Aside from the occasional hairball or vomit spewed on the hallway rug, few things turn your stomach like discovering your sweet little kitty has worms. And just as your stomach returns to its starting position, it gives another lurch upon learning that your cat can give these worms to you.
Discovering a mass of long, spaghetti-like worms in your cat's litter box could put you off Italian food for a while. But these roundworms are the most common parasitic worm in cats, which makes them a danger to you as well. Your cat gets these worms by eating infected prey, drinking tainted mother's milk or grooming himself after walking through egg-contaminated soil. The eggs hatch inside your cat, and the worms eventually mature and settle in his stomach and intestines. There they breed and release eggs, which are spread through your cat's poop. You could pick up these eggs as you toil in your garden or clean the litter boxes. One careless touch to your mouth, eyes or nose could send the eggs on a new journey.
As their name suggests, hookworms have a mouth full of hook-like teeth that latch onto the wall of the intestines and feed on blood. These nasty little freeloaders get into your cat through egg ingestion from contaminated soil, or from actual skin penetration as the worms burrow their way in through the pads of his feet. A few weeks later the worms pass their eggs through your cat's poop to perpetuate the cycle. Walking around barefoot in areas with contaminated soil leaves you just as vulnerable to worm attacks, and carelessly handling infected dirt or litter box contents exposes you to the eggs.
Tapeworms are the parasites that just keep on giving. Fleas are the intermittent carriers of these buggers, as the larval form of the little bloodsuckers apparently find tapeworm eggs delicious. When you cat eats the adult flea full of tapeworm eggs, the eggs hatch and travel to his intestines. There they latch on, mature and grow, adding new segments to their long bodies. The last segment is full of new eggs and will break off to pass with the cat's poop. Unsanitary handling of the litter box, or soil where infected outdoor cats do their business, could pass these hardened little rice-shaped tapeworm egg casings to you.
With the exception of burrowing hookworms – which is just nasty and ensures that you'll never leave the house barefoot again – every instance of cat-to-human parasitic worm transmission requires the ingestion of the worm's eggs. Unless you're in the habit of touching your face or putting your fingers in your mouth as you garden or clean litter boxes, you shouldn't have much to fear. Keep any young nieces or nephews away from these types of areas, however. Always wash your hands thoroughly after dealing with your cat or his litter box, and wear gloves as you garden. And keep your cat parasite free with a monthly dose of dewormer and stop the cycle before it starts.
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