Roundworms in Cats: Become an Expert

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Roundworms in Cats

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What are Roundworms?

Roundworms are a common parasitic worm found inside the intestines of a cat. They look like a worm should, and have a size range of around 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimetres). Unlike tapeworms, roundworms do not attach to the wall of the intestine. Instead, they live freely within the gut itself – like an eel in water. They are white to light brown in colour.

The scientific name for roundworms is ascarids, and they cause a disease known as ascariasis.

Two main species of roundworms can affect cats. These are:

  1. Toxocara cati – this species is mostly specific to cats/felines
  2. Toxascaris leonine – this species can affect cats, dogs and humans (rare)

How do Cats Contract Roundworms?

Roundworms in cats can happen in two different ways. These are outlined below:

  • Trans-mammary infection
  1. The mother cat has been infected with roundworms
  2. The mother cat has offspring to feed
  3. The roundworms in the mother cats’ intestine produce eggs that form into larvae
  4. These larvae transfer into the mother’s milk or across the placenta
  5. The kitten then ingest the milk provided by their mother
  6. The larvae travel to the kitten’s intestine and then begin to develop (beginning and end)
  • Paratenic host
  1. An animal (e.g., cat or dog) is infected with roundworms
  2. The developed roundworms release eggs in the animal’s intestines
  3. These eggs are excreted out of the body via the animal’s faeces
  4. Creatures (e.g., insects, rodents and birds), known as paratenic hosts, then ingest the eggs found in the faeces
  5. The ingested eggs then form into larvae
  6. When hunting, cat’s will catch these creatures and then consume their infected organs
  7. The larvae travel to the cats’ intestines and then begin to develop into mature roundworms (beginning and end)

Ringworm in cats can also be contracted by ingestion of eggs found in the environment (e.g., soil or grooming). It doesn’t always happen through milk and through paratenic hosts, although these are the two most common ways.

What are the Symptoms of Roundworms in Cats?

As with tapeworms and, generally, all illnesses in cats, the symptoms of non-severe cases of roundworms can be quite subtle. However, when the case of roundworms become more severe, your cat may display the signs listed below:

  • Weight loss
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Poor self-grooming (dull hair coat)
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Bloated belly (commonly seen in kittens)
  • Vomiting (rare)
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing may occur in extreme cases where the roundworm(s) have migrated to the lungs

Of course, if you see roundworms in your cats’ faeces or vomit, which appear as white or brown coloured worm shapes, then you will able to tell that your cat has some form of worms.

How are Roundworms in Cats Diagnosed?

The stages of the diagnosis of roundworms in cats are as follows:

  1. You, the owner, will most likely be the first to notice that your cat has roundworms (yes, this means looking at their stools)
  2. Having noticed, the next step you should take is getting your cat down to your local vets
  3. The vet will complete a physical examination of your cat
  4. Next, to confirm what type of worm it is that is impacting your cat, your vet will need a faecal sample
  5. The sample is added to a thick medium (fecal flotation)
  6. After 20 – 30 minutes, the worm eggs will float to the surface of the medium (if any are present)
  7. The eggs will be collected and then analysed under a microscope
  8. From here, you will be given the correct treatment to get your kitty back up to scratch

Note: this may take several trips to the vets as not every sample will contain roundworm eggs.

What is the Treatment for Roundworms in Cats?

There is a large variety of prescription medication that your vet will be able to provide you after a successful diagnosis. These medications come in the forms of injections, tablets and skin drops.

The most common form is oral medication, although this can be hard to administer to cats. You may find that skin drops work better for you and your cat, but you should try out the oral medication first.

The most commonly prescribed deworming medication is: anthelmintic.

Not all medications are effective; therefore, you should consult with your local veterinary expert of which is right for your cat. As well as this, medication may need to be re-administered on a fortnightly base to tackle the immature, undeveloped roundworm larvae that might still be festering inside your cat.

Since kittens are at risk of contracting roundworms from their mother, you should take special care towards pregnant cats and their babies. Young kittens should be treated with deworming medication regularly throughout their adolescence to minimise risk.

Overall, to minimise the risk of infection from parasitic roundworms, you should consult with your vet, or seek expert advice, about setting up regularly deworming treatments throughout the year – no matter the age of your cat.

Am I at Risk if My Cat has Roundworms?

The chances of you contracting roundworms from your cats are very minimal. Despite this, you should take preventative measures to maximise yours, your families, and your cats and their family’s hygiene. Some suggestions are listed below:

  • Regularly clean and disinfect your cats’ litter tray
  • Wear protective hand wear when partaking in outdoor activities such as gardening
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after such cleaning and outdoor activities
  • Keep on top of health plans for you and your cat
  • Make sure you treat your cats regularly with flea treatment
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