The two main types of worms that infect cats are roundworms and tapeworms. Many cats don’t show signs of having worms, but large numbers can cause weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea and the failure to grow and develop.
Roundworms are thin and string-like, whereas tapeworms are long and flat. The adult tapeworm stays in the bowel, shedding small rice-like segments called proglottids in the cat’s faeces. Cats become infested with roundworms when they eat birds or mice which carry minute small eggs are then passed out in the faeces again to infect another host and complete the cycle. Roundworms are also picked up directly from the environment. Kittens are particularly susceptible to roundworms and are often infected from birth.
Tapeworms can also be picked up from eating rodents, but fleas are the most common intermediate host, so worming should be done in conjunction with flea treatment. Constant scratching and twitching is a sign of flea infestation and tiny black droppings can often be seen when the coat is groomed. Don’t forget to buy a flea product to eliminate the fleas and their lifestages from your carpets and soft furnishings, and pet bedding should be washed regularly.
Worms are impossible to prevent. There is no preventative treatment that will stop your cat from becoming infected. However, there are a number of very good products that will kill worms. Remember, however, that most oral worming products are effective at the time of use only, and they do not have a prolonged action.
For kittens, creams or syrups, which are available both from pet stores and vets, are usually the most suitable and easiest to administer. Treatment needs to be every two to three weeks to begin with, lessening to once a month at three to six months, and thereafter once every three months.
Adult cats will also pick up worms from the wider environment, but, having a more developed immunity, do not need to be treated as frequently as kittens. Once a quarter is sufficient for most family pets.
Roundworms can infect humans. In a few very rare cases, children who ingest the eggs can suffer eye damage or blindness as the worm larvae move through the body causing tissue damage.
Some worming medications are effective against both roundworm and tapeworm, while others are only effective against one or the other. It’s important to chose the right product for your cat.
Many worming medications are now available such as liquids, pastes and granules as well as injections from your vet and spot-on treatment. Your vet is the best person to ask for advice on the correct treatment.
For specific treatment information and more details about roundworms and tapeworms, visit the FAB page on worming.