HEALTH & CARE

How to Tell If Cat Has Worms: Everything You Need to Know About Intestinal Parasites

sad cat which has worms
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

Intestinal parasites or worms are a common thing for most cats and kittens. There are several types of intestinal parasites, and we will let you know how to tell if cat has worms in order to get rid of them safely and effectively.

In most cases, worms are harmless, and won’t cause any pain, but if the things get undetected for a longer period of time, worms can cause big problems. Luckily, if you know how to tell that your cat has worms, you’ll be able to make use of a variety of deworming treatments. And if you take all the preventative measures, your kitty will never get infected again.

In this article, you will learn about all the different types of worms your cat can get infected with, how to find out if a cat has them, and how to treat and prevent worm infections.

Different Types of Intestinal Parasites

Cats can get infected with a wide range of intestinal parasites, and they present with a variety of different symptoms. On the other hand, some cats don’t present with any of the common signs, so you will have to turn to alternative ways to figure out if your kitty is infected.

We will list four common types of worms, and you should be aware that some of them can be transmitted to humans and cause serious health problems.

#1: Roundworms

roundworm in cats

These are parasites that commonly affect cats, and they can be 2 to 4 inches long, spaghetti-looking, with white or tan skin, and have tapered ends. This type of worm can also be spread to people, so you need to practice good hygiene when disposing of your cat’s stool and always wear gloves.

Cats of any age can get infected with roundworms by eating an infected host, or from coming into contact with an infected cat’s feces. This type of worms is in most cases found in cats that are allowed to go outside since they tend to get into contact with infected birds, rodents, or cockroaches. Young kittens can also get infected if they are nursed by an infected mother. We do recommend keeping your cat indoors.

See Also: Indoor Cat Lifespan

Roundworms can cause regular vomiting, diarrhea, loose stool, and lack of energy. A cat can experience just one of these symptoms, all of them together, or be completely asymptomatic. Treatment is fairly simple and includes a deworming product that will be prescribed by your vet.

#2: Tapeworms

These are long and flat segmented parasites that can range from 4 to 28 inches in length and are typically found in cats that are under flea infestation. This happens when a cat accidentally swallows an infected flea while licking a flea-bitten area.

This type of worms causes vomiting and minor to severe weight loss. In most cases, tapeworm segments resemble rice grain and can be easily spotted in vomit, stool, or on the fur around the rear area of a cat. Once diagnosed, tapeworms are easy to get rid of with a proper deworming product.

However, this isn’t the end of the story. Since fleas are the carriers, you also need to kill them all. The best bet is to use a product that kills fleas in all life stages and also treat your house, your cat’s bedding, and your cat’s favorite lounging areas.

See Also: How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats

#3: Hookworms

orange cat grooming itself

These are worms that reside in the small intestine and are smaller than an inch and aren’t visible to the naked eye. They feed on blood, and adult cats often don’t exhibit any symptoms because they get immune, but these worms can cause life-threatening anemia in kittens. Furthermore, this type of parasites can spread onto humans, burrowing into the skin and finding their way into the digestive tract.

Cats generally get infected from hookworm eggs found in the stool on the ground, which means that indoor-only cats are less affected by these parasites. Hookworm eggs can stay dormant in the stool for weeks, waiting to get glued to a cat’s feet. And once your cat grooms, these eggs find an easy way into her mouth and intestines. They also can enter through the cat’s skin.

Once a cat is infected with larvae, it takes only 2 to 3 weeks for them to grow and produce eggs of their own and keep on producing in large quantities. Nursing kittens can also be infected through their mother’s milk and experience diarrhea, bloody and loose stool, abdominal pain, weakness, and lethargy. If not noticed on time, hookworms will cause a major blood loss, and a kitten can die.

Since they can’t be seen with the naked eye, a cat needs to be taken to the vet to have her stool tested. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, a deworming treatment might need to be repeated a few more times in order to kill all the larvae and adults.

#4: Stomach Worms

This is a less common type of small, less-than-half-an-inch-long intestinal parasites that aren’t possible to see with the naked eye. A cat might become infected by coming into contact with an infected host or eating the vomit of an infected cat.

A cat with stomach worms may experience moderate to extreme vomiting, rapid weight loss, and lethargy. Since these worms are invisible, it is important to take your cat to the vet. The treatment includes deworming product. All the worms will pass out of your cat’s system through her stool.

How to Tell If a Cat Has Worms

white cat with a swollen belly

Although most cats will experience some of the common symptoms of intestinal parasites, others will not. That’s why it is important to know alternative ways of determining if a cat has worms.

We also advise you that once you are sure that your cat is infected you don’t try to deworm her at home, since not all deworming treatments work for all types of worms.

#1: Watch Out for Physical Changes in the Midsection

Cats that have a lot of worms can develop a potbelly and still have low-fat reserves on the rest of the body. In some cases, it can seem like a cat is pregnant and have a round and full stomach which is carried low on the body.

If you are sure that your cat isn’t pregnant, then a potbelly is a sure sign that she has a large number of worms inside of her. It is best to take your cat to the vet in order to get the right deworming product.

See Also: How to Tell If a Cat is Pregnant

#2: Assess the Overall Physical Condition

When you stroke a healthy and worm-free cat, you will notice little bumps along the spine, but they shouldn’t be prominent. Healthy cats have fat reserves over their bones which isn’t the case with cats that have worms.

If you can easily feel your cat’s bones while petting her and she seems to be skinnier than usual, this can be a sign of worms.

The easiest way to assess your cat is to run your hand over her spine and pelvis region. If you notice bones sticking out, or they seem too angular or sharp, it is time to schedule a vet appointment.

