Parasitic worms are very common in kittens and cats because cats pick up worm eggs by licking their fur or by eating prey such as rodents and insects. Light worm infestations may cause no obvious symptoms, but heavier infestations can lead to serious health problems and even death. Despite this, cat worms are easy to eliminate. Diagnosis by a veterinarian generally requires only a stool sample, and prescription worm medication provides safe and effective treatment.
Worms can impair a cat’s health by preventing it from absorbing nutrition from its food, causing loss of blood and damaging internal organs. Information from Bayer HealthCare Animal Health Division notes that humans can also become infected with cat worms, such as round worms and hook worms, and can contract diseases from these worms (See Resources).
Worms are classified by the organ they infest, such as the intestines, stomach, heart, lungs or skin. According to veterinarian Dr. Jim Euclid, intestinal worms are the most common. Types of intestinal worms cats can contract include round worms, tape worms, hook worms and whip worms (See Resources).
In very heavy infestations, worms can be seen in stool or vomit. Round worms are spaghetti-shaped and off-white. Tape worms are grow in flat, rectangular segments. Hook worms look similar to round worms, but are too small to see without a microscope. Worm eggs are also microscopic and not visible to the naked eye.
The symptoms of cat worms may cause no noticeable effects. A cat with a light infestation of round may show no symptoms or may have a poor quality coat be constantly hungry. Kittens with roundworms may be stunted or pot-bellied. Cats and kittens with tape worms may scoot along the floor or frequently lick the anal area. Hook worms can cause weakness, lethargy, and diarrhea. Both constant hunger and a poor appetite can be caused by worms, so appetite is a poor indicator.
Keeping your cat indoors, eliminating fleas, mice, roaches and other pests, and keeping the litter box area clean are the most effective ways to prevent worms in cats. Even cats that live in clean indoor areas can still get worms, though. A veterinarian can accurately detect worms from a stool sample, then prescribe a safe and effective wormer.
Kittens can be born with worms and may show no symptoms until the infestation is heavy. If you see worms in stool or vomit, the infection is serious and the cat’s health is at risk. A cat in this situation should be taken to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Over-the-counter wormers may work for light infestations, but also may have serious or even lethal side effects, especially in kittens. Worm medication prescribed by a veterinarian is the most reliable option.