As their name suggests, round worms are large and round. They are one of the more common parasites to infect cats. They may reach up to 10 to 12 centimeters in length and resemble cooked spaghetti. The parasitic roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides) causes a disease called Ascariasis. This simply means the cat is infected with this type of roundworm. It is the most common parasite found in cats.
They occur in a large percentage of kittens and are found in 25 to 75 percent of adult cats. Toxocara cati is a roundworm that can also infect humans. Unlike other common intestinal parasite, roundworms do not attach themselves to intestinal lining. Instead, they swim freely throughout the intestinal tract and soak up nutrients from your cat’s diet. In severe cases, they can be present in immense numbers which may lead to intestinal rupture.
Causes of Roundworm Infection
Infection occurs a number of ways. The most common means of infection for kittens is by ingesting larvae by way of their mother’s milk. The larvae travel to the mammary glands where they are passed to the kittens. Infection also occurs by ingesting roundworm eggs which then hatch into larvae, or eating a host such as a rodent, roach or earthworm.
The larvae then migrate through tissue. Most will eventually end up in the lungs where they can travel up the windpipe. They are coughed up and swallowed. After being swallowed a second time, the larvae grow into adult roundworms inside the intestines.
The adult worms produce numerous eggs that are then passed through the cat’s feces. These eggs become infective after a number of days in the environment. Once they become infective, they remain infective for several months or even years.
In some cases, the larvae do not end up in the lungs. Instead, they end their migration in the liver. There, they usually enter a dormant state. When a female cat becomes pregnant, the larvae become active. They travel to the mammary glands where they can be secreted in the mother’s milk after the birth of the kittens.
The larvae may also cause an active adult roundworm infection in the mother’s intestines. She will then shed numerous eggs. The kittens may also become infected this way.
Clinical Signs of Roundworm Infection
Some signs and symptoms may only present themselves with heavy infections. Some things to look out for are:
- A pot-bellied appearance, especially notable in kittens
- Weight loss or an inability to gain weight
- A dull coat
- Vomiting or adult roundworms
- Worms present in feces
- Coughing due to migration through the lungs
How Are Roundworm Infections Diagnosed
A roundworm is diagnosed through a routine fecal examination process called a fecal floatation. This process consists of a stool sample being dowsed with a solution that allows for the eggs to rise to the surface. Then, the sample and solution mixture are smeared onto a slide and viewed under a microscope.
Each type of intestinal parasite has its own distinctive eggs. Under a microscope, a diagnosis can be made by the appearance of the eggs present. In other cases, a fecal floatation doesn’t need to be performed. If your cat vomits a tapeworm or passes one in his stool, the diagnosis is clear!
Treatment for Roundworm Infections
Treatment is simple. It consists of administering an anthelmintic to kill the adult roundworms. Since the de-worming medication only affects worms in the adult stages, subsequent dosages will need to be administered in two to three week intervals.
This allows for the immature worms to mature into the adult stage. Once the worms are adults, the medication can exterminate them.
Your vet can help you determine the best medication for your cat.
Prevention is Key
- Once dewormed, parasite prevention should begin and continue for the duration of your cat’s life. Many of the monthly “flea” preventative medications also prevent against roundworm infection. There are various administration options including a monthly pill given orally or a liquid that is absorbed through the skin between the shoulder blades. These medications have little to no side effects. They are also relatively inexpensive and can be obtained through your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will assess your cat’s health and individual circumstance in order to offer the best medication to suit your cat. Some cats will not tolerate being administered a pill, while a topical solution may be more difficult or stressful for others.
- It is also important to note that over time, your cat may develop a tolerance to the medication in their parasite prevention. If this occurs, your veterinarian will simply switch your cat to another product that has a different active ingredient. This switching of medication may continue for the duration of your cat’s life. Parasite prevention is crucial for optimal health and should begin as soon as possible.
- If your cat is pregnant, consult your veterinarian for advice on de-worming mom and her kittens.
- It is always helpful to clean up pet waste promptly. This helps slow the spread or reinfection of parasites. Since Toxocara cati roundworms are zoonotic and can infect people, always practice adequate hygiene after cleaning your cat’s litter box or handling your cat. Special attention should be paid to children who may not always practice the best hygiene.
- Cats are always safest indoors, but if your cat is allowed outdoors, keep her to a confined area. This will help prevent her from hunting and eating rodents or other carriers of roundworms and other parasites.
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