Gastrointestinal Worms

All cats will suffer from internal parasites some time or another. They pick up parasites by catching the odd rodent, gecko or bird. Kittens can be infected through the mother’s milk. Mosquitoes, cockroaches, beetles, water bugs and fleas are all intermediate hosts of tapeworm or ascarids.

If worms are causing a problem their might be change in the cat’s stool, which may include the passing of mucus or blood. Their will also a decline in the general health, decreased appetite, loss of weight, sometimes protrusion of the third eyelid, diarrhoea and anemia. In young kittens worms can even cause death if not treated.

Ascarids (roundworm), hookworms and tapeworm are the most common intestinal parasites in cats.

Immuno-suppressive drugs like cortisone and some chemo drugs, trauma, severe disease, surgery and emotional upsets can also activate large numbers of hookworm larvae lying dormant in an animal’s tissues.

When a queen lactates, dormant ascarid larvae are activated and appear in the queen’s

milk, therefore a heavy worm problem might develop in the litter even if the mother was de-wormed. This will happen because none of the worming agents are completely effective against larvae that are encysted in the tissue.

Ascarids (Roundworm)

Roundworm is the most common worm parasite in cats. A large percentage occurs in kittens and about 25 – 75 percent in adults. Adult ascarids live in the stomach and intestines and grow to 13cm long. The eggs which are protected by a hard shell are extremely hardy and can live for months to years in the soil. Cat get the disease by ingesting the eggs, maybe through contact with soil containing the eggs, by licking off their feet, or by eating a host animal like a beetle, rodent which has encysted larvae in its tissues.

Larvae of the most common feline ascarid, Toxocara cati, migrate in tissues. Eggs, entering orally hatch in the intestines. Larvae are carried to the lungs by the bloodstream. In the lungs they become mobile and crawl up the trachea where they are then swallowed. This may cause bouts of coughing and gagging. They return to the intestines and develop into adults. This version of migration is most common in kittens. Kittens with a heavy worm infestation appear very thin with a pot-

bellied look. They sometimes cough, vomit are anemic and have diarrhea. Worms may be found in the vomit and the stools. Typically they look like white earthworms or strands of cooked spaghetti that are alive and moving.

In adult cats, only a few larvae return to the intestines. They encysted in tissues and remain dormant.

During lactation the dormant larvae are released, re-enter the circulation and are transmitted via the mother’s milk to the kittens.

The roundworm Toxascaris leonine do not pass via the milk into nursing kittens but can be taken in when eating rodents.


Hookworms are small, thin worms that is about.6 to 1.3cm long. They attach themselves onto the wall of the small intestines and draw blood from the host. They are most common in high humidity areas.

A cat acquires the disease by ingesting infected larvae in soil or faeces or by direct penetration of the skin (usually the pads of the feet.)

The immature worms migrate through the lungs to the intestines, where they become adults. In about two weeks the cat will pass eggs in her faeces. The eggs incubate in the soil.

The typical signs of hookworm infestation are diarrhea, anemia, weight loss and progressive weakness. With a heavy infestation, stools may be bloody, wine-dark or tarry black, but this is uncommon. A hookworm infestation in young kittens can be fatal. The diagnosis is made by finding the eggs in the faeces.

Newborn kittens get infected via the queen’s milk. The best medication for treatment of round and hookworm is Pyrantel pamoate but this medication has no effect on tapeworm.


Tape worm are the most common internal parasites in all adult cats. They live in the small intestines. The head of the parasite fastens itself to the wall of the gut using hooks and suckers. The body is composed of segments containing egg pockets. To eliminate the worm the head must be destroyed.

The body segments containing the eggs are passed in the faeces and when still wet you can see them move otherwise the dried out segments resembles rice grains. Tape worm are transmitted by an intermediate host. The two most common tape worms in cats are Diphylidium caninum that they get from fleas or lice that harbour immature tapeworm in their intestines. They acquire the parasite by eating tapeworm eggs. The cat must bite or swallow the insect to become infested.

Taenia taeniaformis enter the cats when they eat rodents, uncooked meat, raw freshwater fish or discarded animal parts.

The best medications to use for tapeworm are Praziquantel but this medication has no effect on hook- and roundworm.

De-worming kittens

A large proportion of kittens are infested with ascarids. Other worms may be present as well. It is advisable to have you kitten’s stool checked before treating her for roundworm otherwise other worms and internal parasites, such as coccidian, may go undetected.

Never de-worm a kitten that has diarrhoea or other signs of illness, unless your veterinarian has determined that the illness is caused by an intestinal parasite.

Kittens with roundworm should be de-wormed at 2 to 3 weeks of age and again at 5 to 6 weeks. Many veterinarians recommend de-worming kittens every month until 6 months of age.

De-worming Adult cats

It is not advisable to de-worm a cat who is suffering from some unexplained illness that is assumed to be caused by worms. All de-wormers are poison – meant to poison the worm, but not the cat. Cats with other diseases may be too weak to resist the toxic effects of the de-worming agent.

It is reasonable to de-worm outdoor cats routinely for ascarids and tapeworms, even without a positive stool sample. Cats with tape worm may need to be treated as often as four to five times a year.

Always use a de-wormer that contains Praziquantel with Pyrantel to eliminate all worms.


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