Worms are a common problem in kittens and some cats. Worms are large parasites affecting the stomach and intestines and include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and, less commonly, stomach worms. As worms multiply in the gut, vital nutrients are depleted resulting in poor nutrition in the cat, slowed growth, and abdominal pain. Some worms also feed on blood resulting in anemia and poor health.
Not only do these parasites cause disease in cats of all ages roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms can affect human health. All of these parasites can be ingested and hookworms can penetrate and migrate through the skin. In people roundworms may migrate from the intestines to the liver, lungs, eyes, and brain. Certain tapeworm species result in a serious human disease called Echinococcosis.
Eliminating intestinal parasites is important not only for your feline friend, but also for your health. Continue reading for advice on de-worming, preventing, and recognizing intestinal parasites in your kitten and cat.
- de-worm your new kitten
- de-worm your outdoor cat regularly
- recognize the symptoms of intestinal parasites
- know how worms are transmitted
- purchase reputable products
- use drugs for another species
- handle worms
- overdose your cat
- skip the veterinarian
Did you know almost all kittens are born with worms? During pregnancy, and following birth, worms hibernating in the mother can wake up and migrate into the fetus or pass through the milk. Kittens should be dewormed every two weeks starting at four to six weeks of age for a total of two to three times.
Outdoor cats are susceptible to tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms. The easiest method to prevent worms in an outdoor cat is to consider keeping your cat indoors. Otherwise, there are various products available from your veterinarian or over-the-counter to periodically treat worms. Some veterinary prescription products not only treat, but also prevent worms for up to three months. If fleas are a problem in your area then preventives are also highly recommended as some tapeworms are transmitted by fleas. De-worm your outdoor cat at least twice yearly, but monthly is best.
Kittens with intestinal parasites commonly have large, swollen abdomens; ravenous appetites, but fail to gain weight as expected; diarrhea and, if the worm infestation is large, vomiting. Similarly, cats may have diarrhea, swollen bellies, and poor hair coats. In some cases, worms migrate from the intestines into other organs leading to coughing, vomiting, and poor health.
As hookworms feed on blood in the intestines affected animals may have poor appetites, show pain, and develop anemia (low red blood cell count). Anemic cats and kittens are tired and have pale pink to white gums.
As intestinal parasites develop from eggs to adults sometimes adult worms will be present in the feces. Tapeworm adults form flattened white rice-like segments; hookworms and roundworms are thin, long, rounded, and look similar to noodles.
However, sometimes infections in cats are not easily recognized, so if your cat visits the outdoors, or hunts in your home, periodic deworming becomes essential for treatment and prevention. Remember, you are not only treating worms in your cat you are also preventing spread to you and your family.
To develop an appropriate deworming protocol for your cat it is important to understand how worms are transmitted. If your cat hunts he/she is probably ingesting roundworms from infected rodents. Outdoor cats may be prolific hunters, but your indoor-only cat may be mousing in the basement too. As hookworms and roundworms living in the intestines develop and multiply eggs are passed through into the feces. Your cat can ingest these contaminated feces and contract the worms. One species of tapeworm is transmitted by fleas which means not only does your cat become infected with tapeworms he/she will also get fleas!
Deworming products are available over-the-counter and through your veterinarian. The safest products are available from your veterinarian. Also, keep in mind treating and preventing intestinal parasites is not the same as preventing fleas and ticks. To prevent fleas transmitted by tapeworms it is best to consult your veterinarian. Most flea and tick collars are not effective and can present a choking hazard in outdoor cats.
Read the label carefully if you purchase drugs over-the-counter to de-worm your cat. Over-the-counter products are available not only for dogs and cats, but additionally horses, cattle, sheep, goat, pigs, and poultry. Some drugs are species-specific which means the drug is safely used in only one species. For example, the common horse de-wormer, ivermectin, is not available in an appropriate formulation for your cat or kitten, nor is it labelled for the treatment of feline worms in the U.S. Not only is it impossible to accurately dose your cat with many of these products, but overdoses are not uncommon. If in doubt which products are safe contact your local veterinary clinic.
Intestinal parasites are transmitted through ingestion of contaminated feces (with the exception of hookworms which can also penetrate your skin). This means if you inadvertently touch cat or kitten poop wash your hands! Children are most commonly affected by feline intestinal parasites because kids tend to be less aware of where their hands go and what they put in their mouths. Educate your family on the importance of litter box clean-up especially if you have an indoor-outdoor cat or an indoor-only cat that hunts. Clean the litter box daily, wash your hands with soapy water, and use de-wormers appropriately to help prevent transmission to your family.
Using more of a drug is almost never better and this is true of deworming drugs for cats. Over-dosing causes serious side effects depending on the drug. Most drugs are dosed by weight, so it is important to know the weight of your cat or growing kitten. If you plan to de-worm kittens at home purchase a small scale. Again, read the product label carefully.
While it can be stressful bringing your cat to the clinic, your veterinarian can help maximize your cat’s health. Your veterinarian knows which parasites are most problematic in your area and will determine the risk your cat or kitten has of contracting these parasites. He/she will recommend the best and necessary products for your cat and has the safest, most up-to-date products available. Don’t skip the vet!
Worms are a common problem in cats and kittens, but can be easily controlled with the right tools. Deworm all kittens and newly adopted stray cats, develop a de-worming schedule for your outdoor cat, and watch for changes in health. Educate your family on the importance of handwashing and cleaning the litterbox to prevent transmission of these worms to people. Of course, a properly dewormed cat is unlikely to pass on worms. The best advice for treatment of worms is to visit your veterinarian.