If your kitty has picked up some worms, your first shocked realization may come when you notice something unusual in her fur or litter box. Visible worms that can infest your cat include roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms. Your cat can pick up these parasites outdoors or from other household pets.
The scientific name for the roundworm is Toxocara cati, and it's one of the most common intestinal worms in cats. These parasites make themselves at home in a cat’s intestines, where they can grow up to 5 inches long. Cats get roundworms through contact with egg-laden feces or by eating an infected rodent. Nursing kittens can acquire them from an infected mother. T. cati looks something like a strand of cooked spaghetti. Cats may pass roundworms in their stool or vomit. In either case, these worms are easily visible.
Tapeworms such as cestodes and Taenia are parasitic flatworms with segmented bodies. Cats pick up tapeworms from ingesting fleas, prey, or uncooked meat. The tapeworm takes up residence in the small intestine, burying its head in the lining, where it can conveniently absorb partially digested food as it passes by. The tapeworm's many egg-filled segments mature in sequence, starting with the one farthest from the worm’s head. The mature segment breaks off and passes out of the cat’s body in with the feces. The released segments are easy to see in the droppings, and some may cling under the cat's tail. They look like grains of rice, and they may wiggle a bit.
Various species of hookworms can infect cats when they eat an infected rodent or otherwise ingest the larvae. These parasites dig their heads into the lining of the cat’s small intestine and hang there, feeding on blood and chewing on the intestinal lining, and then they move to a new spot and start over. To feed, they inject an anti-coagulant, so each wound keeps bleeding. An infested kitten can quickly become anemic and die. These worms are very thin and are only about a half-inch long, so it takes careful observation, and maybe a magnifying glass, to spot them.
Without proper precautions, people can acquire worms from their pets. In people, worms may cause problems ranging from skin rashes to blindness. Even easily visible types of worms, such as roundworms and tapeworms, often can go undetected in your pet, and some types of worms can't be detected without the help of your veterinarian. To properly deal with parasites, discuss with your vet the best program for protecting your cat. Regular veterinary visits for pets, plus hand-washing and reasonable sanitation practices, make it very unlikely that a person will get worms from a cat.
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.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats
- Cats.org: Fleas and Other Parasites
- University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine: Roundworms
- Web MD: Healthy Cats: Worms in Cats: An Infection of Intestinal Parasites
- Pet Informed: Flea Tapeworm Lifecycle