Worms in cats are common and quite often present in kittens. The worms in cats that are most recognizable include hookworm, tapeworm, and roundworm. Each requires individualized treatment and many worms in cats are difficult to detect with the human eye. In addition, some worms can be transmitted from cats to dogs and to humans, while others are species specific.
Any worms in cats have the potential to become a hazard. Those risks may be to other pets in the household or to human family members. A veterinarian should check all kittens for worms. They are commonly transmitted before birth or through a nursing feline’s milk. A kitten’s weaker immune system also increases the risk of a worm infestation.
Two types of intestinal worms are visible in cats. Tapeworms usually exit in the animal’s feces as small grains of “rice.” Roundworms may make an appearance in their entirety through vomit or as fecal matter. Worms in cats can cause a variety of symptoms including lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, there are no signs. The worms can even remain dormant until a cat is carrying a litter. They then migrate to the unborn kittens and take a parasitic hold.
Roundworms thrive in the intestines. A cat or kitten may develop a potbelly and younger animals will not progress normally. Most worming medications will treat only those worms in the intestinal tract. They cannot prevent transmission from adult to kitten.
Hookworms are more often seen in canines but remain a common parasite in kittens. These use “hooks” to attach inside the intestine. There, they feed on the animal’s blood. Hookworms in cats are known as Ancylostoma tubaeform, which is different parasite from the canine hookworm, A. caninum. Cats can contract the canine hookworm, but neither species tends to be present in the large numbers that develop in dogs. Two other hookworm species also exist (A. braziliense and Uncinaria stenocephala).
Tapeworms are more difficult for veterinarians to spot through fecal matter. Owners of cats should be vigilant in looking for the body segments. Sometimes they’ll adhere to the animal’s fur before dropping to the ground. These worms in cats are caused by flea bites.
Heartworm is a rarity in cats. However, when these worms are present, they can be deadly in small numbers. Typically, felines living in warmer areas are more susceptible. Owners should ask a veterinarian for recommended preventions, if any.
Experts recommend that treating worms in cats should be begin at no later than three weeks of age. Other less-recognized worms also may become a problem. These include Strongyloides worms (threadworms or pinworms) and flukes. When treating for worms in cats, always follow the veterinarian’s advice and schedule regular exams.