While many people think of worms as a condition that typically only affects kittens, cats of any age can get worms. This is true whether your cats live indoors, go outside sometimes or stay outside all the time.
Several types of worms can affect cats, and although some of the symptoms are different according to the type of worm, they all share some symptoms.
If your cat has symptoms of worms, you’ll need to take the cat to your veterinarian to determine which type of worm is present, and therefore which treatment is appropriate. For the purposes of this article, we’ll take a look at 4 common types of worms in cats.
Roundworms, known as Toxascaris leonine or Toxocara cati, are a type of parasite that commonly infests cats — and yes, they can be spread to humans.
Roundworms may be anywhere from 2 to 4 inches long. They are light in color, typically tan or white, and their ends are tapered. If you see what appear to be strands of spaghetti in your cat’s stool or in vomit, it is likely an infestation of roundworms.
How do I know if my cat has roundworms? Check for 1 or more of the following symptoms:
- A very full or pot-bellied appearance that occurs in a short amount of time
- Regular vomiting
- Frequent loose stools or diarrhea
- A decrease in energy or activity
Kittens will sometimes get roundworms when they are nursing as a result of roundworm larvae in the mammary glands of their mother. A cat of any age can get roundworms by swallowing the eggs containing larvae; the cat typically eats the host containing the eggs. Common roundworm hosts include birds, rodents, roaches and earthworms.
Roundworms can be treated using a deworming product prescribed by your cat’s veterinarian.
Tapeworms, or Dipylidium caninum, are another type of worm commonly found in cats. Fleas carry tapeworms, so infestation from tapeworms is typically a side effect of a flea infestation.
Tapeworms are quite visible, and appear in the cat’s stool or in the fur surrounding its tail. Segments of the tapeworm break off and pass through the cat’s stool, and these have a small, rice-like appearance. Inside the body, a tapeworm can grow several inches long.
How do I know if my cat has tapeworms? Symptoms of an infestation include:
- Weight loss — minor to severe
- The appearance of tapeworm segments in stool or attached to the cat’s tail or fur around its anus
As mentioned above, cats get tapeworms from fleas. Young fleas, or larvae, eat tapeworm eggs and then grow into adults. If your cat ends up swallowing the flea when licking at flea bites or chewing on the skin, the tapeworm exits the flea and attaches itself to your cat’s intestinal lining, where it grows.
Tiny segments detach from the tapeworm and are released in your cat’s stool; a cat may vomit up a larger portion of the tapeworm on occasion.
Tapeworms can be treated using a deworming product prescribed by your vet; however, since fleas carry tapeworms, adult fleas, larvae and eggs should also be killed and your pet’s bedding should be treated to prevent another occurrence.
In the video below, Greg Martinez, DVM, explains more:
Hookworms, or Ancylostoma braziliense, are not visible to the human eye, unlike most other types of parasites. They are thin and grow to about 1/8-inch long.
Hookworms can be transmitted from cats to humans if they walk in an infested area with bare feet; the hookworms can burrow into the skin of the feet and enter the digestive tract. They feed on the blood of the cat, which can cause anemia. This is especially dangerous for kittens because anemia in a small animal can cause death.
How do I know if my cat has hookworms? Most adult cats will not exhibit symptoms from hookworms because they become immune to them, but kittens may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Blood appearing in the kitten’s stool
- Frequent loose stool or diarrhea
- Pain in the abdomen
- Weakness or lethargy
A cat typically gets hookworms from eggs found in stool on the ground, as a hookworm will lay hundreds of eggs that will then pass to the stool. The hookworm larvae, once hatched, will remain in the stool for weeks. If the cat steps in the infected stool, the hookworm larvae may stick to the cat’s feet; grooming of the feet will allow the hookworm to enter through the mouth of the cat, where it will travel to the intestines. Hookworms can also burrow into a cat’s skin and then proceed to the intestine.
After only 2 to 3 weeks, the larvae are mature enough to produce eggs of their own, producing more larvae. Kittens can also get hookworms from nursing if the mother’s milk is infected with hookworms.
Hookworms can be treated with a deworming product prescribed by a veterinarian; 2 or more treatments may be necessary to kill the adult hookworms and the larvae after they hatch.
4. Stomach Worms
Stomach worms, known as Physaloptera or Ollanulus tricuspis, are a less common type of parasite that infects cats. Most infestations occur as a result of a cat eating the vomit of an infected animal.
How do I know if my cat has stomach worms? These parasites are small, typically less than half an inch in length, and are not usually visible externally in a cat’s stool. Symptoms include:
- Moderate to severe vomiting
- Rapid weight loss
- Decrease in activity or lethargy
Ollulanus tricuspis infections are rarely seen in the United States, but infestations can occur when a large number of cats are housed in a single area. Physaloptera infestations are more common, and result from a cat either eating the vomit of another infected cat or eating a host for the parasite.
Common hosts for stomach worms include rodents, cockroaches, crickets, beetles and grubs. Stomach worms can be treated using a deworming product prescribed by your veterinarian. As the worms die, they will pass through your cat’s stool, as will the eggs killed by the treatment. Within 2 weeks, symptoms should subside.