What type of worms can my cat get?

The most common worms in the UK are those which live in the intestines – the roundworm and the tapeworm. Roundworms are usually more of a problem in younger animals, but their significance shouldn’t be ignored in older cats. Although rarely diagnosed, cats can also contract a worm which lives in the lungs. Suspicions may be raised when a cat has a long-standing cough which is poorly responsive to the usual treatments.

How can I tell if my cat has worms?

If your cat has a heavy worm burden there are likely to be obvious clinical signs. The cat is usually bright and has a good or voracious appetite but it may be thin and its coat can be in poor condition. The worms may cause gut upsets, so bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea are not uncommon. Worms may be present in faeces or vomit. Roundworms look like small lengths of spaghetti, while entire tapeworms have a more flattened appearance and look like tagliatelle. Tapeworms usually shed little segments which pass down through the intestines and out of the anus. The segments, which resemble rice grains, may be visible round the cat’s anus. Cats are usually symptomless if they are carrying a low level of worms so even if your cat looks perfectly healthy, you can’t assume it is free of worms.

How does my cat pick up worms?

Roundworm eggs are passed in the faeces and are very common in the environment. A cat may be infected if it encounters an area which has been soiled. Other species can become infected with roundworms if they come into contact with the eggs. In this situation, the worms don’t develop in the intestines but lie as cysts in the body tissues. If a cat then eats the infected host, the worms are released from the tissues and develop into mature worms in the cat’s intestines. Breeding female cats can also transmit the worms through their milk to kittens. Tapeworms have to go through a similar stage of development in another species. The most common of these intermediate hosts are fleas, birds and mice.

Can I be at risk from cat worms?

Most of us are well aware of the dangers of the dog roundworm, but fewer people realise that cat roundworms can cause similar problems. From the worm’s point of view, people are no different to any other animal, so we can become infected if we are exposed to the eggs. In most cases, this causes no ill-health, but if the worm migrates to a delicate or sensitive area such as the eye, it can cause serious problems.

How can I treat my cat?

A number of worming preparations are available. Roundworms can be effectively and easily treated with a powder which is mixed in with the food. It’s rare for cats to turn their nose up at this. For tiny kittens or adults suspicious of adulterated food, the same drug is available as a suspension so it can be squirted into the cat’s mouth. Tapeworms can be treated with tablets, and there is also an injection which is useful for the less co-operative adult cat. There are also complete all-in-one worming tablets which need only to be given on one occasion and will eliminate both round and tapeworm. Vets can also supply different types of spot on preparations which can eliminate worms so useful for cats which aren’t impressed with tablets or injections.

How often do I have to treat my cat?

The majority of kittens will be carrying roundworms so they should all be wormed. Treatment can start as soon as they start eating solid food and should be repeated at regular intervals until they are a few months old. Adult cats should be wormed every six months or so throughout life. Very active hunters may need worming more frequently. If your cat is found to be carrying tapeworms, it should be also be treated for fleas. Individual worming requirements may differ so please ask your vet about the best regime for your cat.