Roundworms are common parasites that many cat parents will have to deal with at some point. These nasty critters are especially dangerous for kittens and elderly cats, as well as cats with weakened immune systems.
Thankfully, there are preventative measures you can take to help keep your kitty safe and healthy, and there are also treatments available that can keep an infestation under control or eradicate it completely.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about roundworms, and probably some things you wish you never learned.
What Are Roundworms?
Roundworms found in cats are officially known as Toxocara cati, as opposed to the rarer Toxascaris leonina, which can infect both cats and dogs. As the name implies, roundworms are, well, round worms that look like white strings when seen with the naked eye. They can be up to 6 inches long and often resemble spaghetti. They "swim" through the intestine and steal precious nutrients from your cat's digestive system.
While healthy adult cats can get by with an unwanted roundworm guest, large numbers of the parasites can cause serious, even life-threatening symptoms, especially in weak cats that are very young or very old or otherwise suffer from various health problems.
Symptoms of Roundworm Infection
Many cats infected with roundworms are asymptomatic, meaning you might never know about the ailment. One of the easiest symptoms to observe is seeing white, rice-like flecks in your cat's stool or stuck to the fur around the cat's behind.
Other common symptoms include:
- Abdominal swelling, typically referred to as a "potbelly"
- Chronic hunger
- Weight loss
- Stomach upset
In severe cases, cats can develop a cough and/or pneumonia, which is a sign the worms have migrated from the intestine and infested the lungs.
How Cats Get Roundworm
Roundworms are highly contagious and very common--never a good combination. The parasites are frequently present in kittens, as the infection can pass through the placenta and through the mother cat's milk. Many cats are thus infected as kittens, but they can also acquire roundworms by eating infected animals like rodents, worms, and birds. The infection can also be passed by a cat eating or even just sniffing infected stool, plants, and dirt, as roundworm eggs can lie dormant for months or years before hatching.
There is no foolproof way to totally prevent roundworm infection, but there are steps you can take to help protect your furry friend. The best prevention begins very early on. Because kittens are commonly infected at birth, they should be given deworming treatments regularly. Your veterinarian will establish the proper schedule with you, but usually this entails treatment about every two weeks from age three to nine weeks, and then at regular intervals afterward.
After that, try to keep your cat indoors as much as possible to limit potential exposure. Indoor-only cats are highly unlikely to encounter infected animals, soil, or waste. That said, be diligent about pest and insect control to keep your cat from eating something that might be infected.
If you suspect your cat has roundworms, take him or her to the vet for an examination. The vet will likely test a stool sample in addition to doing a physical exam. If it's determined that the cat is infected, your vet will then begin deworming treatment.
If your cat develops a roundworm infection, your vet will most likely prescribe a pill or liquid dewormer. Because adult roundworms, eggs, and larvae are not affected equally, it will take at least two (and possibly more) treatments to fully eliminate the infection. The first dose of medication will kill the adult roundworms, but not any larvae and/or eggs that are present. A second visit, usually a month or two later, is necessary to administer another dose to kill those eggs that have hatched. If symptoms persist, a third treatment may be required.
If you have a multi-cat home and suspect one is infected, you should have all your cats treated at the same time. The parasite can be passed quickly, so even if a second cat isn't showing symptoms yet, it might already be infected.
Finally, make sure to keep your cats' bedding and litter boxes clean to help reduce the possible spread of infection.
Have you ever had to battle a roundworm infection in your home? Share your stories and tips in the comments below!
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