There’s no delicate way to investigate the topic of deworming your cat. It is a pretty icky subject, but understanding the ins and outs of deworming your favorite feline is very important to his well being and overall health. Worms can make your kitty cat feel sick, and in severe cases, death is possible. Getting the parasites knocked out should be approached with a sense of urgency so your cat or perhaps foster kittens can be restored to perfect health. Let’s dive into this topic and explore the options for deworming.
What Exactly Are Worms?
Worms are parasites. These hungry little creatures feed on a cat’s nutrition and eventually can make a kitty cat very sick. In the most severe cases, especially with growing kittens, death is possible. It is important to get your cat to the vet as soon as you see any signs of worms. There are several different types of worms felines suffer, and we will discuss the top three. These three are tapeworm, roundworm, and hookworm.
Cat tapeworm is among one of the common parasites cat’s can pick up. The technical name for tapeworm is dipylidium caninum. Tapeworm is frequently found in cats because it is carried by fleas to the host feline. As you can imagine, feral cats, outdoor cats, foster cats, cats who have been in a rescue and even indoor cats (who have access to a porch or catio) can be at risk for getting fleas so tapeworm is something any cat caregiver should be aware of.
When it comes to appearance, the name tapeworm sums it up rather nicely. Tapeworms look like little pieces of tape, flat in shape measuring as long as twenty-four inches but usually just a few inches. You will know your cat has tapeworm when you see the little rice like fellows on the butt of your pet or in her litterbox.
Your cat usually gets the tapeworm from grooming flea larvae off her fur coat. Once licked and swallowed, the larvae actually attach themselves to her small intestine where they eventually hatch. The cycle time from your cat orally taking in the larvae to when you actually see them is several weeks.
HOW CAN TAPEWORM BE TREATED?
Since tapeworm was contracted by fleas, you need to treat your cat, your furniture, cat furniture and your entire home (inside and out) for fleas plus the cat needs to be treated by a vet for the worms as well. This may seem daunting, but if you do not take care of the flea source in addition to the worms, the effects will come back, and the feline will have tapeworm plus fleas again. Your vet will discuss with you the options available for both the flea and tapeworm prescriptions. A course of meds will be prescribed and is usually in a pill that you can administer to the cat.
Be sure you continue preventing the tapeworm from returning by disposing of your kitty cat’s bedding and cleaning every area of your home. If your cat goes outside, it might be time for him to become an indoor cat, at least until the fleas and worms are completely gone. Talk with your vet about continued flea prevention and the options available. It is well documented that indoor cats contract fewer parasites than cats who roam outdoors, so be sure to include your cat’s current lifestyle with the vet and explore what options might be best for your furry family.
There are two types of feline roundworm, Toxascara leonina, and Toxacara cati. Both types of roundworm resemble noodles (not the type you eat!) and are about four inches in length. They look like spaghetti but do not be fooled! They have absolutely nothing in common with the pasta you serve at dinner.
Toxascara leonine is the lesser of two evils for kitty cats. The contraction rate for cats is very low with leonine, and when it is contracted it is almost always found in senior felines only. Because it is such a rare occasion, this worm is less of a threat.
Toxacara cati, on the other hand, is frequently found in kittens as well as cats of all ages. It is one of the most common feline worms. Kittens are exposed to these worms in the mother’s milk when nursing. They take in the eggs during nursing, and the eggs eventually hatch into larvae. This all happens in the kitten’s digestive system and can cause the kitten to become severely ill and even die. However, it is very possible for the kitten to contract roundworm and not become sick at all, especially in the early stages. Since detection can be a challenge, getting the kitten to the vet for a checkup as soon as possible is the best strategy for preventing illness from manifesting and getting a severe case of roundworm.
Unlike ringworm, roundworms do not actually hook onto the feline intestine; instead they are floating around, actually swimming inside the belly. These three to six-inch worms will cause the kitten or cat to have a bit of a pot belly if the infestation goes on without treatment for an extended period of time. Diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stunted growth in kittens and lack of energy are all symptoms found in felines with roundworm.
