What cat owners need to know about intestinal parasites
Most cats will get intestinal parasites at some time in their lives. Commonly called worms, there are several different types.
Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasites found in cats. They resemble 3- to 5-inch long spaghetti noodles and, once inside intestines, eat their food, stealing nutrients from their hosts. They also produce eggs that are moved out of the intestine in a cat's poop.
In the litter box they wait for another (or the same) cat to step on the poop. Later, when the kitty cleans his foot, he ingests the eggs. Cats can also get roundworms by eating mice infected with roundworms. Nursing kittens can get roundworms from their mother.
Roundworms can also be passed to people. Don't allow children to play in a sandbox also used by neighborhood cats as a litter box, and always wash your hands after cleaning the litter box.
Tapeworms are long and flat and variable in length -- from as short as a few inches to as long as a couple of feet -- in cats' intestines. Like roundworms, they rob cats of nutrition and are passed out of the body in feces, resembling grains of rice. These tiny worms might also be found stuck to fur around a cat's anal region.
Cats get tapeworms from the litter box, eating infected mice or from fleas that act as an intermediate host of tapeworms.
Hookworms are much smaller than roundworms and tapeworms. These intestinal parasites are less than an inch long and have hook-like teeth used to attach themselves to the intestines where they feed on a cat's blood, causing the intestines to bleed.
Because they are so small, hookworms won't be seen in the litter box, but if you notice blood in your kitty's poop or if it is black or tar-like, call your veterinarian. Anemia can be life-threatening.
Hookworms are passed from one cat to another through feces. Hookworms can also penetrate through a cat's skin and travel from the lungs to the intestines.
Symptoms of intestinal parasites vary depending on the specific parasite, but typical signs include diarrhea or constipation, vomiting, decreased appetite, weight loss, a bloated belly, and coughing or difficulty breathing. The more severe the infestation, the more severe the symptoms.
Treatment for eradicating worms is relatively simple. Your veterinarian will prescribe one of several effective medications. After treatment, signs of worms may be found in a cat's feces as his body rids itself of them, but they need not cause alarm.
Once treated, a follow-up fecal examination will be performed by your veterinarian to make sure they have all been eliminated so re-infestation does not occur.
The best way to prevent intestinal parasites is to keep cats indoors, clean the litter box often (especially in a multicat household), keep them on year-round flea prevention and have your veterinarian do a physical examination, including a fecal exam, annually.
• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire and Gilberts. Visit redbarnpetvet.com, or call (847) 683-4788 (Hampshire) or (847) 426-1000 (Gilberts).