There are several types of worms common to cats including roundworm, ringworm, and tapeworms. These types of worms are easily transmitted between cats. Although heartworm, which are nematodes—a type of roundworm, is more common in dogs, it can occur in cats as well. Heartworm is transmitted through mosquitoes. Heartworm can be detected through antibody tests, antigen tests, echocardiogram, radiography, and microfilarial tests. Heartworms are several inches long, thin & white.
Roundworms look like spaghetti and tapeworm segments look like little grains of rice. Cat worms can be found in your cat’s food, buried in your cat’s fur, around his anus, and around his paws (from scratching). Cat worms can be found in your pet’s ears as well. Ringworm isn’t a worm, it’s a skin fungus. The fungus is shaped like a worm, but it forms a ring. To identify ringworm, all you have to do is look for “ring” shape on your cat’s skin.
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Of all the different types of parasitic worms, tapeworms are the easiest to transmit because they are transmitted to cats though fleas. If your cat has fleas, he cannot transmit tapeworm to his owner, but he can easily transmit the fleas that carry the tapeworm.
If left untreated, worms in cats can hinder normal body functioning, while others, such as heartworm, can be fatal. Ringworm lives in dead skin, while hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, and whipworms, live in the cat’s intestines. Also known as dermatophytosis, ringworm is an infection in the dead layer of the skin, hair, and nails. The fungus uses dead tissue, called keratin, in the skin as a source of nutrition. Hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, and whipworms live in the cat’s intestines and cause:
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss
- Inability to exercise
- Distended abdomen, especially in kittens
- Dull coat
Hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, and whipworms can be treated are not fatal if treated early, another type of worm called “heartworm” can cause sudden, serious, and fatal disease in the cat. Even a small number of heartworms can be serious. Symptoms of heartworm include:
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- Respiratory stress (difficulty breathing or rapid shallow breathing)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
To learn more about heartworm, prevention, and treatment, visit the American Heartworm Society at www.heartwormsociety.org.
To prevent cat worms, have your cat screened for worms twice per year. High-risk cats typically live in condensed urban areas and they usually live in a home with more than one pet. Outdoor cats are high-risk as well. High-risk cats should be screened more than once per year. It’s also a good idea to keep your cat clean and well groomed. You should also dispose of cat feces immediately. Never leave it in piles in the litter box. Whipworm and roundworm eggs can remain infectious for years, and hookworm larvae can multiply quickly in dirty litter boxes.
If you think your cat has been exposed to worms, please contact your vet immediately.
Caring for a cat with worms should be done under the care of a vet. Your vet will have access to a number of effective preventatives against the most aggressive types of parasites such as roundworm, whipworm, hookworm, and heartworm. Your vet will also have access to a number of medications approved for treating worms.