#3: Check the Coat Condition

checking cat's coat

Worms rob a cat of much-needed nutrients, and that will have an impact on her coat. Without all the necessary vitamins and minerals, a cat will develop a dull-looking and matted coat that is stripped of all its usual fluffiness and shine.

You need to be aware that this won’t happen overnight, so it is important to notice daily changes and take your cat to the vet.

#4: Stomach Problems

Worms create a physical discomfort by irritating the intestines and stomach lining, and that causes a cat to vomit or suffer from diarrhea. Furthermore, a large number of worms can block the bowel and cause extreme vomiting that can be life-threatening.

It is normal for all cats to have stomach problems once in a while, but if you didn’t take preventative measures against worms, you should take your cat to the vet.

In some cases, when worms aren’t noticed for some time, a cat can get so full of them that she will vomit bundles of squirming worms. In cases like this, a deworming medicine needs to be administered several times to clean the cat completely.

#5: Gum Inspection

checking cat's gums

Some types of worms, and especially hookworms, can create small tears in the stomach that result in a slow but steady blood loss. The blood loss leads to anemia that causes your cat to become less energetic, weak, and in some cases, lethargic.

As we’ve said before, anemia in kittens is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary help.

The easiest way to check if your cat is anemic is to inspect her gums, by holding her in your lap and gently lifting her lip. Healthy gums should be pink. On the other hand, grayish, white, or really pale pink gums are signs of anemia.

Anemia can be caused by a series of other medical conditions, so it is very important to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible.

#6: Check Your Cat for Fleas

Fleas are nasty blood-sucking parasites that can cause allergies, and in severe cases, even blood loss, and they can also carry tapeworm eggs. As we’ve said earlier, a cat will ingest an infected flea while grooming and a tapeworm will attach itself to her stomach lining.

Some of the signs that your cat has fleas are constant scratching and flea dirt. You can check for flea dirt by brushing your cat in the opposite direction of hair growth. Small black flakes are in fact dried blood and are confirmatory signs that your cat has fleas.

You should find an effective treatment that kills fleas in all stages and take your cat to the vet so he/she can determine if she is also infected with worms. In some cases, a cat won’t get tapeworms from fleas, but you lose nothing by taking her to be examined.

See Also: Flea Bath for Cats

#7: Monitor Food Intake

white cat eating much

Due to the amount of space worms take inside the stomach, inflammation of the stomach lining, and general discomfort, a cat can experience a decreased appetite.

Usually, a high number of parasites is associated with loss of appetite. So if you notice that your kitty has a potbelly and her bowl is always full of uneaten food, it is time for a vet check-up.

#8: Check the Litter Box

If your cat uses a litter box, you can check her feces for any signs of worms. We are well aware that this comes into the list of things you would prefer to avoid, but in some cases, this can give you a definitive answer.

Dark stools can indicate blood loss caused by hookworms, and frequent diarrhea is a common sign of intestinal parasites. You can also look for rice-shaped segments of tapeworms, and in some cases, a cat will excrete feces with still-squirming worms in it.

If you, by any chance, notice any signs of worms inside the litter box, you should remove all the litter and disinfect the box to prevent them from spreading. Also, take precautions about your health and always wear gloves and wash your hands after.

#9: Inspect Your Cat’s Bedding

In cases when a cat has tapeworms, their segments can attach to the fur around her backside and can become transmitted onto her bedding. If your cat doesn’t have a bed and can lounge around the house, inspect her favorite spots for signs of rice-shaped fragments.

If you notice any, take your cat to the vet for a deworming treatment, and wash everything in a washing machine. For areas that can’t be washed, use a disinfectant or ask the vet for alternative solutions.

#10: Collect a Stool Sample

If you have suspicions that your cat has intestinal parasites, you can talk to your vet, and he/she will likely require a stool sample to determine the exact type of worms. Always wear gloves and keep the container with stool in a cool and dark place, like a garage or a basement, if you can’t take it to the vet immediately.

Aside from seeing the worms with your own eyes, this method is the most effective way of knowing for sure if your cat has worms. Once the stool is examined, the vet will tell you if you need to proceed with a deworming treatment or if everything is fine.

How to Prevent Worms

giving pill to a cat

The easiest way to prevent your cat from getting worms ever again is to start administering a proper preventative care program. There is a variety of deworming medications that work as preventative care and are given once every three months. We advise you to talk to your vet and follow his/her recommendations since not all products are effective against all types of worms.

You should also keep your cat flea-free by administering flea treatment regularly and keeping your yard flea-free. And since cats that are allowed to go outside can come into contact with other infected animals, you should think about keeping your kitty indoors-only. You can enrich your cat’s environment with toys so she won’t get bored while staying indoors.

See Also: DIY Cat Toys

Also, keeping the litter box clean and disposing of stool regularly is a must to ensure the health of your kitty and the rest of the family. Furthermore, make sure that you always wear gloves when emptying the litter box and wash your hands thoroughly once you are done.

Wrap Up

vet's regular check-up

Intestinal parasites are the thing every cat owner needs to deal with at least once in their lives, and learning how to tell if a cat has worms will make your job of getting rid of them so much easier.

In most cases, worms are harmless, but if left undetected, they can cause pain, discomfort, and when it comes to kittens, even death. Since worms are one of the most unpleasant things an owner needs to deal with, it is best to take proper preventative care measures so you will never have to see them again.

Deworming treatments are effective, don’t cost much, and should be a part of your cat’s life just like regular vaccinations and vet check-ups. You can agree that dealing with nasty worms once was enough, so talk with the vet about preventative care options and keep your kitty worm-free.

Did your cat have worms? Which deworming treatment did you find most effective? Tell us your story by leaving a comment in the section below! For other ways to keep your cat healthy and happy, check out our article on how to tell if a cat is sick.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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