My Cat Has Worms - Tapeworm and Other Infestations
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Worms are a relatively common problem in cats, especially in younger specimens. There are different types of worm infestations, but tapeworms are some of the most noticeable. The risk of contracting a worm infestation is much greater for outdoor cats as their environment provides more opportunities. However, even indoor cats can contract worms for various reasons. In this AnimalWised article on why my cat has worms, we look at the signs and symptoms of a cat with a worm infestation. We tell you both how to treat worms in cats and preventing them from coming back. It is still important to take your cat to the veterinarian if you suspect a worm infestation.
Symptoms of worms in cats
Part of the problem with tapeworms in cats is the fact that infestations can be difficult to detect. In healthy adult cats, your cat may have a tapeworm infestation without showing and obvious physical or behavioral signs. However, there are some symptoms we need to consider, especially during a prolonged infestation. When this occurs you may observe in your cat:
- Soft stools
- Intestinal discomfort
- Swollen abdomen
- Poor coat quality
- Weight loss
- Anal irritation
- Excessive licking of anal area
Symptoms of worms in cats for acute cases
In more severe cases, the following symptoms may also occur:
- Gastrointestinal obstruction: worms can tangle in the gastrointestinal tract and cause an obstruction. This is particularly dangerous as it not only prevents food from being properly digested, but it can cause internal organs to rupture.
- Anemia: also in acute infestations anemia could occur in cats. This will lead to pale mucous membranes, stunted growth and malnutrition.
- Pulmonary and cardiac worms: although intestinal worms are most common, heartworm and lungworm infestations are possible. In the early stages, the most distinctive sign is a persistent cough. As the infestation develops, other respiratory problems may occur. This is very dangerous and can be fatal.
- Eyeworms: to a much lesser extent, thelaziasis caused by Thelazia worm species can infest your cat. The most obvious symptoms are excessive tearing and inflammation. Loss of sight is possible if not treated sufficiently.
Since tapeworms affect the gastrointestinal tract, most symptoms are related to the digestive system. This is why monitoring their stools is an important aspect of basic cat care.
How do cats get worms?
The types of worms which can infest a cat can be categorized into several groups, generally depending on where they are located. You may ask yourself, “How does a cat get worms?” You might consider yourself a very clean person and cats themselves are very hygienic animals. The problem is the spread of worms usually occurs when the cat comes in contact with the eggs of parasitic worms.
The eggs of parasites are very small and often difficult for us to detect. A cat can get them from their environment. Although outdoor cats are more likely to get a parasitical infestation, it is possible for indoor cats to contract them also. Some specific ways cats can get worms include:
- Transmission from mother to kittens through feeding
- Eating infested prey
- Bites from mosquitos or fleas
- Direct contact with a fly in the eyes (Thelazia)
Types of worms in cats
As the eggs of the worms travel around the body, they can affect different organs and tissues. This is why they are categorised into lungworms, heartworms and eyeworms. However, the shape and morphology of the worm is also used to categorize the internal parasites. They include:
- Tapeworms: also known as cestodes, tapeworms are long parasites which are usually passed on by the eggs and larvae of fleas. The genus Echinococcus is very common in cats and are a type of cyclophyllid, meaning they are segmented tapeworms. There are videos on YouTube of entire tapeworms being removed from a cat's anus, but this is not common. Some cat guardians will see little white worms in their cats stool. These are worms in cats that look like rice, but are actually broken off segments of the larger tapeworm.
- Roundworms: one of the most common types of roundworm in cats is Toxocara cati, a parasite most often transmitted by the cat coming in contact with infested fecal matter. The eggs hatch in the intestines, but can travel to other parts of the body and lead to lungworm or infesting the liver. Toxascaris leonina is another common type of roundworm in cats.
- Hookworms: these are a type of blood-feeding roundworm. One of the most common types in cats is the Ancylostoma brazilienese which can infest the human after the larvae break through the animal's skin. Skin eruptions or rashes are possible symptoms.
- Whipworms: more common in dogs than cats, whipworms have a larger section at one end which give them the appearance of a whip. Thousands of eggs can be produced each day by a single whipworm, hatching in the intestine.
- Filarial worm: another type of roundworm or nematode are worms in the Filiariodea family which can lead to filariasis.
