If you have a kitten, you need to understand worms. Chances are, if she doesn't have worms yet, your kitten will contract them at some point. Once worms infect a cat, the cat passes eggs in her feces or vomit. These eggs in the environment can infect other cats.
Kittens needn't venture into the big, wild world to contract worms. They get them much closer to home: through their mothers. If their mother is infected with roundworms or hookworms, for example, and the kittens nurse from her, larvae pass from the milk into the kittens, infecting them. A mama cat who brings "meals" -- mice, moles or birds, in other words -- to older kittens also introduces worm eggs into the environment.
The most common way kittens get worms is through what they eat. When a kitten with fleas grooms herself, there's a chance she'll accidentally swallow a flea. If that flea has been feeding on tapeworm eggs, the eggs pass on to the kitten. If that's not gross enough, kittens also get worms through the ingestion of infected feces and vomit. This can happen intentionally or accidentally. A kitten who accidentally steps into poo and then grooms herself could pick up roundworms at the same time. If she eats something thrown up by another infected kitty, there's a chance she'll get stomach worms. Finally, if the kitten gets hold of a bird or rodent that's infected, she can contract tapeworms, hookworms or roundworms.
There's a special, and especially gross, way for kittens to get worms -- through their skin. This occurs with hookworms, and is especially troubling since there's a chance you could become infected in a similar way from hookworm larvae. This is most common in adult cats, but a kitten who comes into contact with hookworm larvae can suffer a similar fate. The hookworm burrows into the skin and travels to the lungs of the kitten. From the lungs, it moves to the intestines.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There's no easy way to put this, but worms can be fatal for kittens if left untreated. A mass of roundworms, for example, can cause an intestinal blockage. Hookworms and tapeworms cause blood loss that leads to anemia. It's imperative that you bring all kittens to a veterinarian. Whether you see the signs of worm infestation or not -- diarrhea, vomiting, bloated tummy, dull coat -- kittens need to be dewormed. A qualified veterinarian can detect most infestations with a stool sample. Treatment typically involves a course of medication. If caught and treated early, worms can be eliminated without harming the kitten.