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How Do Cats Get Worms?

Small Animal Veterinarian, Writer | + posts

Dr. Alison Birken, DVM & Co-founder of foreverfreckled.com, is the founder & lead veterinarian at Victoria Park Animal Hospital.

In my practice, I have seen it all! From upper respiratory disease to intestinal blockages – you should see some of the items I’ve removed from cats’ stomachs over the years! – and even skin disease and seasonal allergies. With more than 15 years in the business of treating pets, nothing makes me squirm anymore.

But there’s one diagnosis that always seems to make my pet parents squeamish: gastrointestinal parasites AKA “worms.” YUCK!

Just the thought of parasites living in a cat’s GI tract really elicits an emotional response from cat parents. Yet, it is such a common diagnosis and one veterinarians treat and prevent routinely. Especially in South Florida, where I practice veterinary medicine, gastrointestinal parasites in cats are common!

So today I wanted to discuss 4 of the most common types of worms in cats, how to diagnose and treat them, and most importantly, how to prevent health issues associated with these common worms.

So let’s get started.

1. Hookworms

What are Hookworms and how does my cat become infected?

Hookworms are intestinal parasites that infect your cat’s intestinal tract by contact or ingestion  of larvae (baby hookworms) in a contaminated environment. The parasite attaches to the lining of your cat’s intestinal tract and feeds on the blood of your cat. These parasites will reproduce inside your pet forming eggs that are excreted through your cat’s poop. The eggs hatch into larvae (young hookworms) and live in the soil. Once in the larval stage, hookworms can invade your cat through contact (penetration through the skin), eating contaminated dirt or soil, or licking fur (cleaning). 

Will hookworms affect my cat?

Hookworms feed on the blood of your cat resulting in blood loss and anemia. These parasites can be a serious threat to young, malnourished kittens that may not be able to survive the blood loss without a transfusion and extensive hospitalization and care. In addition to blood loss, hookworms can cause diarrhea and weight loss in adult cats.

How does my cat get diagnosed with hookworms?

Hookworms in cats are diagnosed with a routine fecal test. A sample of your pet’s poop will be examined under a microscope for hookworm eggs as well as hookworm antigen (a protein on the surface of a hookworm parasite) to check for a positive infection.

How do I treat hookworm parasites in my cat?

Fortunately, hookworms in cats are easily treated with a broad spectrum antiparasitic called Pyrantel Pamoate. Speak with your veterinarian regarding the proper dosing protocol to treat hookworms. Your veterinarian will check for parasites again with a follow-up fecal test after deworming. 

How do I prevent my cat from becoming infected with hookworms?

Ensuring your pet’s surroundings are clean and free of contamination is one step in preventing hookworm infection.

I always suggest deworming for hookworms at 6-to-8 and 10-to-12 weeks of age. Kittens are at high risk of hookworm infection, and it is always best to routinely deworm them.

The most effective way of preventing hookworm infection is having your veterinarian perform a routine fecal test once or twice a year. A routine examination is an easy and effective way to detect intestinal parasites early and treat or prevent infection.

Can humans become infected with hookworms?

These intestinal parasites are routinely found in cats, kittens and puppies, and are passed into the environment through your pet’s stool.

People can pick up hookworms through their skin by walking barefoot or playing outside. A young child may also accidentally eat the worm eggs from a contaminated environment. These parasites can live a long time in soil, so they may easily be picked up in the dirt on playgrounds or sandboxes if cats frequent those areas. After playing outside, children should wash their hands well before eating or putting their dirt-covered hands in their mouths!

Hookworms can cause painful and itchy skin infections or abdominal symptoms in humans.

If you or your child experience any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. Some infestations do not need medical treatment, but more severe cases that affect specific organs (eyes, lungs, etc.) may need medical attention.

As with all parasitic infestations, prevention is key! Wash hands before eating and after playing with animals or in dirt where pets also play.  

2. Roundworms

What are roundworms, and how does my cat become infected?