Can worms in cats be passed on to humans?
There are many different genera of parasitic worms in cats. Many are species specific, meaning they cannot live outside their ‘definitive host’. If a cat is a definitive host, then the worm may be passed on to a human, but they won't infest them because they cannot survive. Some genera of tapeworm were once thought only able to infest one animal type, but have now been discovered to live in others. An example of this is Dipylidium caninum, although it is possible this could be split into two separate species.
While it is rare, tapeworms such as Dipylidium caninum can be zoonotic, i.e. they can transfer from animals to humans. This was evidenced in a case reported in China where it is believed a 17 month child was bitten or ingested fleas containing the parasite.
Whether a worm can infest a human after being transferred from a cat will depend on the individual species. This is why it is vital to not only use preventive methods on your cat, but to maintain general hygiene in the home and prevent children especially from interacting with them inappropriately. This is because children can often put things in their mouths which are not sanitary. When they interact with an affected cat, they may be the vector which passes the parasite on.
How to treat worms in cats
One of the most common ways to see if a cat has worms is to look at their poop. If the cat has signs of infestation, we should take them to the veterinarian immediately. Many internal parasites are too resistant to over the counter medications and will need a veterinary prescription, but only they can diagnose accurately. To achieve this diagnosis they will likely test a stool sample of the cat.
If the veterinarian finds the cat does indeed have worms, they will prescribe a suitable antiparasitic treatment. Even with a veterinary diagnosis they may prescribe a broad spectrum product which kills a high number of parasites. This is a type of internal deworming and may require repeating about 3 or 4 times per year.
As with all diseases, prevention is better than cure. With cats regular deworming is required to prevent the cat from getting an infestation in the first place. These can come in various forms such as tablets, syrups or even pipettes which are placed on the fur. Although this deworming is applied externally, it can still prevent internal parasites by stopping them from entering the body externally.
Both outdoor and indoor cats need to be dewormed regularly. We may bring in material from the outside which contains worms or their legs. Also refuse from the home can contain eggs or larvae which can come in contact with inquisitive cats.
Worms in kittens
We highlight the appearance of worms in kittens as the consequences of these infestations can be both more visible and serious than in adult cats. This is because the still developing young cats are more vulnerable to any disease. Additionally, there is often a general lack of knowledge regarding deworming in kittens. Kittens can contract an infestation of worms both from their mother or their environment. It can be difficult to tell which is why kittens need a veterinary consultation early on in their development.
Deworming should begin around 15 days of life, regardless of the interactions they have with their mother. This will need to be repeated every 2-4 weeks until the vaccination schedule is completed. After this point, cats will need deworming every 3 to 4 months, although this will depend on the circumstances of each cat.
We also need to meet the basic care needs of a cat to ensure their overall health. If you want some further advice, you can look at our kitten care guide for help.
Are there home remedies for deworming cats?
There are some natural products which can be used to help ensure a cat's general hygiene and health. However, there are no home remedies which can properly protect or treat worms in cats. Products with active ingredients have been specially designed to treat these cases.
Some have claimed that garlic can be used to prevent worms and other parasites in cats. However, there is little to no scientific studies which can support this thesis. Not only is its effectiveness questionable, especially in terms of treating existing parasites, but garlic is toxic to cats in large doses.
If a cat shows any symptoms of the presence of parasites, it is essential we go to the veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis. One of the main reasons is that a parasitical infestation in cats shares symptoms with other diseases, especially gastrointestinal problems. Administering antiparasitic drugs in the latter cases may result in aggravating a pre-existing condition.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Has Worms - Tapeworm and Other Infestations, we recommend you visit our Parasitic diseases category.
1. Labuschagne, M., et al. (2018). Analysis of Dipylidium caninum Tapeworms from dogs and cats or their respective fleas. Parasite, 25(30).
2. Jiang, P., et al. (2017). A Human Case of Zoonotic Dog Tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum (Eucestoda: Dilepidiidae), in China. The Korean Journal of Parasitology, 55(1), 61-64.
- Miró, G. (2014). Recommendations for the control of intestinal parasites of the cat. Retrieved October 30, 2019, from https://www.portalveterinaria.com/articoli/articulos/24567/recomendaciones-para-el-control-de-las-parasitosis-intestinales-del-gato.html