Why You Need To Worm Your Cat
Intestinal worms are highly infectious and are picked up by your cat from the ground, through the skin or via a kitten’s mother. Once infected, your cat’s health will be affected in some way, especially kittens. Worms can also infect people, particularly children, with serious consequences.
How can I tell if my cat has worms?
Signs of intestinal worm infection vary depending on the type of worm, but can include:
- Change in appetite and a poor coat
- ‘Pot-belly’ appearance, especially in kittens
- Weight loss
- Diarrhoea and/or vomiting
- Anaemia (pale skin and gums)
- Worm segments, which look like rice grains, in droppings and around the anus
- Continual licking of anal area
- Death in severe cases
Hookworms are small worms that burrow into the pet’s intestinal wall and suck blood, causing weakness, anaemia, bloody diarrhoea and death in kittens, or a slower onset of weight loss and weakness. Infection can take place by ingestion of eggs in the soil, through the skin or through the mother’s milk in kittens. The hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin of humans, causing an itchy dermatitis.
Cats become infected with roundworm by swallowing eggs from the environment or by eating infected mice, birds and beetles. Kittens can be infected via their mother’s milk immediately after birth. Adult worms in the intestine are quite long – up to 10cm, and cause intestinal blockage which may display as reduced appetite. The main sign of ‘wormy’ kittens is failure to grow (ill-thrift), a ‘pot-belly’ appearance and death in severe cases.
Humans can accidentally ingest infective eggs from both dog and cat droppings that attach to dirt, bedding and feed bowls. This can cause a serious disease, Visceral Larva Migrans (VLM), especially in children who are in frequent contact with their pets and the soil in backyards. Migrating larvae hatched from the infected eggs cause damage to the liver and occasionally the eyes or nervous system.
Flea tapeworms are a common parasite in dogs and cats and are spread by fleas. Part of the tapeworm’s lifecycle develops in fleas and when a cat eats an infected flea (mostly during grooming) the tapeworm develops in the animal’s intestine.
The tapeworm can be up to 50cm long, but usually only single segments (containing eggs) that look like rice grains are seen in the cat’s faeces or around the tail and anus, causing itchiness and continual licking. Infection is not usually serious and people are rarely infected.
Other tapeworms in cats include Taenia taeniaeformis and Spirometra erinacei (Zipper worm) – these may be a problem in outdoor cats that regularly hunt rodents, lizards and other wildlife. Hydatid tapeworms do not occur in cats.
How often do I need to worm my cat?
Regular worming is essential – once is not enough. While treatment kills worms present in the intestine at the time, re-infections can occur from other pets and the environment. 3-monthly application for adult cats kills all infective stages of the relevant intestinal worms in cats in Australia.
Kittens need to be wormed at 6, 8, and 12 weeks then every 3 months. Pregnant and lactating queens should be treated prior to mating, ten days before kittening, and two to four weeks after kittening.
Tablets, spot-ons and pastes are commonly used and the most effective ones are available from your vet. Several products on the market are multi-purpose so they will also control other parasites such as fleas, ticks, heartworm, lice and mites.
Not all worming medications kill all worms. Please check the label or talk to your vet for the best worming advice concerning your cat.
Tips for worm prevention
- Always wash your hands after playing with your pet to prevent ingesting any worm eggs on the animal’s coat
- Worm eggs live for a long time in the soil, so always wash your hands after working or playing in your yard – wear gloves if possible
- Avoid letting cats lick you and your family members on or near the face
- Remove cat and dog droppings from your yard and litter trays regularly using gloves
- Clean bedding and feed bowls regularly
- Worm any other pets in the household when you worm your cats
- Control fleas on all of your pets
Contributor: Dr Julia Adams BVSc