How to Get Rid of Worms in Cats

Katy Nelson, DVM
Oct 08, 2020
   |    6 min read   |    Share this:

Discovering that your cat has worms can be an unpleasant experience for any pet owner. Not only can finding the worms be frightful (and gross), but their presence can also raise some serious concerns about the health of your cat.

However, there are a number of safe and effective ways to treat worms in cats, as well as a variety of preventative measures you can take to lessen the chances of a reinfestation in the future.

Here’s what you need to know about worms and how to get rid of worms in cats safely and effectively.

Jump to a section:

How Do Cats Get Worms?

Cats most commonly contract worms after coming into contact with parasite eggs or infected feces.

A cat may walk through an area with eggs or infected feces, and since cats are often such fastidious groomers, they will then ingest the eggs or fecal particles as they clean their fur and feet.

This can occur in indoor cats as easily as it can in outdoor cats, particularly if multiple cats share a litter box that is contaminated with infected feces.

Cats that live outdoors and regularly hunt small rodents are also at a higher risk of contracting worms because the worms can live in the muscle tissues of their prey.

After eating a rodent that’s infected with worm larvae, a cat can develop a worm infestation as those larvae develop to maturity in the cat’s intestines. 

Can Cats Get Worms From Dogs?

Yes, cats can pick up infected eggs from dog poop, as not all roundworms and hookworms are species-specific. Ancylostoma braziliense hookworm can affect both dogs and cats, as well as Toxascaris leonina roundworm. 

Cats can also get tapeworms via the flea on dogs if they are living in an infested home or yard. If a flea from a dog jumps onto a cat (or vice versa) and gets ingested, there is the potential for a tapeworm infestation to develop.

Types of Worms in Cats

The most common types of worms in cats are:

  • Roundworms

  • Hookworms

  • Tapeworms

  • Whipworms

There are also a number of less commonly diagnosed worms in cats that can cause serious health problems and can even be fatal, including:

  • Lungworms

  • Stomach worms

  • Bladder worms

  • Liver flukes

  • Heartworms

Symptoms of Worms in Cats

Worm infestations in cats may be completely asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) or severe and life-threatening, depending on the type of worm and severity of the infestation.

Common signs of worms in cats include:

  • Vomiting (sometimes with worms in the vomit)

  • Diarrhea (with or without blood)

  • Tarry feces

  • Weight loss

  • Distended abdomen

  • Skin lesions

  • Generally poor body condition and a dull coat

As infestations worsen and symptoms progress, you may see signs such as:

  • Weakness

  • Dehydration

  • Pale lips and gums due to anemia

  • Low blood pressure

  • Shock

  • Death, in the most severe cases

Symptoms for Specific Types of Worms in Cats

Use this guide to help determine the specific type of worm based on your cat’s symptoms.

Roundworms can cause of number of serious issues, such as:

  • Coughing/pneumonia (if larvae penetrate the lungs and mature in the respiratory tract)

  • Vomiting (which may contain adult worms)

  • Diarrhea

  • Distended abdomen (enlarged)

  • Weight loss/unhealthy appearance

  • Intestinal obstruction (in severe cases)

Hookworms can cause health problems that include:

  • Skin lesions (if larvae penetrate the skin and migrate through the tissues)

  • Coughing (if larvae penetrate the lungs)

  • Diarrhea (with blood)

  • Dark, tarry stool

  • Weight loss

  • Poor appetite

  • Pale lips and gums (secondary to anemia)

Whipworms can be asymptomatic, but in more severe infections, can cause:

  • Large bowel diarrhea (with blood)

  • Weight loss

  • Dehydration

  • Anemia

With tapeworms, your cat may not have any symptoms, but you may see worm segments that look like white grains of rice in these areas:

  • On and around the anus

  • Attached to the fur around the anal area and under the tail

  • In/on the feces in the litter box

Lungworm infestations can cause:

  • Coughing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Pneumonia as the infestation worsens and symptoms progress

Heartworm disease in cats can cause:

  • Coughing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Lack of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Vomiting

  • Sudden collapse

  • Seizures

  • Sudden death

Bladder worm infestations may not cause symptoms in some cats, but severe cases may cause:

  • Visible blood in the urine

  • Straining

  • Pain with urination

Severe infestations of liver flukes may cause:

  • Swelling of the liver

  • Abdominal distention (swollen belly)

Are Worms Painful for Cats?

