Every pet owner knows that there is always the chance they will have to deal with certain health issues such as parasitic infections. More specifically, cat owners are typically well versed in understanding what types of signs and symptoms to look for that might indicate that their cat is infected with some type of intestinal worm or worse yet, heartworms. That being said, new pet owners are often in for a surprise when they discover that this is not only possible, but common. In fact, there are four different types of intestinal worms that can commonly be a problem. A fifth type of parasite, heartworms, will be discussed in a different category entirely.
What Types of Intestinal Worms Can Infect Cats?
The four types of intestinal worms that are commonly found in cats include the hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm and whipworm. It would be a mistake to try and discuss all of these different types of intestinal parasites as if they were a single parasite. As a result, each one will be discussed more in depth in its own category, beginning with the two most common types of intestinal parasites, tapeworms and roundworms.
These disgusting creatures are typically about 8 inches long and can easily infect your cat, even if he lives indoors year-round. As a matter of fact, it isn’t at all uncommon for cat owners who don’t have a comprehensive parasite prevention routine to see their cats infected with tapeworms even when they stay indoors all the time and don’t interact with other animals. You’re probably wondering how that’s possible. Unfortunately, it’s actually quite simple.
Tapeworms have a tendency to infect fleas, so if your cat comes into contact with a single infected flea, he too can become infected. This typically occurs when he’s grooming himself and inadvertently swallows a flea infected with the parasite. Of course, it can also happen if an infected mouse should get inside if it ends up being your cat’s bedtime snack.
Once the tapeworm has infected your cat, it can grow for some time as it attaches itself to the intestinal wall. The truly disgusting thing about tapeworms is that as they get bigger inside your cat, they develop egg sacs that are strategically positioned. When your cat defecates, they come out in the feces, thereby leaving them at the ready to infect any other animal that isn’t guarded against them. It’s a life cycle that is truly never ending and one that can potentially make your cat excessively ill, especially if he’s older or already has other health problems that leave him vulnerable to anything that might weaken him.
Symptoms Associated With Tapeworms
The truly disturbing thing about tapeworm infections is that nine times out of 10, you won’t notice any symptoms at all unless the infestation is severe. In some cases, the cat never displays any symptoms whatsoever. If he does, they’re likely to include dragging his bum across the floor, washing his anal area more frequently, or even increased hunger. That’s precisely why it’s so important that cat owners put their cats on a comprehensive parasite prevention program. A significant tapeworm infection can cause cats to lose weight because they’re not getting the nutrition they need. Obviously, there is a potential for significant health problems in the presence of a prolonged infestation.
Roundworms are another kind of common parasite that cat owners have to concern themselves with. In this particular case, they can range anywhere from three to six inches in length and they have a tendency to quickly multiply in your cat’s system. Again, these worms attach themselves to the intestinal area and in severe cases, they can cause your cat to become extremely ill. The truly alarming thing is that during the initial stages of infection, your cat often displays no symptoms of illness whatsoever.
Other signs that your cat might be infected with roundworms include extreme lethargy, a lack of appetite and even a dull coat. If you’re looking for physical evidence of a roundworm infestation, you’re not likely to find it. These worms are microscopic so they can go completely unseen by the naked eye.
Since roundworms can be transmitted through a variety of different small mammals such as rodents or other pets, it’s important to keep your cats protected against them. In addition to using a preventive regularly, it’s imperative that you thoroughly clean your cat’s litter box on a regular basis. That’s because the parasites have a tendency to come out in your cat’s fecal matter and if not cleaned properly, they end up on your cat’s paws, allowing the infestation process to start all over again.
The third type of intestinal parasite that your cats can potentially become infested with are hookworms. Although they are less common than roundworms and tapeworms, they are still something that cat owners should be concerned about. They have a tendency to attach themselves to the intestinal wall and they feed on your cat’s tissue while simultaneously ingesting its blood. That sounds absolutely horrific and in some cases, it definitely can be just as bad as it sounds. That being said, a lot of cat owners go on for weeks or even months without the slightest idea that their cat is actually infested with hookworms.
How Does Your Cat Become Infected With Hookworms?
Most cat owners wonder how their cat became infected with hookworms in the first place. The truth is, it’s not at all uncommon for it to happen, especially if your cat spends any appreciable amount of time outdoors. It can also be the result of being around other animals that may not be protected against intestinal parasites.
The hookworm life cycle is very similar to most intestinal parasites in the sense that an infected animal deposits hookworm eggs when they defecate. Another animal, such as your cat, can then pick those eggs up by simply being in the environment. If they walk into an infected area and pick the fecal matter up on their paws and then groom themselves, they have created a direct line for an infestation. It’s worth noting that hookworms are actually far more common in canines than in felines.
Why should this concern you as a cat owner? It’s not outside the realm of possibility for cats to become infected with canine hookworms. Therefore, if you have a household that has both cats and dogs and only some animals are protected against intestinal parasites, you run the risk of inadvertently causing an infestation in one or more animals. It’s also important to know that the environment has a major impact here, as hookworms are far more common in warm, moist climates.
This is another intestinal parasite that can infect your cat relatively easily. Depending on the strength of the infestation, it could arguably also be one of the worst types of intestinal parasites to deal with. That’s largely because a relatively minor whipworm infestation can cause severe illness in your cat, even if he’s otherwise healthy. Even a cat in the prime of his life can be struck down with a whipworm infestation.
Like other types of intestinal parasites, the whipworm is usually acquired through other animals that are infected. Again, simply being in the environment where an infected animal has ventured can be enough to produce an infection. The whipworm has a tendency to attach itself to the intestinal wall and then feed on the cat’s nutrients. It doesn’t take long before the cat starts to display symptoms, especially if the infestation is severe.
Things that you should be looking out for include a lack of appetite, weight loss and significant loss of energy. In addition, your cat will likely have diarrhea and in some cases, there may be blood present. If your cat begins to display any of these symptoms, it’s imperative that you get him to a veterinarian right away, especially if he hasn’t been protected against intestinal parasites leading up to that point.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most terrifying types of parasites that can infect your cat. Just as the name implies, it is not a worm that causes an intestinal infection, but directly affects the cat’s cardiovascular system. Infections occur when a mosquito that is infected attacks your cat, thereby introducing the heartworm larva directly into the bloodstream. It only takes a few weeks for the larvae to start causing problems in many cases. They have a tendency to travel through the bloodstream directly to the heart and there, they can grow to a surprisingly long length of a foot or more.
The thing that really gets a lot of cats in trouble when it comes to a heartworm infestation is the sheer number of worms present. They reproduce so rapidly that once an infection occurs, it can quickly turn into a true life-or-death emergency. That’s because so many worms can be present that they basically plug up the heart, making it impossible for it to function as it was meant to. If proper intervention doesn’t occur, the cat is left to die a slow and agonizing death.
Symptoms of heartworm infection include vomiting blood, labored breathing, a lack of energy and severe coughing. Unfortunately, a lot of cat owners mistake these signs and symptoms for other diseases that are also common in cats, such as feline asthma. Time is definitely of the essence here because if you are dealing with a heartworm infection, it’s imperative that you get your cat treated by a veterinarian as quickly as possible in order to minimize the damage.
Can Heartworm Infections be Successfully Treated?
Fortunately, these types of infections can indeed be successfully treated. However, it is imperative that the treatment begin as soon as possible. In some mild cases, the cat can simply be monitored as the condition resolves on its own. In other instances, it’s necessary for the cat to remain under the care of a veterinarian on a 24-hour a day, seven days a week basis until the infection is largely resolved. That’s because more severe infections often require extreme levels of supportive care such as intravenous fluids, oxygen and cardiac support.
Can Cat Parasites be Transmitted to Humans?
In some cases, the answer is yes. For example, tapeworms and roundworms can at times be transmitted to humans through close contact with an infected cat. That’s one reason why it’s so important that you keep your cat on a parasite preventative. You should also wash your hands anytime you handle your cat, even if it’s only for a few moments.
By the same token, you should make sure that all of the pets in your home are on preventive medication and that they all receive regular health screenings. In addition to making sure that you wash your hands after direct contact with your cat, you should of course make sure that you also follow that practice after cleaning his litter box, feeding him or changing his water bowl.
It can definitely be scary when you start talking about all of the different parasites that can sometimes be associated with cats and other animals. In fact, it’s probably enough to make some would-be cat owners change their minds about getting a pet entirely. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have a cat or some other type of pet in your home and do so safely, even if you have multiple pets or small children. The key is to make sure that your pets are healthy through regular screenings and keep them on preventive medications that are designed to stop these types of things from happening.The end result is a happier, healthier pet. In addition, you have the peace of mind of knowing that your entire household is being protected against these types of parasites.