Outdoor felines are at a high risk of several different types of intestinal parasites. Learning how to deworm a cat can prevent these internal parasites from stealing your cat’s nutrition and causing all types of health-related conditions, including poor coat, weight loss, and more.
Worms come in many different shapes and sizes and may be region-specific, can affect a specific cat population, or they may be a seasonal problem. Fortunately, there are many over the counter treatments that you can use to kill off parasite infestations and improve your pet’s overall health within a matter of days.
Common Types of Worms
There are many different species of intestinal parasites that can infect cats. Roundworms and hookworms are the most common if you’re not sure what type of worms your cat has, contact their vet. Below, you’ll find a list of the different types of worms and the symptoms they cause.
Roundworms measure in at three to four inches and are the most common type of intestinal parasite found in cats.
Hookworms are much smaller than roundworms, at just an inch long. Hookworms live in the small intestine and can cause life-threatening anemia in kittens and adults.
Tapeworms are not as common as roundworms and hookworms, but they’re every bit as vicious. These worms are flat and long and resemble strips of tape. These parasites are segmented and can measure in at two-inches up to two-feet long. Over several months, this type of infestation can cause severe weight loss and vomiting.
How Cats are at Risk of Intestinal Parasites
Unfortunately, it’s very easy for a cat to get parasites. A cat can pick up worms by ingesting the feces of another infected animal. Because of this, it’s easier for an outdoor cat to become infected than it is for an indoor-only cat. However, if you have a cat that’s indoor-outdoor, then they can also bring these parasites into your home.
A nursing mother can pass on worms to her litter or just by living in close quarters. Cats can also get worms by eating animals that are infected, such as mice and rats.
A cat who doesn’t receive a regular worming treatment is at a higher risk of an infestation. Since fleas can harbor several types of parasites and bacteria, keeping a cat free from fleas is one of the best steps towards keeping them parasite-free.
Your cat’s veterinarian can help you determine whether or not your cat has worms and what type of worms they’re infested with. Veterinarians will also set up a worming schedule to make sure you get rid of the parasites by following up treatment.
Signs and Symptoms a Cat Has Worms
Worms can cause a variety of symptoms. Some felines may display visible symptoms, while some may not show signs at all.
Some of the most common signs a cat has worms include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Constant coughing
- Bloated belly
- Weight loss
- Bloody stool
Your or a veterinarian can easily identify an infestation if there are visible segments of worms or whole worms around the cat’s anus or in their feces.
If your cat has worms, they may act perfectly normal and seem healthy. However, parasites will be hard at work, multiplying inside their gut, stealing important nutrients.
Symptoms of a worm infestation can vary from cat to cat and can depend on their age and the type of parasite infestation they have.
As I mentioned earlier, tapeworms and roundworms are the most common types of worms found in cats, each of which cause similar, but distinct symptoms. Your veterinarian can often determine which type of worms your cat has by looking at their stool or performing a thorough exam. However, if there are no visible signs of worms, your veterinarian may need a stool sample to run tests and determine which type of worms your pet is infested with.
Symptoms of Roundworms
These round and long worms look similar to spaghetti but have a pointed end. While their eggs are passed out in a cat’s feces, the eggs are so small that they’re not visible to the naked eye.
These worms can cause:
- A dull coat
- Distended or swollen belly, especially in kittens
- Lack of energy
- Weight loss with increased appetite
Symptoms of Tapeworms in Cats
Unlike the eggs of roundworms, you can see segments of tapeworms passed in the feces. Tapeworms have long bodies that are cream colored. Additionally, their egg sacs are often shed in the feces and very visible. The egg sacs look just like grains of white rice.
While mainly older felines are affected by tapeworms, kittens can also be infected if they ingest an infected flea. Many cats will show no symptoms at all.
Common symptoms include:
- Obsessive grooming
- What appears to be white rice grains in feces
Symptoms of Hookworms in Cats
Hookworms are not as common as roundworms or tapeworms, but a serious hookworm infestation can be life-threatening. These parasites feed off the blood of a cat through the small intestine. This can lead to anemia. In some cases, anemia can be fatal, especially in kittens. If a cat has been exposed to these parasites in the past, they may have some immunity towards them and may not display any symptoms.
Symptoms to look for include:
- Abdominal pain and tenderness
- Blood in stool
Symptoms of Lungworm in Cats
These parasites can live in a cat’s lungs. Fortunately, they’re not very common and are rarely fatal. However, they can cause lung damage and breathing problems. This parasite is carried by snails and slugs and is passed on to cats when they eat another animal, such as a rodent or bird that has eaten an infected snail or slug.
Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact your vet immediately before attempting to treat the infestation on your own.
The Long-Term Effects of Parasites in Cats
Since worms feed on the nutrients in the body, and in some cases, a cat’s blood, a cat can develop a variety of health problems, including anemia. In severe cases, the worm infestation can cause a blockage in the intestines, which can cause serious health issues. Worms can be fatal in some cases, especially in kittens.