Worms in cats can potentially cause pain. The migration of larvae through the liver, stomach, eye, or lungs would cause discomfort as the affected tissues become inflamed from the disruption. 

This could present as:

  • Belly pain, including gastritis due to inflammation of the stomach lining (potential nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, food aversion)
  • Eye irritation (excessive rubbing of the eye, squinting, or discharge)
  • A change in your cat’s breathing rate/pattern 

The accumulation of fluid from protein loss can cause a distended abdomen in some animals, which can be uncomfortable due to the swelling of the abdominal muscles and skin.

It can also cause breathing issues if too much abdominal fluid is pressing on the diaphragm and restricting the normal lung capacity for proper breathing. 

Can Humans Get Worms From Cats?

Yes, humans can contract worm infections from cats by coming into direct contact with contaminated feces or soil.

Common modes of transmission include:

  • Children playing in sandboxes where cats have defecated
  • Walking barefoot through contaminated soil
  • Gardening in soil without wearing gloves

Accidental ingestion of contaminated soil or feces can happen in humans as well, so good hygiene practices are vital for preventing transmission from cat to owner.

How to Get Rid of Worms in Cats

There are several “home” remedies that claim to be effective in treating and preventing worms in cats, including garlic, apple cider vinegar, pumpkin seeds, carrots, and turmeric. 

However, attempting to treat your cat with over-the-counter remedies or natural remedies for worms in cats is never recommended.

While it may seem like a faster and cheaper alternative to visiting your veterinarian, there is NO guarantee that those products are safe or effective in treating any type of medical condition, and they could actually be harmful to your cat.

Here are some effective and vet-approved treatments for worms in cats.

Dewormers 

Your veterinarian may prescribe an oral or injectable dewormer that will kill the adult and larval worms in the intestine at the time of diagnosis.

Broad-spectrum prescription medications such as Panacur (fenbendazole) and Drontal Plus (pyrantel, praziquantel, fenbendazole) can be used to treat hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections, but they must be carefully administered to your cat according to your veterinarian’s instructions. 

Your cat may require multiple doses to kill any larvae that may have hatched after the first dose was given.

Praziquantel is also available as a one-time injectable treatment for tapeworm infections, which works by paralyzing and dislodging the sucker of the worm from the intestinal wall, allowing the worms to be passed in the feces.

Your veterinarian may also recommend starting your cat on a monthly topical or oral flea prevention, since tapeworm infections can recur if there are fleas in your home environment.

What Happens if Worms Go Untreated in Cats?

Worm infestations that are left untreated can be dangerous, even fatal, for your cat.

Migration of larvae through the organs and tissues of the body as they make their way to the intestine could result in severe skin infections, blindness, convulsions, or pneumonia, depending on the path of larval migration.

Ongoing losses of blood and vital nutrients, which should be absorbed by the intestines, can result in progressive anemia, weight loss, dehydration, and death. 

How to Prevent Worms in Cats

Worm infestations in cats and transmission to children and adults can be prevented through good hygiene practices and the year-round use of heartworm, intestinal worm, and parasite prevention.

For indoor cats, cleaning the litter box on a daily basis, as well as changing out the litter and scrubbing the litter box on a regular basis is vital for minimizing exposure to contaminated feces.

For outdoor cats, regularly scooping feces from the yard, sandbox, and flower beds will minimize the potential for propagation of the parasite life cycle.

Sakolnap via Shutterstock 

Related Posts