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Cat Deworming - Prevention & Diagnosis of Cat Heartworms

What are intestinal parasites?

They are parasites that inhabit the intestinal tract of cats. They include hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, coccidia, which are protozoan parasites, and probably a few other types that I am not thinking of right at this moment. But it's any kind of a parasite that inhabits the intestinal tract.

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

How do intestinal parasites impact the health and wellbeing of my cat?

If they are living in the intestines, that means they're likely attached to the intestines and stealing nutrients from the cat, so the most obvious effect would be weight loss. Maybe that animal won't gain weight or thrive as well as another cat who does not have intestinal worms. Other issues could be with the stool, the consistency of the stool. Oftentimes, cats that have intestinal parasites will have a softer stool, perhaps even diarrhea, which, in turn, will lead to weight loss or difficulty gaining weight.

What are some signs and symptoms of intestinal parasites in my cat?

Weight loss and soft stool probably would be the two most common symptoms of cat intestinal parasites. Sometimes you'll actually have blood in the stool as well, but it's almost always going to be a stool issue in some way, shape, or form. Very rarely with heavy, heavy, heavy parasite loads, you can have vomiting and inappetence and those kinds of things as well, but that's usually a much more advanced sign.

What preventative measures can be taken to ensure that my cat does not get worms and other parasites?

The keyword there is preventative, so various preventative products. The one I use is called Revolution or Revolution Plus; there's also Advantage Multi for cats. Those products are the two big ones I have used. The benefit of those products, specifically Revolution Plus because that's the one I happen to use right now, is that they prevent heartworm disease, hookworms, roundworms, fleas, ticks, and ear mites. It does all six things when you just put a liquid solution on the back of the neck once a month. The old expression, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure has never been more true than in a product such as that. So this entire discussion can be avoided if you simply do proper preventative care on a regular basis.

Can you see worms in your cat's stools?

Some of them, yes. Most of them, you will not. The most common ones that people know of are things like hookworms and roundworms, maybe even whipworms, and it’s very unlikely that you'll see those. Roundworms are big, yes, but when they're alive, you're probably not going to see them. It's just the eggs that are deposited in the stool. Once you give them a dewormer and those worms are passed, yes, you might see those.

Probably the most popular answer to this question is tapeworms. Tapeworms are segmented worms. Those segments break off individually. Even when the head of the worm is attached, I know this is nasty, but when the head of the worm is attached to the intestinal lining, the tail of the worm will break off one segment at a time, and those are passed in the stool. So, oftentimes, those are diagnosed by a phone call or a visit from the client saying they are seeing worms in their cat’s stool. So yes, you can see some, but not all. It's usually tapeworms.

How will a veterinarian diagnose intestinal parasites in my cat?

Tapeworms are often diagnosed by the word of the owner more times than not, because the eggs themselves are contained in those little segments, and unless one of those busts open, it's very hard for us to diagnose unless there's so many that we see them on the exterior, around the rear end of the cat or the owner will tell us. The more typical answer to that question is by using a fecal flotation examination. So what we do is we take some stool from that particular animal, either brought in by an owner or removed as pleasantly as possible by us. We will set up the stool sample and if there are worm eggs present, those worm eggs will float to the top of this very dense solution that we use, and then they can be viewed under a microscope.

What are some possible conditions caused by intestinal parasites, and what are the treatments?

Again, I keep going back to weight loss as the biggest thing, because either weight loss in and of itself or soft stool, diarrhea, which leads to weight loss, are some of the most common things that you're going to see. Anemia is another one because certain types of worms, like hookworms, for example, do latch onto the intestines and they feed on blood. So if you have enough of those, your cat can get anemia, anemia meaning a lack of red blood cells. So you can have that, particularly in kittens. You would have to have an absolute truckload of hookworms in an adult animal for them to get anemia, but in a kitten, not so much. You're talking about a one or two-pound kitten, so it wouldn't take near as many to see that same effect on them.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of intestinal parasites so important?

It's just like any other disease, honestly. The sooner you can catch it, the more effective you are going to be at treating it, and the more effective you're going to be at treating it before any adverse signs can arise. Again, I'll use the kitten reference, but if you let a kitten go for several weeks with a heavy parasite load, you may not have a kitten anymore. So the sooner you can get that diagnosed, and certainly treated, the better off you're going to be long-term.

When should my cat see a veterinarian for deworming?

We usually start very early, so the first visit. When they see us for the first visit, usually between six and eight weeks, we will check a stool sample and deworm accordingly. Even if I see a negative stool sample, I will oftentimes still deworm; that's just me personally. I will oftentimes still deworm them at least once with an appropriate broad-spectrum dewormer, because I don't want to trust a piece of stool that's this big, in hopes that maybe it's a low-worm burden and they're not shedding a lot of worm eggs or anything. I don't want to miss that, so I usually cover them with a dewormer the first time as a precaution.

