All cats will be affected by worms at some point in their life and a great deal will be re-infected unless they’re given a routine worming treatment. Eliminating worms is relatively simple and affordable, so regular treatment is strongly recommended, particularly as some types of worm can be passed onto humans.
What sort of worms affect cats?
There are two important types of parasitic worms in cats – roundworms and tapeworms.
Roundworms can grow up to 15 cm long and are white in colour. As their name suggests they’re round, whereas tapeworms are flat. Tapeworms can grow up to 60 cm long. Both roundworms and tapeworms live in the cat’s intestines (along with two other types of smaller worm called whip worms and hookworms). These are parasitic worms that can live in the cat’s lungs, heart, stomach or bladder.
How are worms treated?
There are some highly effective treatments that will kill worms. Although not all the products are the same, some work against certain types of worms and others don’t. Your vet will be able to suggest to you which product is best for your cat. Worms are so common that it’s safe to assume that all kittens, cats with fleas, and animals which on a regular basis catch wildlife will be infected. Kittens should be treated with wormers every 2 weeks, from the age of 6to 16 weeks, and older cats should be treated about every 3 months. You should discuss with your vet the most appropriate treatment schedule for your pet.
How can I treat roundworms in my cat?
Immature worms can be passed from a mother to her kittens, whilst they’re still in the womb or via the milk. Roundworms grow in the intestine of young cats, laying thousands of eggs which pass out in the faeces . Most adult cats develop a level of immunity and don’t pass on the eggs but some continue to do so throughout their life. The eggs can survive for months or even years in the soil before infecting another animal. They find their way into a new host either directly, (when eaten by a cat) or indirectly, (after being swallowed by a rodent which is then eaten by the cat). Immature worms also survive in the tissues of an infected cat and can develop again if a female cat becomes pregnant.
Treatments for roundworms usually kill all adult worms in the intestine but don’t have any lasting effect. This means that cats can easily be re-infected. It is not easy to tell if an animal has been re-infected, so treatment should be given on a regular basis to remove any worms present. It is likely that young cats will have roundworms and so treatment should be started at 6 weeks of age and continued at the recommended interval for the product used until adulthood.
How can I treat tapeworms in my cat?
Tapeworms anchor themselves by their head to the intestine wall and grow a continuous ribbon of segments, each packed with eggs. The segments gradually break off and are passed out in the faeces. These segments look like grains of rice and may wriggle like a maggot for a short time before they dry up. The most common type of tapeworm moves on to a new cat by way of fleas. Immature fleas pick up infection from cat faeces and cats are then infected if they accidentally swallow an adult flea while grooming themselves. There is also a rarer type of tapeworm which uses mice, other rodents and rabbits to complete its life-cycle. This parasite lies inactive in the muscle or other organs of a small rodent or rabbit and cats are infected if they eat these animals.
How often should I treat my cat?
This depends on each cats individual circumstances. Some cats, ie indoor cats, may never be exposed to worms and so don’t need repeated treatments once worms have been eliminated as a kitten. The products usually used to treat worms do not have any persistent action so pets may become re-infected immediately after treatment. Most vets recommend treating pets every 3-6 months but cats that do a lot of hunting may need to be treated more frequently. You should ask your own vet for advice on the best way to control infection in your pet.
Are any other worms a problem?
There is a kind of roundworm (Angiostrongylus) that can live in the blood vessels of affected cats. Severe infection with this worm can cause lung disease and heart failure but also can result in problems with blood clotting. Some other worms that reside in the lungs or respiratory system can also cause coughing. Special tests are needed to identify infection with these parasites but they can be treated.
Hookworms and whip worms are rarely seen in pet cats in modern countries but may occasionally be seen where large numbers of cats are kept together. Infections with large numbers of worms may result in diarrhea and weight loss. Many of the routine drugs used for removing other worms are also effective against these.
How else can I prevent worms?
Apart from regularly worming your pets, there are a number of other measures which can stop worms being passed on from cat to cat, or from cat to people.
• If your cat uses the garden as a toilet, clean up the faeces and bury them or put them inside a sealed bag in the garbage.
• Check your cat for signs of fleas and treat them regularly using a product recommended by your vet. Fleas are more numerous during summer and autumn, although will survive all year round in the right conditions.
• Children will put their fingers and other objects into their mouths and this may bring them into contact with worm eggs. Make sure that they wash their hands after playing in any open areas which may have been used as a toilet by cats. Remember the greatest risk of children being infected with worms is from other children, not your cat.
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