Whether they live exclusively indoors or spend time outside, pet cats may become host to internal parasites such as roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms. Kittens often pick up worms from the mother in her milk, while adult cats pick up worms by accidentally eating worm eggs or eating vermin infested with worms. Because it is relatively easy for a cat to acquire worms, it is a good idea to know the warning signs so you can seek veterinary treatment for the problem early on. Untreated, worms can cause symptoms such as a dull coat or a potbelly, but it is rare they make a cat seriously unwell. Getting rid of worms is relatively easy with the correct worming medication, and with a little knowledge, it’s also easy to determine if your cat might have worms.
- Look for changes to the cat’s coat. A cat’s fur is usually lustrous, but if your cat has worms, its coat might become dull or flat looking.
- This can occur because of dehydration or poor absorption of nutrients resulting from the parasite infection.
- Check your cat’s gums. A healthy cat has pink gums, much like our own. If your cat’s gums are pale or white, this could be a sign that it is anemic. A common explanation for this can be a parasite infection.
- To check your cat’s gums, sit him or her in your lap or next to you, gently grasp the cat’s head in your hands, under the jaw and behind the ears. Use your fingertips to lift the flap of the cat’s upper lip so that the gums above the teeth are exposed.
- If the gums are pale, you should contact your vet as soon as possible.
- Examine your cat’s feces. If your cat uses a litter box, it is easy to keep an eye on its feces. Watch for the following symptoms:
- Dark, tarry stools may indicate blood loss from where hookworms attached themselves to the wall of the intestine.
- Diarrhea can occur because worms also take up space within the gut and interfere with digestion.
- If your cat has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or if you see fresh blood or dark tarry stools, seek veterinary help.
- Watch for vomiting. Vomiting is common among cats. If it occurs frequently, however, your cat should see the vet, as this may be a sign of worms or some other health problem.
- Worms can cause vomiting either by blocking the outflow to the stomach or by irritating the stomach lining.
- Pay attention to how much your cat eats. A high worm burden is usually associated with a loss of appetite.
- This is due to a number of factors such as inflammation of the bowel lining, stomach ache, and the physical space the worms take up within the bowel.
- Look for changes in the shape of your cats body. Cats with a lot of worms may develop a potbelly, causing the abdominal area look swollen.
- Like vomiting, this is a general symptom and can happen for a variety of reasons, but this sign is sufficient to warrant a trip to the vet, whatever the underlying cause.
- Notice signs of lethargy. If the worms are stealing nutrition direct from the bowel, the cat or kitten will feel lethargic, appear listless, and lack energy. Pay attention to any dramatic changes in your cat’s energy level.
- Again, this can be a symptom of many different ailments, and is one that warrants a vet check up.
- You know your cat’s normal energy level best, so keep your eye out for any sudden reduction in energy or playfulness.
- Check for eggs in the cat’s feces. Put on some disposable plastic gloves and use a disposable tool such as a popsicle stick to examine feces in the litter box for signs of parasites.
- Tapeworms may leave egg packets stuck to the surface of the stool. These look like sesame or cucumber seeds, and sometimes wriggle and move.
- It is unusual to see a whole tapeworm in cat feces, but they look like flat, cream-colored worms made up of many segments. An adult tapeworm can reach about two feet (60 centimeters) in length.
- Roundworm eggs are too small to see with the naked eye, but sometimes whole worms do pass out in the feces, or may even be vomited up. Roundworms look like spaghetti: long and smooth and about the same diameter as a strand of pasta. An adult roundworm is usually just three to six inches long.
- Hookworm eggs are also too small to see. An adult hookworm is likewise tiny, measuring a mere two to three millimeters long, and therefore also difficult to detect.
- Check your cat’s anus. Tapeworm eggs packets migrate out of the cat’s anus and stick to the fur. Thus, you can safely conclude your cat has tapeworms if you see creamy-white egg packets, which look like sesame seeds, clinging to the cat’s fur.
- Examine your cat’s bedding and other favorite spots. Egg packets sometimes get stuck on places where the cat has sat, such as bedding or soft furniture, so check these areas if you suspect your cat may have worms.
- Call your veterinarian to schedule an exam. If you are concerned your cat may have worms, one of the most reliable ways to find out is to submit a fecal sample for analysis to your local veterinary clinic. The sample will be looked at under a microscope to detect worm eggs.
- Each worm type has different shaped eggs and so this is the most effective way to determine what type (or types) of worms your cat may have.
- When you call the vet, describe any symptoms your cat may be displaying.
- Collect a stool sample. If you are asked to collect a sample, you’ll need to gather up some of your cat’s feces and store the collection container until your appointment.
- Worm eggs are hearty, but for best results, keep the container in a cool, dark place such as a garage or shady shed.
- Do not keep the container in a room where food is prepared, and always wash your hands after collecting a fecal sample.
- To decrease the chances of a false negative on the fecal test, some vets will ask for a pooled sample, which means collecting three bowel movements from three separate days in the same container.
- Bring your cat in for an exam. The veterinarian will examine your cat and perform fecal tests if they think it necessary.
- If your cat does have worms, the veterinarian will prescribe medication. Administer as directed and the problem should clear up quickly.
- It is important to note that cats can harbor some worms, especially roundworms, without showing signs of ill health. However, if worms are allowed to breed and build up in the intestine, they absorb nutrition and rob the cat of vital nutrients, which in the long term can compromise the cat’s health. Have your cat examined by a veterinarian regularly to avoid this and other health risks.
- You can help reduce the chances of parasitic infections. Maintain a clean litter box by throwing out solid waste every day and regularly cleaning the litter box with a small amount of bleach diluted in water (in a ratio of 1:30) or mild dish detergent.
- Vacuum your home at least once a week to help prevent fleas.
- If you suspect worms or have checked your cat for worms, wash your hands after handling your cat, remove all excrement from litter boxes immediately, and keep small children away from the cat until you can get to the veterinarian for treatment.
- Be aware the sometimes negative fecal tests are misleading. Some parasites shed eggs inconsistently, so even when a cat has an infection, there may not be any evidence in the stool sample you’ve collected. Repeated testing may be required to diagnose some parasite infections.
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