Kittens can become infected with hookworm while in utero or via their mother’s milk.
Symptoms of Hookworm Infection
Like with a roundworm infection, adult cats infected with hookworm might not show any symptoms. Kittens may have some of the following symptoms and if an infection is left untreated, it can be fatal due to the worms absorbing all of the nutrients.
- Blood in stool, commonly with diarrhoea
- Lethargy or weakness
- Weight loss
- Dark, tar-like stools
- Itchy paws
- Pale gums
Diagnosing a Hookworm Infection
Hookworms are a very small, thin worm and their eggs are shed in faeces but are usually too small to see. A stool sample is required for an accurate diagnosis of a hookworm infection in cats.
Where Do Cats Get Tapeworm?
There are several types of tapeworm that can affect cats but the most common type to watch out for is the flea tapeworm. As the name suggests, cats contract flea tapeworm from ingesting infested fleas, usually when they are grooming. If your cat has fleas, it is safe to assume they probably have flea tapeworm as well.
Symptoms of Tapeworm Infection
Adult cats with mild tapeworm infestations of either type may not display symptoms but in a moderate to severe infestation, may have some of the following symptoms:
- Poor or dull coat
- Poor body condition
- Vomiting (worms may be present in the vomit)
- Weight loss
- “Scooting” or dragging of the bottom along the ground
- Licking or biting at the bottom
- Severe infections can lead to malnutrition
Diagnosing a Tapeworm Infection
Cats with a flea tapeworm infestation may pass segments in their faeces that look like white grains of rice or cucumber seeds. Often these segments can also become stuck in fur around a cat’s bottom. A stool sample is required to confirm a diagnosis of tapeworm infestation.
Where Do Cats Get Lungworm?
Cats can contract lungworm if they eat anything that is infected with lungworm larvae. This includes snails, slugs, rats, mice, frogs, lizards or birds. Outdoor cats that hunt are particularly prone to lungworm. Cats can also consume lungworm larvae in infected water and adult lungworms can survive over 9 months in an environment with ideal conditions.
Symptoms of Lungworm Infection
A lungworm infection can be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms may be non-specific. Kittens, older cats and cats with compromised immune systems are prone to developing serious symptoms. A severe lungworm infection can cause damage to lung tissue leading to severe, life-threatening lung disease. Symptoms are typically most severe 6-13 weeks after infection and may include:
- Coughing (including coughing up larvae)
- Wheezing or sneezing
- Nasal discharge
- Open mouth, abdominal breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Cats can also develop bronchitis or bacterial pneumonia
Diagnosing a Lungworm Infection
Lungworms live in the airways and small arteries of your cats lungs and are between 4-9mm in length. Surviving for up to 2 years in a cats lungs, adult lungworms produce larvae that is detectable in faeces, hence a stool sample is required for a diagnosis.
Treating and Preventing a Worm Infection
Most worm infestations can be prevented by picking up after your cat and regular and thorough cleaning of their litter trays. Because many of the worms are spread by the ingestion of eggs that are passed in the faeces of infected cats, the simple act of picking up after your cat prevents eggs from making their way into the environment and reduces the chance of the infection being passed on to another cat. You should also treat your cat regularly for worms according to the manufacturers directions and the advice of your veterinarian. Flea tapeworm infections can be prevented by keeping fleas off your cat and treating your house and yard if an infestation is present.
When products say that they treat intestinal worms, they often mean that they only treat roundworm, hookworm and sometimes lungworm. Some products labelled "all-wormers" do treat for roundworm, hookworm, lungworm and tapeworm, but you must check the packaging closely to determine exactly what your cat will be treated for.
Kittens should be given a roundworm treatment once they are 2 weeks old and then should be dosed at regular intervals as advised by your veterinarian. Check with the manufacturer to ensure the worming product you are giving is suitable for young kittens.
Products that are safe to give from 2 weeks of age and older include:
- Endogard Allwormer for Cats - For the treatment of roundworm, hookworm, and tapeworm
- ParaGard Allwormer for Cats & Kittens - For the treatment of roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm
Pregnant mothers should be wormed while pregnant and at regular intervals while they are feeding their kittens as advised by your veterinarian. Products that have been tested for safety in pregnant cats includes:
- Drontal All-Wormer Tablets - For the treatment of roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm
- Evicto for Cats - For the treatment of roundworm and hookworm
- Milbemax Allwormer for Cats - For the treatment of roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm
- Milpro Broad Spectrum Wormer - For the treatment of roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm
- Popantel Cat Allwormer - For the treatment of roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm
- Profender Allwormer - For the treatment of roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm and lungworm
- Revolution for cats - For the treatment of roundworm and hookworm
Which Worms Are a Threat to Humans?
Can People Get Roundworm?
Yes! Children can contract roundworm with ease if the accidentally ingest roundworm eggs. Try to encourage your child to keep their face away from the cats. Make sure they wash their hands regularly, especially before eating or drinking and after playing or patting a cat. Keeping your yard free of waste and picking up after your cat when outside the home will help to prevent the spread of roundworms.
Can People Get Hookworm?
Just like cats, people can also contract hookworm through contact with infected soil. Hookworms burrow into the skin causing an itchy rash, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, anaemia and weight loss. They can also be accidentally ingested, particularly by children, so ensure they wash their hands thoroughly after playing outdoors and after touching cats. Avoid allowing your cat to defecate near areas where your children play outdoors or in sand pits, and clean up after them regularly to avoid the spread of hookworm.
Can People Get Tapeworm?
Humans can develop a flea tapeworm infection, but it does not usually cause any serious problems. Common symptoms in the case of a tapeworm infection in humans can include nausea, diarrhoea and loss of appetite.
Can People Get Lungworm?
There is a very small chance that human’s can catch lungworm from cats so it is important to regularly clean up after your cat and thoroughly wash you hands, especially before eating or drinking to avoid an infection.