Types of Worms in Cats And How To Recognize Them
The worms your cat needs to worry about are a parasite that resides in the intestinal system of your pet. They absorb the nutrients of the food your cat eats, nutrients that would better go to nourish your cat. Parasitical worms can cause a well fed cat to gradually die of malnutrition. Generally, it is cats that go outdoors that contract worms but even indoor cats cat be infested with them.
There are four basic types of parasitical worms. Each worm has a different symptom, a different way of contraction, a different physical appearance and a different method of treatment. In all cases, veterinary assistance is recommended.
Types of worms in cats
Toxocara cati is the most common form of roundworm found in cats though Toxocara leonina is also common. This can be prevented by following simple hygienic practices. Take care that your cat doesn’t eat anything dirty like trash or might have been contaminated by another animal.
A dull, flat looking coat is the first sign of roundworm infestation. A combination of vomiting and diarrhea is always a cause for concern. A pot-bellied appearance is another sure symptom of roundworms. A severe case can lead to pneumonia and bowel blockage. The cat will become lethargic on being slowly drained of energy.
-How cats get roundworms
There are three basic methods of transmission of roundworms. A nursing mother with roundworms can pass it to her kittens. Eating prey (such as rats and mice) infested with roundworm can cause the cat to have roundworm. Consuming eggs or larva from infected plants or soil can cause the cat to have a roundworm infestation.
-How to recognize roundworms
They are white in color and about three to five inches long with a limp and noodle-like look to them.
Your veterinarian should prescribe a de-worming product.
The most common form of tapeworm found in cats is Dipylidium caninum. This is the type spread by fleas. The second most common form is taenia taeniaeformis, contracted by consuming rodents carrying the parasite. Treat your cat’s flea problem so that it isn’t worsened by infection from yet another parasite. Getting a cat not to chase mice may seem contradictory to nature, but try to discourage it so your cat doesn’t pick up any diseases.
If you see something small and rice-like in your cat’s feces or near their anus, it could be a segment of a tapeworm. Any sudden weight loss can mean a cat has a tapeworm.
-How cats get tapeworms
A cat can get tapeworms from fleas, particularly if they swallow a flea that has ingested a tapeworm egg while grooming. As with roundworms, it can also be the result of ingesting infected prey. It’s mostly rodents that carry the parasite, but it has been found in some amphibians, reptiles and fish.
-How to recognize tapeworms
They are white, long and flat and composed of many segments that easily break apart. Though the segments are short, the full worm can grow to be several inches long.
Not only should you use a deworming product prescribed by your vet, but your cat’s bedding should be treated to prevent another infestation of fleas.
Hookworm infestation is not as common in cats as it is in dogs. These particularly nasty worms have teeth that they use to latch onto the intestinal walls and feed off the blood. They breed in contaminated soil and sand but thrive in a mammalian intestinal tract.
As with most worm infestations, a dull coat is the first sign. The hookworm sucks blood from its host and produces an anticoagulant while they’re at it. The result is anemia, pale gums, black or bloody stools and general lethargy. In kittens this can mean stunted growth. If Kitty constantly acts like she has a stomach ache, it could be hookworms.
-How cats get hookworms
In dogs, it can be transmitted from mother to puppies either in utero or through nursing. It has yet to be determined if cats can contract hookworms in this manner. Eating something contaminated with hookworm larva or eggs can cause an infestation. They can also burrow into the skin.
-How to recognize hookworms
They are hair thin and barely one eighth of an inch long. They are not visible to the human eye. You are better off recognizing the symptoms rather than this nearly invisible parasite.
It could take two or more treatments from a prescribed deworming product to get rid of all the hookworms.
This is a very serious, potentially fatal infection for your cat. The foot long worms can easily choke up a small animal’s heart, lungs and circulatory system. Cats don’t often contract as many as canines like dogs, foxes and coyotes, but due to their size, only a few can cause a lot of trouble.
Fortunately, it is rare for a cat to be infected with heartworms as the worms do not often survive to the adult stage in a cat’s system. Unfortunately, this means the disease can go undiagnosed due to mild symptoms such as coughing and lack of appetite. Seizures and difficulty in walking are more noticeable symptoms.
-How cats get heartworms
The disease is spread by mosquito bites. A mosquito bites an infected animal, ingests the heartworm eggs and injects them into the next animal they bite. Try to reduce the mosquito population in your area by emptying shallow water that they lay their eggs in.
-How to recognize heartworms
As the worms invade the circulatory system rather than the intestinal system, you may never see them. In the early stages, even a blood test may not catch them. They are like wads of fishing line clogging up the animal’s heart.
Heartworms are very difficult to treat in cats even though they seldom have as many as a dog may have. Do not use medicine meant for dogs on a cat. Inflammation can be reduced with small doses of prednisolone. Surgery may be necessary.
Can I catch worms from my cat?
You can’t catch tapeworms directly from your cat, but ingesting a flea carrying tapeworm eggs can have nasty effects. The hookworm cannot complete their life cycle in a human though that can cause itchy, red skin eruptions.
Roundworms can’t survive past the larval stage in humans. It is very unlikely that you will contract any worm infestation directly from your cat.
Worms are both preventable and treatable in cats. Be careful about what she eats so that she does not ingest eggs or larva. Get your female cat spayed, but if she does turn up pregnant, get her dewormed before the kittens come. Make sure your cat lives someplace clean and safe. If despite your best efforts she does contract any form of worms, take her to a vet for diagnosis and treatment.
- Toxascaris leonina by tnolan American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists
- Dipylidium caninum DPDx – Laboratory Identification of Parasites of Public Health Concern, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- Parasites – Dipylidium Infection (also known as Dog and Cat Flea Tapeworm) DPDx – Laboratory Identification of Parasites of Public Health Concern, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- Zoonotic Hookworms Murphy MD, Spickler AR, Zoonotic hookworms. November 2013
- Heartworm Disease in Cats By Sherry Blackmon, Mississippi State University The College of Veterinary Medicine
- Heartworm Disease (Dirofilaria immitis) and Their Vectors in Europe – New Distribution Trends by Rodrigo Morchón,* E. Carretón, J. González-Miguel, and I. Mellado-Hernández Front Physiol. 2012; 3: 196.
Published online 2012 Jun 12. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2012.00196
- Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine