Cat Worms: Types, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

Cat Worms: Types, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

If you’re reviewing this article, it's likely for one of two reasons: you’re potentially interested in understanding the different types of cat worms and how to help your cat, or you’re in the “my cat has worms, how do I clean my house?” phase of panic. 

Regardless of why you’re here, this article will help teach you about the four most common types of worms in cats, what signs and symptoms to look out for, how to potentially identify worms, and help you understand treatment options for your furry cat friend. 

Oh yes – and we will also include a few tips and tricks on house cleaning, with the most important one: keep your cat’s litterbox clean!

The Silent Menace: Understanding Cat Worms

Discovering that your cat has worms is as equally problematic as it is unsettling. Not only is it unpleasant for you, the owner, but the presence of worms can also raise serious concerns about your cat’s health. 

Because some worm infestations in cats can be asymptomatic, you may not even know your cat has contracted the parasite. 

What do cat worms look like? The appearance of each type of worm varies; therefore, the signs and symptoms can also vary. 

Types of Cat Worms and Their Symptoms

There are various types of worms found in cats, ranging from the more commonly known roundworms and tapeworms to the lesser-known lungworms, stomach worms, and liver flukes. 

For this article, we will discuss four of the most common types of worms in cats: roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and heartworms.  

Roundworms: How They Affect Your Cat's Health

These are the most common cat worms, affecting anywhere from 25-75% of cats.  While usually relatively benign, roundworms can cause a number of issues within your cat’s body. 

Symptoms of roundworms include:

  • Coughing/pneumonia

  • Vomiting (sometimes containing adult worms)

  • Diarrhea

  • Distended (enlarged) abdomen

  • Weight loss/unhealthy appearance

  • In severe cases, intestinal obstruction

Roundworms can also infect people and, although rare, can be serious, especially for young children. They can, however, be easily avoided by preventing ingestion of the eggs from contaminated soil or hands – wash your hands after playing outside or after completely cleaning the little box chores!

Hookworms: Identifying and Treating These Bloodsuckers

Unlike other cat worms, hookworms are usually not visible in the feces of infected cats. Hookworms are also a less common infection than roundworms. Adult cats often become infected by the larvae that penetrate their skin, and in severe cases, this can cause anemia due to blood loss. 

Symptoms of hookworms include

  • Skin lesions

  • Coughing

  • Diarrhea (with blood)

  • A dark, tarry stool

  • Weight loss

  • Poor appetite

  • Pale lips and gums (similar to anemia)

According to Cornell’s Feline Health Center, it's unknown whether cats become infected by eating rodents with larvae on their tissue or by ingesting an infected mother’s milk when they’re young.  

Hookworms can also affect humans when they come in close contact with contaminated soil. 

Tapeworms: What You Need to Know About These Segmented Parasites

Tapeworms essentially look like tape or ribbon because they have long, flattened bodies with small heads connected to a series of segments. 

Symptoms of tapeworms can look a little different from how other cat worms identify. While your cat might not exhibit symptoms of having a tapeworm, you may see worm segments that look like small white grains of rice on or around the anal area, attached to the fur and under the tail, in/on the feces in the litter box. 

Heartworms: Why Prevention is Key

Though uncommon in cats, incidents of heartworms have been increasing, especially in certain areas of North America. Heartworms can be spread by mosquitoes when they bite an outdoor cat, potentially injecting larvae into the bloodstream. 

Symptoms of heartworm in cats include:

  • Coughing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Lack of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Vomiting

  • Sudden collapse

  • Seizures

  • Sudden death in severe cases

Symptoms of Cat Worm Infestation: What to Look For

Cat worms can create a range of symptoms, from being completely asymptomatic (meaning showing no symptoms) to severe or life-threatening, depending on the type of infestation. 

Some of the most common signs of cat worms include:

  • Vomiting (sometimes with worms in vomit)

  • Diarrhea (with or without blood)

  • Tarry feces

  • Weight loss

  • Distended abdomen

  • Skin lesions

  • Overall poor body conditions such as dull coat, fatigue, etc. 

Preventing Cat Worms

How do cats get worms? Understanding how these parasites are transmitted is a crucial step towards preventative care.  

Because worms can be contracted in different ways, understanding which types of preventive care are necessary can help prevent a potentially dangerous condition from afflicting your precious kitty. 

Tapeworms can be ingested through fleas, which are swallowed while a cat grooms itself. Roundworms can be consumed when cats eat infected rodents or critters; outdoor cats are at higher risk of exposure because they are prey hunters. Hookworms come from infected soil and can also be ingested through self-grooming. 

Below is a list of tips to follow that can potentially prevent your cat from getting worms:

  • Kittens and new pet additions to the home should be treated for worms.

