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Cats are susceptible to a variety of intestinal parasites, regardless of whether or not they’re an indoor or outdoor cat. It’s actually more likely your cat will have worms at some point in their lives to never be infected with them at all, so it’s important to be prepared for when it does happen.
With such a high potential for parasitic infection, how do cats get worms in the first place?
Cats can get worms many different ways, but they all require the cat to come in contact with the worm’s egg or infected particles in feces from other animals. For example, an outside cat might eat a rodent that’s infected and will then get the same worm. An inside cat might have fleas that are carrying the worm’s eggs and ingest that infected flea while grooming himself.
How Do Cats Get Worms?
As mentioned above, in order for a cat to get worms he must come into contact with the larvae or portion of the worm by ingesting it. It’s all too easy for cats to ingest an infected rodent or flea since cats are always grooming themselves or, if it’s an outdoor cat, hunting for prey outside. It’s also common for a cat to step in infected feces from another animal and ingest the worm when they clean themselves
Knowing how cats initially ingest the parasite, there are three main kinds of intestinal worms cats are susceptible to.
Tapeworms are long, flat segmented worms that live in the cat’s small intestine. They’re most commonly contracted from eating infected fleas. You can tell your cat has a tapeworm if you see white or cream colored rice-like particles in their feces or around their tail — these are broken off segments from the worm.
If your cat is generally free from fleas, you shouldn’t have to worry about tapeworms too much. The only time my cats ever got tapeworms was when I watched a family member’s dog, who had fleas. He gave my cats fleas and they got tapeworms pretty quickly after that. Luckily, it was easy to notice and wasn’t too hard to treat.
The most common intestinal parasite found in cats, roundworms are about four inches long and are said to look like spaghetti noodles. These worms live inside the cat’s intestine, feeding on their nutrients. While roundworms are most prevalent in kittens from ingesting a mother’s infected milk, adult cats can also get roundworm from eating an infected rodent or coming into contact with infected feces.
This type of worm is more common on dogs than cats, and can actually affect humans as well. Hookworms are small and aren’t noticeable in the feces of a cat. They live in the small intestine, feeding off the cat’s blood. Hookworms infect animals by entering through their skin, so you’d notice a lesion where the worm entered, which is commonly on the bottom of the cat’s paw.
While these are less common on cats, they can potentially be life-threatening. Since the worm feeds off the animal’s blood, it can cause severe anemia.
What Are the Symptoms of Worms in Cats?
The severity of the symptoms depends on the type of worm the cat is infected by: some cats appear visibly sick, while others might not show any symptoms at all. In general, here are a few symptoms to look out for:
- Loss of appetite
- Bloated appearance
- Visible worms in feces or around tail
The more intense and noticeable symptoms occur with hookworm or a severe roundworm infection. Symptoms of a tapeworm are more mild, and usually the only sign of them is physically seeing them on your cat or in their feces.
Are Certain Cats More Susceptible to Worms?
By default, outdoor cats will have the potential to come into contact with infected prey they eat, or the infected feces of other animals. Because of this, they are more likely to become infected with different types of worms.
With that said, house cats aren’t home free! Besides going to the vet, my cats have never stepped foot outside and they still got tapeworms from eating fleas they got from a dog. Luckily, tapeworms are the more mild of the bunch and are easily treatable.
How to Treat Worms in Cats
If you suspect your cat might have any type of worm, take it to the vet. There, they’ll take a stool sample and test for any parasite that might be present. This stool test is important to do for any new cat you’re going to be bringing in your home, especially if you took them in from outside. As I said before, cats don’t always show symptoms when they’re infected with intestinal worms and they can easily pass them along to any other animal in your household.
Once it’s determined your cat has worms, the vet will issue a medication. Usually this is a pill you give your cat for a few days, and sometimes the same medicine can work against multiple different types of worms.
The dosing with these medications can be a bit tricky, as it has to be done for the entirety of the life cycle of the worm. Some medications, such as the one for tapeworms, might only require one pill a day for a few days. With others, you’ll have to give your cat a few pills now and a few pills a month from now, etc. You’ll also have follow-up examinations with the vet to ensure your cat doesn’t get re-infected before the medication cycle is over.
Can I Get Worms from My Cat?
After reading all this not-so-pleasant information about intestinal worms your furry friend can get, you’re probably worried about whether or not these worms can be passed on to you. Plus, most feline parasites don’t want a host body as large as human anyways.
Don’t worry — most of them can’t be contracted by humans, as it requires you to ingest infected feces or fleas. Hookworms, however, can be contracted by humans since the infection happens from the worm eating into the skin of the host.
As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s pretty alarming for your cat to be infected with any type of worm. The good thing to remember is to stay calm, and take your kitty to the vet to get him all the attention and meds he needs.