Even newborn kittens can have worms and other parasites. They pick up these nasty creatures from Mama's milk, fleas or by exposure to feces. Needless to say, these parasites make kittens sick. It's important to get kittens on a regular deworming program for a good start in life.
How can such adorable little things be so full of parasites? Much depends on mother cat's health. If she's infected with roundworms, she can pass the larvae on to her kittens through her milk. Hookworms pass to kittens the same way, although older kittens might get them from eating infected rodents. Tapeworms get into kittens via fleas. One-celled protozoa can also cause harm to kittens. The most common include giardia, which kittens pick up from infected feces, and coccidia, which kittens get from feces or soil.
Kittens with a severe worm infestation can become seriously ill. Most worms cause diarrhea, vomiting and lethargy in kittens. Hookworms also cause anemia, which can kill kittens. Roundworms cause a potbellied appearance, but that big belly isn't from milk or food -- it's the worms inside the kitten. If the kitten vomits, he may actually cough up worms.
Protozoan Parasite Symptoms
Kittens infected with coccidia usually experience serious diarrhea, which can quickly lead to dehydration. Mucus or blood might show up in the loose stools. If a kitten has a severe case of coccidiosis, he'll throw up and stop eating. If not treated promptly, he could die. Kittens infected with giardia also have diarrhea, which might be constant or on and off.
To determine what types of worms are infecting your kitten, your vet takes a stool sample and mixes it into a solution that causes worm eggs to float to the top. She can detect the worm eggs by putting a sample of the solution on a slide and looking at it under a microscope. With tapeworms, both you and the vet might see small, rice-like segments of the worm in the kitten's feces. Stool samples also determine the presence of giardia or coccidia.
According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council's general guidelines, kittens should be dewormed "starting at 2 weeks, repeating every two weeks until 2 months of age, and then monthly until the pet is 6 months old." Your vet will recommend a broad-spectrum dewormer that's safe for kittens. Kittens over the age of 6 weeks can receive the topical anti-flea and dewormer Revolution, which gets rid of roundworms, hookworms and ear mites. Drontal rids kittens of tapeworms. Protozoal parasites are a different story. Your vet will prescribe a medication that doesn't kill coccidia, but makes them stop reproducing. The drug of choice is sulfadimethoxine. Giardia is tough to get rid of, but wormers containing fenbendazole, sold under the brand name Panacur, can eliminate them eventually.
While you might not be able to keep kittens 100 percent parasite-free, there are ways to prevent infestation. If you're caring for a pregnant cat, ask your vet about a wormer safe for use during gestation. Keep the mother cat inside, so she can't pick up parasites from the soil or from hunting. Keep her on an effective flea medication, again checking with your vet about safe flea control for pregnant felines. Once the kittens arrive, keep the area in which they are living scrupulously clean, cleaning litter boxes daily. Make sure mama cat and her kitties receive regular veterinary attention.
- VetInfo: Understanding Kitten Worms -- Symptoms and Treatments
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats
- Petside: Parasites and Deworming Your New Kitten
- Cat World: Coccidiosis in Cats - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Roundworms in Cats
- Mar Vista Vet: Roundworms in Cats and Kittens
- Companion Animal Parasite Council: CAPC General Guidelines
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