Roundworms are intestinal parasites that infect your cat’s intestinal tract by drinking their mother’s milk as a kitten, contact with or digestion of larvae (baby roundworms) in a contaminated environment, or eating an infected animal, like a mouse. Roundworm parasites in cats are the most common type of worm we diagnose and treat! 

The parasite attaches to the lining of the intestinal tract and feeds on the blood of your cat. These parasites will reproduce inside the intestinal tract and form eggs that are passed through your cat’s feces. The eggs hatch into roundworm larvae (young roundworms) and live in the soil. Reinfection can then occur by digestion of contaminated dirt or soil.

Will roundworms affect my cat?

Many pets may not show signs of a roundworm infection. Some cats, especially kittens, may experience diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, a dull hair coat, and pot bellied appearance. 

How does my cat get diagnosed with roundworms?

Roundworms in cats are diagnosed with a routine fecal test. A sample of your pet’s poop will be examined under a microscope for roundworm eggs as well as roundworm antigen (a protein on the surface of a roundworm parasite) to check  for a positive infection. 

How do I treat roundworms in my cat?

Fortunately, roundworms in cats are easily treated with a broad spectrum antiparasitic called Pyrantel Pamoate. Speak with your veterinarian regarding the proper dosing protocol to treat roundworms. They will also run a follow-up fecal test after deworming to ensure the parasites are gone. 

How do I prevent my cat from becoming infected with roundworms?

Ensuring your pet’s surroundings are clean and free of contamination by removing poop from the litter box or outdoor areas regularly is one step in preventing roundworm infection and reinfection. If you have a cat that spends time outside, you should keep an eye on them to make sure they’re not hunting or eating wild animals. 

I always suggest kittens be dewormed at 6-to-8 and 10-to-12 weeks of age. Kittens are at high risk of roundworm infection, and it is always best to routinely deworm them.

Again, the most effective way of preventing roundworm infection is through a routine fecal test. Whether your cat is showing clinical signs or not, it is important to have their poop examined annually for parasites. Testing is an easy and effective way to detect intestinal parasites early and treat or prevent infection.

Can humans become infected with roundworms?

These intestinal parasites are routinely found in cats, kittens, and puppies, and are passed into the environment through their stool.

It sounds really gross, but people can become infected by accidentally consuming contaminated soil or feces! A young child may also accidentally eat worm eggs from a contaminated environment. Children can get the worms on their hands while playing in dirt where cats poop on playgrounds or in sandboxes – and we all know where those hands go next…right in the mouth! You child should always wash their hands well after playing outside and before eating or putting their hands in their mouth.Roundworm infections may cause no symptoms in some people, but  nerve or eye damage in others. If you or a loved one experience these symptoms out of the blue, you should consult your primary care physician as soon as possible.

3. Tapeworms

What are tapeworms, and how does my cat become infected?

Tapeworms are long, flat intestinal parasites that attach themselves to your cat’s intestines. Tapeworms have multiple segments (proglottids), each with their own reproductive organs.

Cats become infected by ingesting an intermediate host (another mammal that is infected with the tapeworm parasite). 

There are different species of tapeworms. Dipylidium caninum is a tapeworm found in an infected flea, whereas Taenia and Echinococcus species use small rodents (mice, rats, squirrels), rabbits, or large animals (such as deer or sheep) as their intermediate hosts.

How will tapeworms affect my cat?

Cats infected with tapeworms usually do not show signs of illness.

How does my cat get diagnosed with tapeworms?

Most of the time, pet parents diagnose tapeworms themselves by finding segments (which appear as small white worms that may look like grains of rice or seeds) on the rear end of the cat, in the cat’s poop, or where the cat lives and sleeps (gross, I know!).

Tapeworms in cats can also be diagnosed with a routine fecal test. A sample of your pet’s feces will be examined under a microscope for microscopic tapeworm eggs as well as tapeworm antigen (a protein on the surface of a tapeworm parasite) to assess for infection. Identification of either eggs or the antigen indicates a positive infection. 

How do I treat tapeworms in my cat?