How to Choose a Deworming Product
If you think your cat has worms, don’t try a home remedy. In most cases, a home remedy will only help treat the symptoms associated with intestinal parasites and cannot effectively get rid of roundworms hookworms.
There are several types of deworming products on the market because there are so many different species of worms.
This can include
- Pyrantel pamoate
- Dipylidium caninum
These dewormers can be used to treat roundworm or tapeworm.
The type of medication you use should be based on the type of parasite they’re infected with, in addition to the type of application they’ll most likely tolerate.
When you’re shopping for cat dewormer, there will be several factors to consider to choose a product that will be the most effective for your pet. If you’re not sure what type of worms your cat has, you can try a broad scope dewormer. Broad scope means that the product will treat more than one type of parasite.
Choose a product based on your cat’s age. Giving a kitten a dewormer that’s designed for adults can make them very sick, while treating an adult with a medication designed for kittens will not be effective at all.
There are many dewormers on the market that are formulated with all-natural ingredients. These products don’t contain toxic substances and they’re usually broad-spectrum medications that will treat different types of worms.
If you’re not sure what type of dewormer for cats to use, contact your vet for product recommendations.
Get Product Recommendations from Your Veterinarian
Deworming your cat is very simple these days. Once you’ve identified the specific type of worms your cat is infested with, you can purchase an over the counter product. Of course, it’s always best to contact your veterinarian before treatment. Your can can recommend easy to use, effective products. However, they may want to prescribe a course of medication that’s designed to eradicate the worms.
Some fleas can carry these parasites. A cat should be treated monthly for fleas. Deworming a cat at the same time can help to reduce the likelihood of tapeworm eggs being ingested due to an infected flea.
Medication Side Effects
Most cat dewormer products are very safe, with low chances of side effects when administered correctly. The most common side effects can include excessive salivation, diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of hair at the application site if a topical product is used.
If you’re not sure if your kitten is old enough for a cat dewormer, contact a vet for advice and product recommendation. Your vet may recommend scheduling an appointment for a routine exam or testing.
How to Deworm a Cat
Even if your cat is indoor-only, they can still be at risk of parasite infestations. The only way to fully protect your pet is to worm them regularly.
There are many different kinds of worming products on the market that can treat and prevent an infestation.
These treatments are targeted toward different types of intestinal parasites and for different types of applications. There are spot treatments, which come in the form of drops and are placed on the base of the skull, to prevent cats from licking it off. Oral medications are available in syrups, powders, pastes, and tablets.
Some products will treat both tapeworm and roundworm, while others will only treat one type of parasite.
After you’ve administered the medication, you’ll notice worm segments and whole worms in your cat’s feces. This is perfectly normal and the body’s way of ridding itself of the parasites. However, take precautions when handling and disposing of the feces and keep a close eye on your cat after treatment. In severe cases, it can be very difficult to get rid of parasites in cats, especially if your cats are outdoor-only.
How to Reduce the Risk of Future Infections
Regularly worming your cats is the best way you can avoid an infestation. However, you can also lower their risk of a future infestation by:
- Washing your cat’s bedding weekly and clean any cat beds in the home
- Disinfect litter boxes regularly
- Ensure that everyone in the home washes their hands thoroughly after working or playing in the yard
- Keep your cat inside the home if possible. This is the best way to prevent an infection. Cats who live inside the home are less likely to get worms compared to outdoor cats.
When to Deworm
Since roundworm infections are very common in kittens, it’s important to deworm them at a young age. A kitten should be dewormed at the age of four weeks, six weeks, and eight weeks. Deworming treatment should be repeated at the age of four and six months.
Adult cats are not as affected by worms as kittens, but should still be dewormed, especially if they are outdoor only. An adult should be dewormed every two to six months with a product that treats both tapeworm and roundworm.
Deworming Schedule for Kittens
- 4 weeks of age, 6 weeks of age, and 8 weeks of age
- 4 months and 6 months
If you’re not sure your kitten is old enough to begin deworming protocols, contact your vet. Most vets will recommend cat dewormers for kittens 4 to 8 weeks of age. Of course, there are also cat dewormers available that are designed specifically for kittens.
Deworming Schedule for Adults
- One year
- One and a half years
- Two years
- Every 6 months from then on
- Some outdoor-only cats may need to be dewormed every three months
How to Administer Oral Deworming Treatment
If you’ve chosen an oral medication to treat for parasites, then you’ll have your work cut out for you. Administering medication to cats can be difficult, especially if you have a cat that startles easily, scratches, or makes a run for it.
Before you attempt to administer the medication, make sure you read the enclosed information to ensure your pet gets the full benefits of the treatment. As an example, some dewormer cannot be crushed, or some may need to be cut in half, based on your pet’s weight.
Some medications will require you to avoid feeding your pet for a certain amount of time prior to administering the medication.
