Worms & your cat

Are there different sorts of worms?

The most common intestinal worms affecting cats are roundworms and tapeworms. Most infected cats do not show signs of having worms; however, heavy burdens of worms can cause weight loss, vomiting and diarrhoea, irritation around the anus and failure to thrive.

Importantly, while worms can sometimes cause problems for the cat itself, some worms can also be passed on to humans and on rare occasions can be a cause of serious human disease. For these reasons, regular treatment of cats and kittens to prevent or eliminate worms is very important.

Roundworms

Intestinal roundworms are the most common intestinal parasites in cats and occur in cats of all ages throughout the world.

The two common roundworms of cats are called Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonina. Eggs from these worms are passed in the faeces and can remain viable in the environment for several years.

These eggs can infect other cats in two ways. First, a cat may eat (ingest) eggs directly from a contaminated environment. Second, if another animal eats the eggs (e.g. a mouse or rat), these can act as ‘intermediate hosts’ and pass on the infection to a cat if it preys on (and eats) the infected intermediate host.

Toxocara cati is also passed from queens to kittens through the milk she produces. Whenever a cat is infected with roundworms, some larvae remain dormant in tissues in the body. This usually causes no harm, but when a female cat becomes pregnant, these larvae migrate to the mammary glands and are excreted in the milk she produces for the kittens. This is a very common route of infection and we should assume that every kitten will be infected with Toxocara cati as a result.

In most cases, regular routine treatment for roundworms is recommended throughout a cat’s life. However, to determine if a cat is actually infected with worms, a faecal sample can be submitted for parasitology.

Other gastro-intestinal roundworms that may infect cats in various parts of the world include:

  • Ollulanus tricuspis (found in the stomach)
  • Gnathostoma spp
  • Physaloptera spp
  • Strongyloides spp

Tapeworms

Tapeworms are generally long flat worms composed of many segments. Mature segments containing eggs are released from the end of the tapeworm and are passed in the faeces. These segments often resemble grains of rice and can sometimes be seen on the hair around the anus of the cat, in the faeces and on the cat’s bed.

To complete their life-cycle, all tapeworms require an intermediate host to first eat the eggs from the environment, and then the cat will become infected by eating the intermediate host. Animals that act as intermediate hosts vary depending on the species of tapeworm. The most common tapeworms that infect cats worldwide are Dipylidium caninum and Taenia taeniaeformis.

Dipylidium caninum is transmitted to cats by fleas. The immature flea larvae ingest the eggs of the worm, but infection is then passed on to a cat when it swallows an infected flea during grooming. It should be assumed that any cat infected with fleas also has Dipylidium caninum (and vice versa).

Taenia taeniaeformis is passed on to when they eat small rodents (rats and mice), the rodents having eaten eggs from the environment. This infection occurs very commonly in cats that hunt.

Other tapeworms that occur in some countries include:

  • Diphylobothrium latum (fish are intermediate hosts)
  • Spirometra spp (amphibian, reptiles and rodents are intermediate hosts)
  • Diplopylidium spp (reptiles are intermediate hosts)
  • Joyeuxiella spp (reptiles are intermediate hosts)
  • Echinococcus multilocularis (rodents are intermediate hosts)

Hookworms

Hookworms are a type of small intestinal roundworm found in most countries throughout the world, but are more common in some countries than others. These worms can cause damage to the lining of the intestine where they attach to the surface, and this may result in weight loss, bleeding and anaemia.

Cats may be infected by ingestion eggs from the environment, from eating an infected intermediate host (as with Toxocara catiabove) or by the larvae in the environment burrowing through the cat’s skin. Common cat hookworms include Ancylostoma tubaeforme, and Uncinaria stenocephala, but other species occur in some countries.

Other worms

In addition to intestinal worms, cats can be infected with a variety of other worms in other sites of the body, although often these worms are not present in all regions of the world. These include:

  • Dirofilaria immitis – heartworm
  • Aelurostrongylus abstrusus – lungworm
  • Capillaria spp– lungworm
  • Thelazia callipaeda – eyeworm

Worming treatments for your cat

While worming products may be available from pet shops and even some supermarkets, these are often old or less effective products and some are even less safe to use in cats.

A worming treatment for cats will depend on their lifestyle. We can recommend an effective treatment for your cat so call in to us and we can advise you on the most suitable product.

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