Keeping guard against worms and parasites is part and parcel of being a feline companion. They’re one of the most common health problems and luckily, if caught in time, they’re easily treatable.
The Parasite Files
Here’s our guide to the Big Five:
- Roundworms – The most common worm in cats. Can be contracted by infected poo, dirt or prey. About 12cm long and loves to hang out in your cat’s intestine. Mother cats can pass it along to kittens in their milk. Can cause a pot-bellied appearance, with other symptoms ranging from weight loss, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea or mucus in the stool and stunted growth. Potentially very dangerous to children.
- Hookworms – More common in dogs than cats. Warning signs include lethargy, tarry or bloody diarrhoea, anaemia, weight loss and emaciation. Usually caught when larvae penetrate a cat’s skin or they ingest it, possibly by eating rodents that have hookworm in their tissues.
- Tapeworms – These rice-shaped little freeloaders come aboard when a cat eats an infected flea. They’re particularly hard to spot – you’re more likely to see them around your cat’s bottom. They often cause itchy bottoms.
- Heartworms – Caused by infected mosquito bites and may inflict no symptoms for a long time. Eventually, with a sizeable infestation, signs include tiring easily and a soft, deep cough. Other clues are weight loss, rapid breathing, prominent ribs and a bulging chest.
- Whipworms – Inhabit the small intestines, and look, unsurprisingly, a bit like a whip: about 2-3 inches long, threadlike and thicker at one end. They can cause diarrhea, with urgency and straining. Anemia and lethargy are also possible with heavy infestations.
A few more nasties
It’s worth mentioning the following parasitical problems your cat might be exposed to:
Giardia – Usually caught by eating the faeces of infected cats and many infected cats show no symptoms. It particularly affects cats less than a year old and shows up as diarrhoea.
Toxoplasma – The actual disease in cats is rare, but the parasite is pretty common. It is spread in cat poo. Pregnant women should wear gloves when cleaning the litter tray as toxoplasma can harm the foetus.
Stomach worms – Often difficult to diagnose and probably caught from eating an infected cat’s vomit. Symptoms include weight loss, malnutrition, chronic vomiting and loss of appetite, though some infected animals don’t show any signs.
If your cat starts vomiting or develops diarrhoea, is losing weight despite eating well or has an abnormally swollen stomach, they could have picked up a heavy infestation. Other signs include itching, coughing (which could indicate heartworm), trouble breathing and visible worms in the fur, the poo or vomit. You should take them to the vet.
Prevention is better than cure
Outdoor cats and cats that aren’t regularly dewormed are most at risk of developing complications. Talk to your vet about the right treatment.
It’s important to remember that YOU can catch worms from your cat. Roundworm is especially dangerous to children and may cause blindness. Keep your kids away from places where cats poo. You can get tapeworm if you accidentally eat a flea and while rare, hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin.
Other tips include:
- Use gloves to change cat litter or handle faeces.
- Change cat litter frequently.
- Keep the kids away from the litter.
- Keep your animals, house and yard flea-free.
- Reduce your cat’s exposure to potential carriers: rodents, faeces or other infected cats.
- Keep cats indoors.
What to do:
Caught early, worms are fairly easy to treat. Of course, prevention is the best cure.
Dr Lisa says..
- Cats need regular deworming treatments to stay healthy
- Roundworm is one of the most common parasites
- Cats may be infected by eating infected rodents, other cat’s poo or vomit or fleas
- Reduce the risk to your children by practicing good hygiene
Dr Jo says..
- It’s often difficult to remember when you last wormed your pet. Mark your calender or phone diary to remind you.
- Wash your hands after handling your pets or any other pets you contact.
Did you know?
Roundworms are particularly easy for kids to catch. Teach yours to wash their hands properly and regularly and not to kiss their beloved cat on the mouth.
Limit the ways these parasites can ooze their way into your cat’s body by cleaning up any outside toilet activities. And make sure the children wash well too!
Keeping your cat worm-free may also keep your family healthy too. Children are particularly at risk, because they play in worm-infected dirt and close to animals.