  • Use monthly heartworm and flea preventative that controls hookworms and roundworms year-long.

  • Keep litter boxes clean; regularly sanitize their space.

  • Routine wellness checks and fecal examinations with your vet.

  • Keep your cat indoors so their potential exposure to these parasites is limited.

By following these tips, you can help keep your cats safe and healthy! As always, if you have concerns about the health and safety of our cat, consider consulting your vet for a formal diagnosis and the best treatment options. 

The Importance of Regular Veterinary Care in Preventing and Treating Cat Worms

Treatment for gastrointestinal parasites often requires veterinarian-prescribed medicine. Parasite infections are common but preventable; control starts with good sanitation procedures. 

Whenever you’re administering vet-prescribed medications to your pet, be sure to follow the provided instructions carefully. 

If you have concerns or questions about your cat's health, please contact your vet or a trusted animal care expert for specialized advice. 

Natural Remedies for Cat Worms: Are They Effective?

If you’re looking for a way to treat or prevent worms in your cat but want to ditch the chemicals and opt for a natural solution, here are a few potential options:

  • Pumpkin seeds - these contain cucurbitacin, which paralyzes worms, preventing them from sticking to the intestinal wall, and helps your pet eliminate them with bowel movements.

  • Ginger - can aid digestive functions and helps kill parasites in the stomach before they enter the intestines.

  • Thyme - has antibacterial properties that help fight against Coli, antifungal effects against Candida, and can potentially target and expel the life cycles of parasites.

  • Slippery Elm - a bulking and stool-softening agent that helps cleanse the bowels, drawing parasitic toxins from the digestive tract.

*Please note we do not encourage the use of natural remedies to treat worms and we emphasize the importance of discussing care options with your veterinarian, who will recommend the best course of treatment or preventative options.*

Dealing with a Cat Worm Infestation: Treatment Options

Treatment for worms often comes in dewormers, an oral or injectable prescription that will kill adult and juvenile worm larvae. When it comes to a cat dewormer for all worms, several broad-spectrum treatment options treat hookworm, roundworm, heartworm, and tapeworm. You should adhere to your vet’s instructions when administering these medications. 

Depending on the severity of the infestation, your cat might be prescribed multiple doses to kill any larvae that hatched after the first dose was administered. Also, depending on the cause of the infection (for example, if obtained from fleas), your vet may prescribe a flea preventative because tapeworm infections can recur if there are fleas in your cat’s environment. 

Remember, worms of any kind can be potentially life-threatening to your cat if left untreated, so it's important to understand how to recognize the signs and symptoms and be informed about treatment options. 

How to Keep Your Home and Family Safe from Cat Worms

According to Zoestis, flea and tick control is the most effective way to prevent worms in your cat. It may not be common knowledge, but fleas can spread intestinal parasites and transmit diseases such as rickettsia, mycoplasm, and Bartonella. This is why preventatives are recommended year-round to protect your cat and their environment from bringing parasites into your home. 

If you don’t live with a cat but frequently come into contact with locations where cats may have defecated, it's important to exercise caution and wear protective clothing. This can include wearing gloves while gardening if you have a neighborhood cat that roams around. 

In some cases, outdoor cats may choose to relieve themselves in a child’s sandbox, so ensuring that it is closed off when not in use and being aware of your children playing is important for keeping your little ones safe and ensuring that the little box at home is clean and that you’re always washing your hands after coming in contact with it.

Keeping your cat healthy is your ultimate goal, and identifying & treating worms is just one of the many ways to do that. If you have concerns or questions about your cat's health, contact your vet or a trusted animal care expert for specialized advice. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do cats get worms?

Cats can get worms in a number of ways, the contraction of which is usually dependent on the type of worm. Tapeworms and hookworms can be ingested by your cat during their self-grooming process. Roundworms and heartworms are more likely to be contracted by an outdoor cat as they come from consuming an infected rodent or mosquito bites, respectively. 

Can humans get worms from cats?

Yes, humans can get worms from cats if they come into contact with infected fecal matter, soil, or other contaminated spaces. 

How to identify worms in cats?

Identifying worms in cats can be tricky, depending on what type of worms your cat contracts. Generally, worms can be identified by symptoms and by their presence in stool or vomit if such symptoms exist. 

How do worms in cats spread?

Dogs and cats that are infected with worms can contaminate an area by passing worm eggs and larvae in their feces. Pets can become infected when they swallow dirt with contaminated feces, come in contact with a contaminated area (stepping in it), and then lick themselves and ingest the parasites.  

Why is my cat getting worms?

If you are not using preventative care or have your cat regularly checked out by a vet, your cat can contract worms from a number of sources. If you have treated your cat for worms in the past and the parasite recurs, it's possible that the infection was not fully treated the first time.