Intestinal Parasitic Worms in Cats

Parasitic worms can live in your cat's digestive tract, causing anemia, malnutrition and damage to the intestines. There are four common types of worms found in cats: roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms.

Types of Parasitic Intestinal Worms

Roundworms are the most common type of worms found in kittens. Young kittens can be infected with roundworms through their mother's milk. Older cats can be infected through contact with the feces of infected animals.

Hookworms attach themselves to the intestinal wall in order to feed on the blood of the host. Hookworms can be passed from mother to kittens, but cats can also become infected with hookworms through contact with other infected animals, or even through skin contact with the soil.

Whipworms are long, slender and whiplike in appearance, hence their name. They embed themselves within the lining or wall of the intestine. Cats can become infected with whipworms via contact with the feces of an infected animal.

Tapeworms are long, segmented white worms that live in the intestines. Tapeworms attach themselves to the wall of the intestines by their heads. They absorb nutrients directly into their bodies through their thin skins. Fleas carry tapeworm eggs, and cats can become infected by swallowing carrier fleas; they may also become infected by eating infected rodents.

Symptoms of Intestinal Worm Infection

Symptoms of parasitic worms vary depending on the type of worm involved, for instance:

  • Hookworms can cause diarrhea, which may become black and tarry because it contains partially digested blood.
  • Whipworms may not cause symptoms at all until the infestation becomes severe. When it does, cats may develop bloody diarrhea.
  • Segments of tapeworms often appear in cat feces as small white specks that look like rice. Dried tapeworm segments may stick to the cat's rectum. Vomiting and diarrhea can occur as a result of tapeworm infection.
  • Roundworms can cause vomiting and diarrhea. In cases of serious infestation, pets may lose weight and develop pot bellies; their coats may take on a dull appearance. In the most severe cases, roundworms can cause intestinal blockage.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Intestinal Worms

Your veterinarian can diagnose parasitic worms by examining a stool sample, so if you suspect a worm infestation, take a stool sample with you to the exam. It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact type of parasitic worm involved, so you may need to have more than one stool sample tested. Worm treatment usually involves oral medication, and may be more or less intensive depending on the type of worms involved and where they currently are in their life cycle.

Some worms, such as hookworms, can survive in the soil and are therefore more difficult to treat than others, as the risk of re-infestation is high. Parasitic worms can also be spread to humans.

You can minimize or eliminate the risk of infection by parasitic worms in cats by discouraging hunting behaviors and minimizing contact with other animals. If your cat becomes infested with hookworms, keep him indoors, as hookworms can live in the soil and are often spread through skin contact alone.