Fortunately, tapeworms in cats are easily treated. One-time injection of praziquantel (an anti-parasitic) will resolve tapeworm infections. Your veterinarian will run a follow-up fecal test after the worming treatment to ensure the parasites are gone. 

How do I prevent my cat from becoming infected with tapeworms?

Ensuring your pet is on an effective monthly flea preventative is essential in preventing tapeworm disease in cats. Try to keep your cat from contacting any animals that may carry tapeworm eggs or larvae.

The most effective way to prevent tapeworm disease is through a routine fecal test. Whether your cat shows clinical signs or not, it is important to have a fecal sample tested for parasites once or twice a year. A routine test is an easy and effective way to detect intestinal parasites early and treat or prevent disease.

Can humans become infected with tapeworms?

Most human tapeworm infections come from eating contaminated meats, but also by accidentally swallowing an infected flea.

The most common signs of human tapeworm infestation are visible eggs, larvae, or segments from the tapeworm in stools; abdominal pain; vomiting; nausea; general weakness; inflammation of the intestine; diarrhea; and weight loss.

Again, prevention is always the best form of battling intestinal parasites. Preventing flea infestations in your yard and home by administering a monthly flea preventative to your cat is one of the easiest ways to keep tapeworms OUT of your cat’s stomach and your home!

4. Coccidia

What are Coccidia and how does my cat become infected?

Coccidia are tiny, single-celled parasites that live in a cat’s intestinal wall. Kittens are more susceptible to coccidia infection, but adult cats can become infected as well. Cats become infected by eating contaminated feces or infected rodents. These tiny parasites live in the intestinal walls of infected animals and are shed in poop and then passed on to other unsuspecting animals, like your beloved family pet!

Will coccidia affect my cat?

Infected cats may show no signs or symptoms of these parasites at all. Kittens are most susceptible to serious complications because their immune systems are weak. If infected, the most common clinical sign of an infestation is diarrhea. Severe infestation can result in extreme cases of diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, or even death. 

How does my cat get diagnosed with coccidia? 

Coccidia in cats are diagnosed with a routine fecal test. A sample of your pet’s poop will be examined under a microscope. The sample will be examined for microscopic coccidia eggs as well as coccidia antigen (a protein on the surface of a coccidia parasite) to assess for infection. Identification of either eggs or the antigen is indicative of a positive infection. 

How do I treat coccidia parasites in my cat?

Fortunately, coccidia in cats are easily treated with a dewormer. Your veterinarian will use a broad spectrum antiparasitic called Albendazole (Sulfadimethoxine). Speak with your vet regarding the proper dosing protocol. They will also run a follow-up fecal test after deworming to ensure the parasites are gone. 

How do I prevent my cat from becoming infected with coccidia?

Ensuring your pet’s surroundings are clean and free of contamination is one step in preventing coccidia infection. Make sure to clean your indoor cat’s litter box routinely and try to prevent your outdoor cat from hunting! 

I always advise that young kittens have routine fecal tests performed at 6-to-8 and 10-to-12 weeks of age. The most effective way to prevent coccidia in your cat’s intestine is with a routine fecal test. Whether your cat is showing clinical signs or not, it is important to have their fecal sample tested once to twice a year for parasites. This is an easy and effective way to detect coccidia and other intestinal parasites early and treat or prevent infection.

Final Thoughts

Nothing is more terrifying to pet parents than learning their beloved pet has worms. The thought of these pesky parasites wreaking havoc and feeding on our cats is a scary one. However, gastrointestinal parasites are often easily treated! Most importantly, they are easily prevented with routine fecal tests.

Speak with your veterinarian, and make sure your pet is on a preventive health care program with yearly fecal tests.

Pumpkin Pet Insurance offers an optional preventive care pack for cats and kittens that fully covers a yearly fecal test to screen for intestinal worms and other parasites in your pet. This can be a great way to get money back every year on these routine expenses. And as always, if you ever have any questions or concerns about your pet, you should visit or call your vet without hesitation. As a small animal vet myself, I guarantee your veterinarian has only one goal in mind – to make sure your pets are happy and healthy!

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