White cat laying down on their side in front of the camera while looking up

Key takeaway

Worms in cats can range from small, snake-like parasites to single-celled organisms that are transmitted by fleas, flies, or infected feces. The most common types of worms that affect cats are intestinal worms, including roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. It’s important to know the warning signs to ensure your feline get’s the appropriate treatment promptly. Prevention is also key to reducing transmission and reinfection.

Spotting worms in your cat’s poop or rectum can be an unpleasant sight for many pet parents. Despite their grossness, it’s crucial to know what to do next if you suspect your cat is infected with worms. Doing so can reduce secondary health complications, transmission to other pets or humans, and reinfestation, allowing you to keep your cat healthy.

If you’re worried about worms in cats, this guide will provide an in-depth overview of how they’re transmitted, signs and symptoms to watch for, available treatments, and prevention methods. Continue reading to learn all you need to know about these parasites and tips for keeping your cat safe. Alternatively, you can use the links below to navigate throughout the post.

How Do Cats Get Worms?

Worms are transmitted in several ways, including contact with parasite eggs, ingesting infected feces, or ingesting the host containing the parasite, such as fleas. . For example, cats can walk through an area containing contaminated feces, such as a dirty litter box, and ingest it when cleaning their fur or paws. They can also acquire worms when hunting small rodents that are infected. Once your cat picks up worms, they can live in their muscle tissue and extend into other areas of the body. Ultimately, how a cat gets infected will depend on the type of worm. 

What Are the Most Common Types of Worms in Cats?

There are a variety of worms that can affect cats, such as roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. The most common types of worms include intestinal worms, such as:

Tyes of worms in cats include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, lungworms, heartworms, and eyeworms.

Roundworms

Roundworms are common intestinal parasites that affect 25% to 75% of cats, while kittens are infected at a much higher rate.1 Felines can acquire roundworms by eating feces with contaminated eggs. If other animals eat the eggs, they can act as intermediate hosts and pass the infection to cats.

There are three species of roundworms: Toxocara canis (T canis), Toxascaris leonina, and Toxocara cati. The most prominent species is T. canis, which can spread to humans. T. cati can be passed from mothers to kittens through the milk she produces. This is because roundworms can migrate to the mammary glands where milk is excreted. 

Hookworms

These small intestinal worms are found in most countries and can lead to cats developing gastrointestinal diseases.3  Hookworms burrow into the lining of the intestine and may result in weight loss, bleeding, and anemia. Hookworms can be ingested when cats eat infected animals, such as rodents, or feces. Hookworms can also be transmitted through skin penetration. Common cat hookworms include Ancylostoma caninum and A ceylanicum, but other species can be found worldwide.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms are generally long flat worms composed of many segments that often resemble small grains of rice. These types of worms can sometimes be seen on the hair around a cat’s anus, in their feces, or on their bed. The most common tapeworms that infect cats worldwide are Taenia taeniaeformis.4 Taenia taeniaeformis is passed when cats eat small rodents that are contaminated. This infection frequently occurs in cats that hunt or those that are infested with fleas..

Other Types of Worms in Cats

Cat being taken care of by a veterinarian

Other types of worms can infect different parts of the body, such as a cat’s lungs, heart, and eyes. Here are a few additional worms to watch out for:

Lungworms

Lungworms are primarily found in the lower respiratory tract and can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia. Lungworms are contracted when a cat consumes birds or rodents with the parasites. Once these worms make their way through your cat’s intestines, they can travel to the lungs.

These are often expelled by being coughed up or passed through your cat’s digestive system. However, lungworms often go undiagnosed because the symptoms are similar to those caused by respiratory conditions and larvae won’t always be noticeable in feces. 

Heartworms

Heartworms are potentially fatal parasites that can damage the heart, blood vessels, and lungs. Although cats are more immune to heartworm infections than dogs, cats can still become infected. Once a heartworm has found its way into your cat’s body, it can also attack the central nervous system. Another difference between heartworm in cats and dogs is that cats have smaller blood vessels and hearts, so damage can be more severe. 

Heartworms are primarily transmitted through infected mosquitoes that carry heartworm larvae from an infected animal to another and transmit larvae when they take a blood meal. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for heartworm in cats. However, many preventative treatments can guard your cat against heartworms. 

Eyeworms

Also known as Thelazia californiensis and Thelazia callipaeda, eye worms mainly affect the eye. They are caused by filth flies (such as the common housefly) that deposit larvae on a cat’s eye. These small, white, and long worms move quickly across the eye’s surface and may hide in the tear duct, under the eyelids, and conjunctival sac, which is the space between their bottom lash line and eyeball. 

Symptoms include watery and itchy eyes, inflammation, cloudy corneas, and can cause blindness on rare occasions. So, if your cat’s eyes are watering and are exhibiting the other symptoms mentioned, it can indicate the presence of eyeworms. 