And then after that, I'll do two negative samples as a kitten back-to-back, and then once I've achieved that, I usually rely on the preventatives that we mentioned earlier in the discussion to maintain that status for me. Beyond that when they come in, at least for their annual checkups, if not bi-annually, we will often recommend a stool sample to ensure that they're still clear.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Deworming - FAQs

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

Can all intestinal parasites be prevented?

I'm almost scared to say yes. But with domestic cats and the most common parasites that we see, yeah. I'm going to say yes. With the parasiticide and de-wormers and preventative medications on the market nowadays, usually with domestic animals and cats. in particular—if they have intestinal worms, there's going to be a drug that can treat it right now. So yes, that would be my somewhat short answer.

How does my cat get intestinal parasites?

Probably the most common method is what's called a fecal-oral route. And yes, it's exactly like it sounds. They have to ingest feces orally to obtain it. And let me be more precise. It's not just any feces; it’s the feces of an infected animal. And in many cases, those fecal eggs or those parasite eggs in the feces have the larvae for a day or two before they become infectious. It's not a hard thing to do. I mean, it happens all the time. And it's not always as deliberate as the cat walking up and eating a pile of stool. I know that sounds disgusting, but they do it. Especially dogs. But it can be as simple as they just stepped in it.

Maybe they share the same litter box as a housemate or littermate. And that animal has it. They go in the same litter box. They're scooting around in there, and they get some on their paw. Well, what's a cat going to do? The first thing that cats will do when they get anything on their body is they're going to stop, and they're going to lick it off. They're going to groom themselves. So, boom, you just got infected that way. So that is the most common reason.

The only exception I would give to those, if we're talking about all the intestinal parasites, is tapeworms, and that’s something we commonly see. The most common thing that we see is dipylidium caninum. That's a tapeworm from fleas. So they have to ingest a flea. Not feces, but a flea. The other type of tapeworm is echinococcus, and the last name is granulosum, I think. But that is something that they usually get from eating the host animal, which is mice. So sometimes you'd have a mouse or cat, maybe a barn cat, something like that. And they ingest a mouse that is happening to harbor this type of tapeworm; they can get it that way.

Can my indoor cats still get intestinal parasites?

Yeah, they can. It's tough because where are they going to get it? Where are they exposed to the feces of an infected animal if they're 100% indoors? It's retty rare. The most common thing would be those tapeworms that we mentioned. That is the most common thing that we see, the most common parasite in cats that are indoors. It doesn't take much for a flea to come inside. And then again, the way they groom themselves, they're going to probably ingest it. And then they can break with tapeworms after that.

The most likely other scenario I would think is if you introduce a new cat into the household. So you can have this new one that comes in, and little typhoid Mary brings it into the healthy cat that's in the house. And that's what happens. So if you get a new animal introduced to the house, always get them checked at the vet first. Get a good stool sample done first. And then if they are clean, it's okay for everybody to intermingle and hopefully live happily ever after.

What can I do to prevent tapeworms?

Flea control. Can I give you a two-word answer? Flea control. You control it accurately for fleas. And they won't get tapeworms that way. So you should be good to go if you do proper flea control.

How can I keep my cat from passing on intestinal parasites to the other pets in the household?

Proper preventative measures. Again, if you introduce a new cat into the house, have that checked and de-wormed properly. But preventative measures are products like Revolution Plus, Revolution, and Advantage Multi for cats. They're flea control, some of them do ticks, they do intestinal worms, they do ear mite—all the things that cats can bring or spread amongst themselves. If you treat them accordingly and keep them on an adequate preventative regularly, you should avoid any problems with that.

Can any intestinal parasites be passed on to people?

Yes. So intestinal parasites can be passed on to people. Immediately my mind goes to ... Okay, say an animal, a cat, in this case, has roundworms. They shed roundworm eggs in their stool. I think it's two days or so, give or take a little bit. But let's say that in two days, those roundworm eggs become larvae, and that's infective larvae. Two things can happen. And thankfully, it's not something we see in adults. Unfortunately, it can be seen in children, because they don't always have the same hygiene as we do as adults. But number one, if you were walking around barefooted and maybe you have a cut or any kind of defect on your skin, an abrasion, anything that the skin barrier is compromised, and you step in a pile of infected roundworm poop, that can penetrate the skin, and cause cutaneous lesions. It's called cutaneous larval migrans. But that is something that you will see. And that happen to an adult or a kid.

You can see what's called ocular larval migrans. And there's another version called visceral larval migrans. They are when an infective roundworm larva is ingested, usually orally. And yes, I'm talking about people the same way. Maybe you were handling the cat's stool. You were cleaning the litter box. You didn't wash your hands properly. If the stool is ingested, it can migrate to those areas, the eye, or your internal organs. And those roundworms will migrate right through specific organism and leave little fibrous tracks. It's a mess. It's a nightmare, and you don't ever want to deal with it or have to deal with it in your kids. The ocular version can cause blindness. And it's permanent—irreversible blindness.

How do you prevent all this scary stuff? You take your cat to the veterinarian, you get them checked, you get them de-wormed, and you keep them on a proper preventative. And we don't worry about it.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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