Worms are a common problem in cats. In fact, up to 45% of cats have worms at some point.
“Worms are common, especially in kittens, newly adopted cats, and cats that spend time outdoors,” says Amanda McNabb, DVM, private practice veterinarian.
Your cat may have symptoms of worms such as vomiting – but not all cats show signs of worm infestation.
Worms aren’t always dangerous, but serious worm infections can damage your cat’s intestines
or even death in kittens. Because of this, it is important that you get regular checkups from your veterinarian and take steps to prevent and treat worm infections.
Here’s how cats get worms and what to do if your cat is infected.
Signs that your cat has worms
“Healthy adults may not have symptoms of worms, so your vet recommends regular fecal tests,” says McNabb. However, in some cases, your cat may have symptoms of worm infection, including:
- Diarrhea or loose stools
- Loss of appetite
- Blood in the stool
- Weight loss
You may also see worms in your cat’s stool or throw up. Each type of worm is a different size and shape, says Nichols.
Types of worms in cats
Some of the most common worms that infect cats are roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and heartworms. How to identify them:
Roundworms look like cooked spaghetti. They infect the intestines and are the most common worms in cats. Roundworms may not cause symptoms, but severe infections can cause vomiting, weight loss, or a bulbous appearance.
Tapeworm Segments look like dried rice grains or flat white sunflower seeds and often move or crawl around the rectum.
Tapeworms are more common in older cats and cats that hunt. Your cat may not have symptoms of tapeworm, but vomiting and weight loss may occur in some cases.
Hookworms look like shorter spaghetti noodles that are about two inches long. Hookworms have a brownish-red band on the body and a hook shape.
They are a small form of roundworm that can damage the lining of your cat’s intestines. Hookworms feed on the blood in the cat’s small intestine and can cause anemia and weight loss.
Heartworms Don’t show up in your cat’s stool or vomit, so it’s important that you visit your veterinarian once a year to check for heartworms, says Jess Nichols, DVM, chief veterinarian at the Kansas City Pet Resource Center.
“The most common behavior change is less energy or more care on the back end,” says Nichols. You may also find that your cat has a decreased appetite. But not all cats with heartworms show behavior changes
Heartworms are less common in cats, but they can seriously damage your cat’s heart and lungs. If left untreated, heartworms can cause difficulty breathing, weight loss, or in some cases, sudden death.
How your cat can get worms
There are several ways your cat can get worms, including:
- If your cat goes outside, one of the following causes: worms, worm eggs, or fleas that carry worm eggs can become entangled in your cat’s fur. The cat can then ingest the eggs while grooming itself or other cats, says Travis Arndt, DVM, medical director at Animal Medical Center in Central America.
- Shared litter boxes or outside areas where cats poop can also contain worm eggs, McNabb says.
- Kittens are often infected through breast milk when their mothers have a dormant case of worms, says Nichols.
- “Some worms are also found in the muscle tissue of infected animals, so cats that hunt or are fed raw meat products can ingest worms through their diet,” says McNabb.
Treatment of worms
If your cat becomes infected with worms, there are several treatment options available.
“Fortunately, there are safe, effective anti-parasitic drugs,” says McNabb. Some of the most common drugs are pyrantel, pamoate, fenbendazole and, for tapeworms, praziquantel.
“It’s best to do a fecal test to identify the worm and choose the most appropriate drug,” says McNabb.
The best cat wormers
Anti-worm drugs can work in as little as a day or two, but you may still see worms in your cat’s stool days later. You should always follow your veterinarian’s instructions and give your cat full medication.
Prevention of worms
There are important lifestyle changes you can make to prevent worm infections in your cat.
“The best way to prevent your cat from becoming infected with intestinal parasites is to limit their exposure to the outside world, where stray cats and wildlife can contaminate the environment,” says Arndt.
It’s also important to only feed cooked cat food, as raw food is more likely to be infected with worm eggs, which could infect your pet, McNabb says.
These changes may not work in all cats, so you can use worm prevention medication as well. Feline heartworm preventive pills like Heartguard and prescription flea preventive pills like Frontline can help stop worms, McNabb says.
Insider to take away
Worms are a common problem, but if you don’t take steps to prevent and treat them, they can have serious harmful effects on your cat. There are several key signs that your cat has a worm infection, including diarrhea, loss of appetite, and worms in the stool.
Keeping cats indoors and only feeding them cooked food can help prevent worms, as well as flea and heartworm medications. “Talk to your cat’s veterinarian about their recommendations for the best way to keep your cat healthy and parasite-free,” says Arndt.