Yuck! Intestinal parasites, commonly known as worms, are one of the most unpleasant parts of cat guardianship. Worm infections are most common with a newly adopted cat, but even the most pampered kitty will sometimes get one of the common types. Treatment and routine de-worming medications will stop recurrence.
Tapeworms are one of two kinds of intestinal parasites you're likely to see in your cat's stool or on his bottom. The other kinds are microscopic. Tapeworms look like pieces of flattened rice. In most instances, there are no symptoms of tapeworms; however, a few cats may experience weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea. Consult with your veterinarian about diagnosis and treatment. Medications to treat tapeworms in cats are available from your veterinarian or in over-the-counter products available at pet supply stores. The most common way cats get tapeworms is by swallowing an infected flea. It's important to treat your cat for fleas at the time you give the de-worming medication and to use follow-up maintenance flea prevention.
Roundworms are the second type of intestinal parasite you'll see in your cat's stool, and sometimes in his vomit. Roundworms look like pieces of cooked spaghetti. These disgusting parasites are the most common intestinal worm in cats and are very common in kittens. The most likely way cats get roundworms is by eating infected rodents. If a mother cat is infected with roundworms, her kittens can become infected through her milk. Kittens often develop a distended belly, but are thin otherwise, when infected with roundworms. Other symptoms include coughing, vomiting and diarrhea. Consult with your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment if you suspect Kitty has roundworms.
Hookworms are less common in cats than tapeworms and roundworms. Most often you will not see hookworms in your cat's stool. They are usually so tiny a fecal test is necessary for diagnosis. In a fecal test, your veterinarian will take a sample of your cat's stool and examine it under the microscope. Cats get hookworms by swallowing the parasite larvae. Symptoms are black, tarry stool, occasionally blood in the stool, and in some case, anemia. Hookworm infection can cause serious illness if it goes untreated. Your veterinarian can provide prescription treatment or recommend an over-the-counter product.
There are other types of intestinal parasites that can infect cats, but these are much less common. Cats can become infected with whipworms and stomach worms. Giardia and coccidia, while not actually "worms," are other types of intestinal parasites that sometimes infect cats and produce similar symptoms. Both are protozoa that produce diarrhea. Infections of both usually resolve themselves without treatment in healthy adult cats, but can be life-threatening if not treated in kittens, elderly cats and cats with weakened immune systems. Toxoplasma is another protozoa that commonly infects cats, but rarely causes disease.
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.