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How Do I Know if My Cat Has Worms?

Worms are a common ailment cats experience. Reports indicate that 45% of cats may be infected by intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms, at some point in their life. Internal parasites compete for food in a pet’s intestines and some attach to intestinal walls, which can lead to serious illness if undetected.

The good news is that worms can be confirmed by simple tests and treated easily with medication from a veterinarian. Also, there are preventative ways to protect felines from contracting worms.

Signs and symptoms

Depending on the type of worm infecting a cat, the following symptoms may indicate warnings of parasite problems:

  • Dull coat (from poor absorption of nutrients)
  • Pale (not pink) gums, due to anemia
  • Dark, tarry or bloody stool (wear gloves when checking litter box)
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in eating habits (less food consumed)
  • Swollen abdominal area
  • Visual detection in rear end or bedding (small, white worms)
  • Lack of energy; listless and not playful
  • Vomiting (though not unusual in cats, if combined with other symptoms could be caused by stomach irritation or blockage) 

If a combination of some of the above is apparent with your cat, see your vet for testing.

Worm types

Different worms affect cats in different ways. Here’s a description of the main culprits:

  • Roundworms: The most common parasite in cats’ digestive tract. They’re three to five inches long, look like spaghetti and may be found in stool or vomit, but not necessarily. Kittens can pick up worms from their mother’s milk and should be treated with a rigorous regime.
  • Tapeworms: Long, flat worms that attach themselves to your cat’s intestines. Some use fleas or rodents as the host. Eggs may stick to the fur near a cat’s rear end or in bedding, either wriggling or dried. Look for packets that look like rice grains or sesame seeds.
  • Hookworms: Small, half-inch threads that are tough to detect. They live in a cat’s digestive system and feed on blood. Eggs may pass through feces. They can also live in soil and infect a cat through the skin or feet or be ingested during self-grooming.
  • Heartworms: Contracted from mosquitoes, they mature in the right side of the heart and vessels of the lungs. Less common in cats, they can be passed from infected dogs. Symptoms include coughing and wheezing. Blood work and images may be required.

Detection to prevention

If you suspect an infestation of parasitic pests in a cat, consult a veterinarian for fecal testing under a microscope (bring along a stool sample in case). The vet will prescribe deworming medication. Outdoor cats are at a much greater risk, with exposure to parasite-carrying fleas, rodents and other cats. But preventative treatment is possible. Some worms pose a significant risk to humans, so be sure to seek immediate treatment.

Resources

The Pet Owner's Parasite Resource for cats: http://www.petsandparasites.org/cat-owners/overview

Visual guide to detecting worms in cats: https://www.wikihow.pet/Check-Cats-for-Worms