The three feline worms it’s important to understand if you have cats are: feline roundworm, feline tapeworm and feline heartworm. Cats can also be infested with feline hookworms (or whipworms) but they are more common and severe in dogs.
Intestinal Parasites – Roundworm in Cats and Tapeworm in Cats
Many kittens will have intestinal worms from birth because the worms can be passed by the mother and the immune system of the kitten isn’t developed enough to keep the parasite population in check. Rescued animals may also be at a higher risk for feline worms because of the stress and crowded conditions.
Cats can be infested by feline worms from fleas, contact with contaminated food, hunting rodents, contact with a dead animal or contact with contaminated soil. Symptoms of feline worms, otherwise known as intestinal parasites, can include:
- Weight loss
- Anemia (pale gums)
- Scratching around the base of the tail
- Continual licking around the anal area
- Mild or severe coughing
- Feline Roundworm
Feline roundworm is one of the most common intestinal parasites in cats. Kittens with roundworms will have a pot belly appearance and experience slow or stunted growth.
The life cycle of the feline roundworm includes a trip to the respiratory system. This is why coughing can be a symptom of feline worms including roundworm.
If there is a severe feline roundworm infestation you’ll be able to see long, somewhat white worms in the stools. Roundworm in cats may also be seen in vomit. But generally they’re detected by a fecal exam preformed by your veterinarian.
Roundworm treatment involves giving your cat a wormer that kills feline roundworms. These wormers can come in the form of spot on treatment, tablets or paste. Most of the roundworm treatment wormers only kill the adult feline roundworm, so the manufacturers advise repeating the roundworm treatment in 2-4 weeks.
Feline tapeworms are segmented flat worms whose segments look like flattened rice or cucumber seeds. The feline tapeworm segments are filled with eggs and are passed through the feces. You may see these tapeworm segments in your cat’s feces or in her fur around the anal area or in her bedding.
To get rid of the tapeworm in cats you’ll need to find the right tapeworm medicine. Work with your veterinarian to find the best tapeworm medicine for your cat.
Prevention is the best medicine. Tapeworm can be part of a flea infestation so you’ll need to take care of a flea problem in order to get rid of the feline tapeworm. Keeping fleas in check can help prevent feline tapeworm infestation. Learn more about flea treatment and control.
Feline tapeworm can also be contracted by hunting and eating rodents. If your cat is a hunter be sure to have her checked for feline worms, including feline tapeworm, regularly.
Feline heartworm is less common than canine heartworm because cats aren’t the ideal host for heartworms, but it also takes fewer feline heartworm to cause problems in cats. Feline heartworm treatment is also more difficult.
Feline heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes so it is more common in warm, humid areas where mosquitoes thrive. Symptoms of feline heartworm can include rapid breathing, coughing, weight loss, loss of appetite, lack of energy, vomiting and sometimes blindness. But some cats with feline heartworm don’t exhibit any symptoms.
Diagnosis and treatment of feline heartworm are both difficult so you’ll need to work closely with your veterinarian to decide what’s best for your feline friend. Prevention is the best medicine. Limit your cat’s exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible. If you live in an area with a high risk of heartworm you may want to consider using preventatives — medications used to prevent feline heartworm infections. Once again you’ll want to work with your veterinarian to help with this decision. You may also consider less invasive herbal preventatives for feline heartworm prevention.
Although hookworm is not as common in cats as it is dogs, feline hookworm can be very dangerous. Feline hookworm feed on blood so cats with feline hookworm can quickly become anemic. A cat with feline hookworm will become weak, the coat might appear dry and dull and younger cats may experience stunted growth. A feline hookworm infection can also result in death.
Many of the wormers that kill feline roundworm will also kill feline hookworm, but be sure you get the right type of wormer to make sure you kill feline hookworm. As always you should work with your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
If you suspect your cat may have feline worms, or intestinal parasites, it’s important to have your veterinarian exam your cat to make sure the problem is actually feline worms, not another cat illness, and to determine the types of feline worms so you can began proper treatment.