Adult cats and kittens can also get roundworm by ingesting eggs that contain infective roundworm larvae. Eggs with roundworm larvae are present in numerous hosts including but not limited to mice, earthworms, birds and even cockroaches. Cats love all of these! It is possible an indoor cat can get roundworm if he were to eat a bug like a cockroach that was infected with roundworm larvae. Rest assured, the chances of this happening are far greater for outdoor cats than indoor cats, but the possibility remains.
HOW CAN ROUNDWORM BE TREATED?
Your vet will test your cat for roundworm before treating her. A stool sample will be collected and examined. The stool is tested by mixing tiny amounts of feces with a special liquid solution. If the larvae are present, the eggs will rise to the top of the solution. These are then collected for closer examination. Under a microscope, the vet will be able to tell immediately if the cat has worms.
Once there is confirmation your cat has roundworm, treatment will begin. The good news is the prescribed medication from a vet tends to be very inexpensive and easy to administer. A dose of deworming medication will be administered to the cat that will kill off the worms. As the worms are dead and dying, they start to pass through the cat’s stool. Since there could be larvae present even after the first round of medication, several more rounds will be administered to be sure the cat is worm free.
Proactive treatment is a great idea with cats, and one of the most effective solutions is keeping your cat indoors. This will protect your cat from contracting roundworm through bugs and rodents as well as eating another outdoor cat’s stool. If your cat must be outdoors, regular treatment of deworming medication through your vet is a great idea. Kittens are usually treated with their booster shots for preventative care. Your vet will discuss the options and decide what is best for your cat based on her lifestyle, age and any other health conditions she may have.
As if ringworm and roundworm aren’t enough, your kitty cat can also get a parasite named hookworm. There are two types of hookworm, Ancylostoma tubaeforme, and Ancylostoma braziliense.
Hookworms are as creepy as their name with a literal hook at the end of their noodle-like body. This curvy clasp is also the mouth of the worm and used to attach itself to the intestine of the cat. Once the wormy vampire latches on, it goes to work sucking blood for food and nutrients. Even though these little lads are super tiny at barely 1/8”, they feed on your cat’s fluid and tissue that results in the cat’s blood loss. Depending on where the hookworm camps out, blood can also get into the stool of your feline. Blood in the stool is one way to detect a cat has hookworm. If a kitten has hookworm, she is susceptible to anemia from the blood-sucking leech since she is so young.
Since the main way hookworm is contracted is through ingesting stool, cats can get the parasites from something as ordinary as cleaning their paws!
HOW CAN HOOKWORM BE TREATED?
Much like the other worms, you must take your cat to the vet for a prescription to rid the worms and continue treatment through any and all cycles your cat prescribes. Your vet will want a stool sample so she can run a fecal flotation experiment (like the roundworm) and detect what type of eggs float to the to by examining them under a microscope.
Talk with your vet about the options for preventative care. If you just adopted a kitten from an animal rescue or the cat was found in less than sanitary conditions, simply re-homing the cat after treated could prevent further issues.
Precautionary steps for a healthy, happy kitty is ideal for keeping the parasites at bay. Things you can do to help a cat when it comes to preventing worms:
Kittens should be tested as soon as possible by a vet and treated with their booster shots
Keep cats and kittens indoors
Maintain a very clean litterbox area, remove stool daily, wash hands
Keep children away from litterbox area
Mice and bugs should be managed as they are carriers of worms
Deworming your cat or kitten is not a glamorous topic but learning the signs and treatments will give you the tools to be prompt in response. Taking preventative measures will go along way in maintaining your cat’s health. Discuss your options with a veterinarian so you can continue to focus on the ways to avoid worms in the future.
Lisa Illman is the inventor of an outdoor cat enclosure and founder at Kritter Kommunity. Lisa and her product the Kritter Kondo have been featured in Cat Fancy, the Chicago Tribune, Chestnut Hill West, Good Morning America, and most recently Steve Harvey’s Funderdome. Follow Kritter Kommunity on Twitter @KritterKondo.