Cats can get different types of worms that can affect their health; not all are visible. You or your veterinarian can detect some types of worms by looking at a stool sample. Common worm types are roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms and heartworms. Ringworm is a fungus, not a worm.
Roundworms are white or brown and are several inches long. Their length can vary from 2 to 5 inches. You can see them in stool or vomit. Your cat might have them if she has been losing weight but has a potbelly. Kittens are most susceptible to roundworms, but adult cats and people can get them, too.
Tapeworms are whitish-yellow and have a head and many body segments. They resemble grains of rice. These segments can break off as the worm grows in the cat’s body. The segments pass through the body in the feces. Tapeworms can be 4 to 24 inches long. They are visible in the stool. You can sometimes see tapeworms moving around your cat’s anus.
Hookworms are small, thin worms with a hooklike mouthpart that attaches to a cat’s intestinal wall. Although cats can get hookworms, dogs are more likely to get them. You can’t see hookworms. A veterinarian who examines fecal matter in a laboratory does the diagnosis. Symptoms that your cat might have hookworms are a dull coat, pale gums and weakness. Advanced stages of hookworm disease include black tarry stool.
Whipworms resemble pieces of thread with one enlarged end. Whipworms are more common in dogs than cats. You can’t see whipworms; they are also difficult for a veterinarian to diagnose because not all stool samples contain whipworm eggs.
Heartworms look like spaghetti, but you can’t see them because they live in the pulmonary arteries or the heart. Your vet can determine whether your cat has them through a blood test, an X-ray or an ultrasound. Symptoms that indicate your cat might have heartworms include coughing, difficulty breathing, weight loss, vomiting and seizures.
About Seeing Worms
Although you can see some types of worms, namely roundworms and tapeworms, you typically can’t see most worms. The best way to determine whether your cat has them is through a veterinarian’s examination. You can treat worms using a dewormer, and you can prevent many cases of feline worms through a year-round preventive medicine program.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.