Signs and Symptoms of Worms in Cats

Signs and symptoms of worms in cats can differ depending on the type of worm your feline is infected with. Notable symptoms of worms can include:

Alt-Text: Signs and symptoms of worms in cats can include diarrhea, vomiting, anemia, coughing, unthriftiness, malaise, weight loss, and loss of appetite

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Coughing
  • Unthriftiness
  • Malaise
  • Weight loss
  • Dull coat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mucousy or bloody feces
  • A pot bellied appearance

It’s always important to speak with your veterinarian when symptoms develop to determine the type of worm and administer treatment, especially if your cat has diarrhea, anemia, vomiting, and dehydration. These symptoms can impair your cat’s immune system, making them more prone to infections and other diseases.

How Are Worms in Cats Diagnosed?

There are several methods that your vet may use to diagnose worms in cats. Furthermore, the technique your vet uses will depend on the type of worm your cat is infected with. That said, the most common test is a fecal flotation test. This test includes mixing a special solution with a cat’s stool that causes parasites to rise to the surface, allowing the veterinarian to inspect worms under a microscope and identify them.

Alt-Text: Worms in cats are often diagnosed through fecal tests, where a veterinarian inspects a cat’s stool under a microscope to identify any worms or eggs.

Some worms are easier to diagnose and may not require testing. For example, tapeworms are visible and leave fragments in a cat’s stool or anus.

How to Treat Worms in Cats

In many cases, cats are prescribed oral or injectable deworming medication that kills adult worms and larvae in the intestine. All treatment must be carefully administered to your cat according to your veterinarian’s instructions.

Attempting to treat your cat with homemade remedies or natural solutions for worms is never recommended because it may not get rid of the parasite. When left untreated, worms can cause anemia or stomach rupture, which can be life-threatening.

How to Prevent Worms in Cats

One of the best ways to prevent worms in cats is with a parasite control program that includes heartworm and parasite preventative medication and flea and tick treatments. In addition to this, you can use the tips below to keep worms away:

  • Visit your vet at least once a year to have your cat checked 
  • Don’t give your cat raw meat
  • Have your cat tested for heartworms regularly
  • Provide fresh and clean drinking water 
  • Keep cats indoors
  • Test your cat’s feces 2 to 4 times as kittens and 1 to 2 times annually in adulthood
  • Deworm pregnant cats to prevent transmission
  • Administer deworming treatment to kittens up until six months of age

Can Humans Get Worms From Cats?

Yes, humans can contract worm infections from cats by directly contacting contaminated feces or soil.11 Common modes of transmission include:

  • Children playing in sandboxes where cats have defecated
  • Walking barefoot through contaminated soil
  • Gardening in soil without wearing gloves

To impede the spread of worms between humans and cats, it’s essential to practice good hygiene and prevent felines from becoming infected in the first place. Additional tips include:  

  • Washing hands well after cleaning a litter box
  • Removing feces daily
  • Cleaning and disinfecting the litter box regularly

Final Notes

Managing parasites, such as fleas and ticks, is imperative to minimizing your cat’s risk for worms. However, most preventative medications can only be provided to your pet via a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. But, securing an appointment with a vet in person can take days, if not weeks. Fortunately, we can help you keep fleas at bay with our convenient and easy telemedicine for pets. All Dutch-affiliated vets work diligently to respond to your queries within 24 hours, so you can keep your feline friend happy and healthy without delay. Schedule a consultation today with Dutch. 

References

  1. Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 21 Nov. 2019, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/gastrointestinal-parasites-cats.

  2. Peregrine, Andrew S. “Roundworms in Small Animals.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/gastrointestinal-parasites-of-small-animals/roundworms-in-small-animals.

  3. Peregrine, Andrew S. “Hookworms in Small Animals.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/gastrointestinal-parasites-of-small-animals/hookworms-in-small-animals.

  4. Peregrine, Andrew S. “Tapeworms in Dogs and Cats.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/gastrointestinal-parasites-of-small-animals/tapeworms-in-dogs-and-cats.

  5. Ballweber, Lora R. “Lungworm Infection in Cats.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-cats/lungworm-infection-in-cats.

  6. Atkins, Clarke. “Heartworm Disease in Cats.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders-of-cats/heartworm-disease-in-cats.

  7. Baker, David G. “Eyeworm Disease (Thelaziasis) in Cats.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/eye-disorders-of-cats/eyeworm-disease-thelaziasis-in-cats

  8. Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
  9. Ballweber, L R et al. “American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists' review of veterinary fecal flotation methods and factors influencing their accuracy and use--is there really one best technique?.” Veterinary parasitology vol. 204,1-2 (2014): 73-80. doi:10.1016/j.vetpar.2014.05.009 

  10. Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine