Worms in Cats
Parasitism in cats is a very common health problem. In fact, more than 45% of the cat population is carrying a parasitic load which can be taxing on the cat’s health and nutritional needs.
In most cases, the presence of worms in cats is manifested only by non-specific symptoms including diarrhea (mucoid or bloody stool), vomiting, a dull haircoat, and pale mucus membranes, coughing, or a pot-bellied appearance.
A cat’s immune defenses can weaken when digestive problems, dehydration and anemia are not corrected. This can pave the way for viral and bacterial infections to set in. In a way, worms in cats can increase a cat’s susceptibility to serious diseases which can become life-threatening. There are also species of cat worms which can be potentially hazardous to humans.
Most of the gastrointestinal parasites of cats are referred to as worms while there is also a group known as protozoan parasites. The most common worms in cats are roundworms, tapeworms, stomach worms, and hookworms.
Roundworms are identified as the most common intestinal parasite affecting cats with infections in kittens reaching as high as 75%. Adult roundworms can reach 3-5 inches in length and dwell in the cat’s intestine. Adult female roundworms lay eggs which are eliminated with the cat’s feces. Outside, the eggs develop into its infective stage.
A cat gets infected by ingesting infective larvae or by eating identified transport hosts (e.g. rodents). Nursing kittens can get infective larvae from the queen’s milk. This explains why kittens suffer from roundworm infestation even when they are a few days old.
Hookworms thrive in the small intestine and feed on the cat’s blood thus they can be potentially life-threatening, particularly when anemia is present in kittens. Hookworm eggs are eliminated with the cat’s feces and infection can be either through ingestion of infective eggs or by skin contact.
Tapeworms are segmented flatworms that can reach as long as 28 inches. Cats harboring tapeworms can suffer from vomiting and unexplained weight loss. Transmission of tapeworms is via an intermediate host (rodent or infected flea). When a cat is infected by tapeworms, you can see rice-like tapeworm segments around its anal region.
Outdoor cats have higher chances of being exposed to infective larvae of parasites and consequently of getting infected. If you suspect your cat is harboring parasites, a visit to your veterinarian should be done. It is very important that a proper identification of the parasite species should be done in order to administer the most effective treatment.
Treatment for Worms in Cats
Unlike dogs, a cat is highly sensitive to particular medications thus treating your cat without your vet’s advice should never be undertaken. There are some over-the-counter dewormers which are potentially toxic to cats especially if the proper dosage is not followed.
Potential Hazard to Humans
Do you know that you can catch worms from your cat? Children are especially susceptible to roundworms from cats. Cases of infestation in children have often been linked to blindness and other serious health problems. The larvae of hookworm also have the ability to penetrate skin of humans and cause skin lesions.
Protecting your Cat from Worms
Indoor cats have lower incidence of parasitism because they are not exposed to infected cats, infected larvae in the feces, and transport hosts such as fleas and rodents. To protect yourself, be sure to wear gloves when you need to change your cat’s litter or when you have to handle cat feces. Proper disposal of feces should be done frequently. With your veterinarian’s help, you can formulate and follow a parasite preventive program for your cat.