Some dewormer is flavored and designed to encourage a cat to eat them voluntarily. If the tablet is meat flavored, then offering it to your cat as a treat will be the easiest method.
If your cat refuses to eat the medication on their own or you later find they’ve spit it out, then you can try hiding the medication in some wet cat food, fish, or another type of food your cat adores.
Some cats are wise to this and will use their tongue to remove the dewormer from the food. If you’re dealing with this issue, then you can try popping the tab directly into the back of their mouth.
How to Restrain Your Cat to Administer Medication
This is often a two-person job. One person will hold the cat and should have them on a table, facing away. The person holding the cat should have the cat’s hindlegs tucked into their body. The forelimbs should be held securely, but gently. If your cat is known to scratch, then wrapping a towel around their body can help.
The person with the dewormer will need to approach the cat from the side, placing their hand on top of the cat’s head as they position their middle finger and thumb behind each top canine. Using a gentle, but firm grip, the head can be tilted back at a forty-five degree angle. The hand holding the tab should carefully drop the tablet into the back of the throat. If the medication is placed too closely to the front of the mouth, then the cat will just use their tongue to push it out.
The head should be held for a few moments, with the jaws closed. One person can rub the cat’s throat or tickle under their chin to encourage the cat to swallow. You can also try blowing gently on their nose once the tablet is at the back of the throat. This can cause a cat to lick their lips and swallow.
Another option is using a pill popper for the dewormer. This tool is designed to reach the back of a cat’s mouth without the owner having to place their fingers in the cat’s mouth. These tools are useful when the tab has gotten wet, since a wet tablet can stick to the fingers.
Administering Topical Worming Products
Topical dewormer products should be applied to the base of the skull, which is an application site your cat cannot reach when they’re grooming. The entire single dose medication must be applied to the site. If your cat wears a collar, make sure you remove it prior to applying the medication and wait until the area is completely dry before putting the collar back on, since the collar can soak up the medication.
If you have more than one cat in the home, keep the cats separated until the medication is dry since another cat may try to groom the application site for the other cat and accidentally ingest the medication.
When to Contact the Vet
Contacting your vet for guidance is always a good idea, especially if you’ve never dewormed a cat before. Your vet can provide great information regarding products and medication administration methods. Additionally, your vet may want to see your pet if you’ve explained the situation and it may sound like your pet is anemic.
If you’ve followed the proper worming protocols, but you still notice that your cat is losing weight, refusing to eat, or you’re still seeing other signs that indicate your cat may be infested, then it’s time to contact your vet. Your cat may need a stronger medication, or you may have misidentified the type of worms they have. Your vet may want to run some tests to determine the exact species of worm to treat for, after which point they’ll provide a prescription strength medication. Depending on the condition of your cat or kitten, your vet may want to do a blood test and prescribe other medications to treat your pet for anemia. While anemia is dangerous for adults as well, kittens with anemia can die quickly without some type of medical intervention.
Aside from a blood test and medication to treat adult hookworms or a tapeworm infestation, your vet may also prescribe a flea and heartworm preventive. This can significantly decrease your pet’s chances of getting worms in the future.
If you’re concerned your pet may have roundworms hookworms and you’re not sure what dewormer to use to treat it, contact your veterinarian for more information and to schedule an appointment.
Are Humans at Risk of Infection?
Unfortunately, there are some types of worms that can be passed onto people. This is known as zoonosis. The risk of infection is even higher for children since they spend more time outdoors in areas where family pets are known to defecate and can bring these parasites into the home. Additionally, a young child may play in the sandbox, where a cat has defecated, then put their hands in their mouth without washing them, which is why it’s so much easier for a child to contract worms than an adult.
When zoonotic roundworms hookworms infect a human, the parasites will rarely mature in the intestine. Instead, the larval worms will migrate in the host’s tissue.
A person can become infected by roundworms by ingesting larvae or eggs that are shed in the feces of an infected animal. A person can become infected by hookworm through direct skin contact with the larvae in soil that’s contaminated with an infected animal’s feces.
When a roundworm egg is ingested, it will hatch and the infected larvae will migrate through a person’s lungs and liver and other tissues and organs where they will induce an allergic response and cause damage. A serious infection can cause permanent neurologic or visual damage.
A hookworm infection can cause a human disease called cutaneous larva migrans syndrome, which is characterized by lesions on the skin and intense itching.
Learning how to deworm a cat is one of the best ways to prevent a serious infestation, one that can potentially be life threatening. Remember, when treating an infestation, you need to choose a medication that will treat a specific type of parasite, and one that’s age-appropriate for your cat. You also need to choose the best ways to administer the medication, to prevent stressing your cat or kitten, If you treat your cat and the medication was not effective, you may need to repeat the treatment, based on the manufacturer’s treatment instructions, or you may need to contact your vet to request a stronger medication. Prescription dewormers can be necessary for severe infestations or for the treatment in very young or senior cats. Remember, when in doubt, give your vet a call.