If your cat has worms, they might seem perfectly happy and healthy. Meanwhile, parasites are multiplying inside their gut, stealing their precious nutrients and even their blood in some cases.
The symptoms of worms in cats and kittens differ depending on the type of worm infection they have. Usually your vet will want to pinpoint which species of worm is present so they can provide the right treatment.
You can help by regularly worming your cat and looking out for some of the tell-tale signs of infection.
Is my cat at risk?
All cats of all ages around the world can pick up worms, but those that hunt are at particular risk. Small rodents, such as mice, shrews and voles, as well as birds, can be carriers of intestinal parasites. Once a cat eats its prey, it can become infected.
Even kittens are not immune as roundworm larvae can be passed on in their mother’s milk and they can contract tapeworm from fleas. And, just because a cat spends its life indoors, it doesn’t mean it’s safe, fleas carrying tapeworm can easily migrate on people’s clothing and other animals into the house.
Symptoms of worms in cats
Roundworms and tapeworms are by far the most common worms found in cats, but there are many types of worms found in the UK, each causing similar but distinct symptoms.
These are long and round, as their name suggests, looking a bit like spaghetti but with a pointed end. Although their eggs are passed out in your cat’s faeces, roundworm eggs are so small that they’re not visible to the naked eye and you would never know they were there.
These unpleasant invaders can cause:
- Weight loss, despite a normal or increased appetite
- A dull coat
- Lack of energy or lethargy
- A swollen or distended belly (in severe cases and particularly in kittens)
Unlike roundworm eggs, you can easily see tapeworm segments passed in faeces with the naked eye. Tapeworms have long, ribbon-like bodies that are cream-coloured and often their egg sacs can be shed in cat’s faeces, which look like grains of rice. The worms live in your cat’s gut, feeding on their nutrients.
While mainly older cats are affected, kittens can also be affected via ingesting an infected flea. Often cats will show no symptoms at all, but common signs to look out for include:
- Increased appetite
- Overly cleaning or washing the area around its bottom
- Small segments of worms or rice-looking grains in the fur around the bottom
Although not as common as tapeworms and roundworms, pet owners should be vigilant against hookworms. They feed off the blood of the cat via the small intestine, which can lead to anaemia. In extreme cases, they can be fatal, especially in kittens. If a cat has previously been exposed to hookworm, adults may have some immunity towards these parasites, so they often don’t show any symptoms.
Common signs to look out for include:
- Blood in your cat’s stool
- Abdominal pain
As the name suggests, these nasty critters live in cat’s lungs. Luckily, they are less common and are rarely fatal (unlike in dogs). However, they can cause breathing problems and lung damage.
The parasite is carried by slugs and snails and is usually passed on to cats when they eat another animal, like a bird or rodent, that’s eaten an infected mollusc. Naturally, cats that hunt or are in contact with slugs and snails are most at risk.
Common signs to look out for include:
- Difficulty breathing
If you spot any of these symptoms or if you’re at all concerned about your cat’s health, you should speak to your vet.
What are the long-term effects of worms in cats?
Because worms are parasites that feed on your cat’s nutrients and, in some cases their blood, cats can develop a host of health problems, such as anaemia. In severe cases of worm infestations, they can block the intestines, causing very serious health issues. In rare cases, worms can be fatal, especially for kittens.
Worms are everywhere and no matter if your cat stays inside all day or is newly born, they are at risk. The only way to be sure your cat is fully protected is to regularly worm them, preventing worms from causing health problems.
There is a huge range of worming products available to treat infected cats and help prevent an infestation. These are targeted towards different types of worms and for different types of application, oral products such as worm tablets, pastes, powders, or syrups, and spot-on drops that are placed on the neck near the base of the skull.
Some products cover against both roundworm and tapeworm, while others will only treat one specific type of worm.
Don’t forget to treat for fleas
Some fleas carry worms, so anywhere they go, the risk of parasites goes too. Cats should be treated for fleas every month, so worming at roughly the same time helps reduce the likelihood of tapeworm eggs being ingested by your cat via an infected flea.
What else can I do to reduce the risk of worms?
Regularly worming your cat is by far the best way to avoid an infection, but you can also help reduce the risk by:
- Regularly disinfecting litter trays
- Washing your cat’s bedding as often as possible
- Picking up cat faeces from outside toileting areas and disposing of them safely
- Avoiding raw or undercooked meat diets
You should also ensure children wash their hands thoroughly if they’ve been in a garden cats have access to. This is because in rare cases roundworms can infect humans, which can lead to blindness, particularly in children.
Remember, getting your cat regularly wormed every three months or more is the best protection against these parasites. If you have any concerns, you should always speak to your vet.