Cat deworming is part of being a responsible pet parent. Thankfully, you've turned to the professionals for this critical information, and we're glad you found us! At Veterinary Medical Center, we strive to get the facts you need to keep your pet as healthy as possible. Not all information you find online will be accurate, which can be to your precious pet's detriment. That's why we've answered the most frequently asked questions about cat deworming and answered them thoroughly and accurately.
If you're looking for a highly trained veterinarian in Union City, CA, we'd love to help you care for your cat and any other pets you have. But if you suspect your cat may have intestinal worms, that's the first order of business, so please call us right away at (510) 441-8500.
What are intestinal parasites?
Intestinal parasites are typically little worms that live in your cat's stomach or intestines, which are the tubes that go from the stomach to the colon. The most common types of parasites that we see in cats, at least in terms of intestinal parasites, are roundworms and hookworms. We'll occasionally see whipworms and tapeworms in cats, but they all have a string-like appearance, and some are bigger while others are smaller. We can sometimes find parasites on a fecal flotation, or we can send them off to the lab for some enzyme or PCR testing.
Cats can pick intestinal parasites up in utero, or they can be passed between the mom and the kittens. Cats can also pick them up outdoors or be exposed to other cats inside.
How do intestinal parasites impact the health and wellbeing of your cat?
Well, first and foremost, these parasites are essentially stealing your cat's nutrition, so we sometimes see weight loss because of that. But these parasites can also cause gastrointestinal tract irritation and inflammation, so we also see many gastrointestinal signs.
Some of the gastrointestinal signs of intestinal parasites in cats are:
- Upset stomach
- Unwillingness to eat
- Loose or runny stool leading to diarrhea (sometimes with blood in it)
Parasites can also cause intestinal blockage.
What preventative measures can be taken to ensure my cat doesn't get worms or other parasites?
The best thing you can do is choose from the many different kinds of either monthly or twice-yearly preventatives on the market. There is a topical medication that you can apply to the skin on the back of your cat's neck that not only deworms them each month but it also protects against heartworm disease, fleas, ticks, and some mange and ear mites. Other options include deworming several times a year. Some cats are just indoors, so we might be okay with once a year, but we still recommend that every cat get dewormed, and we should also monitor a stool sample twice a year.
What are some signs and symptoms of intestinal parasites in your cat?
Some owners see parasites on their cat—you would see what looks like a tiny grain of rice sticking to your cat's bum, or you may see fleas or ticks on their hair coat, especially if they go outside (though we do also see them on indoor cats). Unfortunately, an infected cat can look and feel totally fine if they have a low parasite burden. And that's where regular stool screenings with our fecal tests are essential because they allow us to catch those parasites before they cause a problem.
Cats with a severe load can get very sick, and you'd see these symptoms. Cat heartworm disease can cause intestinal obstruction and really low protein levels, which can produce a potbelly. And if the cat has them bad enough, they can even vomit worms or pass large amounts in the stool. Otherwise, the cat might experience mild cramping and an upset stomach that you may not even notice yourself.
How will a veterinarian diagnose intestinal parasites in cats?
We can diagnose it visually if things are coming out at either end of your cat, but most of the time, we ask you to bring in a stool sample one or two times a year. We generally do a fecal flotation for intestinal parasites to see if we can find any eggs from those parasites. And then, based on what eggs we're seeing, we can diagnose what parasites are there. Sometimes we have to send the sample off to the lab for more specific tests because we can't always see the eggs on every parasite's fecal flotation.
There's also technology out now that allows us to test the DNA material of several types of worms. This means we can catch it even before these heartworms have sent eggs out into the world. So we're getting better and better technology to act more quickly and prevent heartworm issues.
Can you see worms in your cat's stool?
When a cat with tapeworms passes a stool, the tapeworm segment adheres to the stool, and you can see. It's about the size of rice, and it'll be moving. Roundworms and some of the other parasites can also be passed if the cat has a pretty high load. However, you generally don't see the worms in the stool. We need to collect a fecal sample, send it to the lab, and have a microscopic exam to identify what type of parasites to make sure we're choosing the proper antiparasitic medication.
What are some possible conditions caused by intestinal parasites, and what are the treatments?
Some potential conditions would be GI upset (vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, bloating), weight loss, and protein loss, the latter of which can cause the belly to swell. There are also dermatologic issues and an unthrifty hair coat that can occur, but, for the most part, it's going to be things that are subclinical, meaning you're not going to be able to see what they are. This is because parasites have learned how to live with a system they're in so that they can stay there longer, making their infections subclinical.
Also, cats don't show symptoms of pain or discomfort until they're not feeling well. They're not only predators, but they're also prey animals, so cats are good at hiding discomfort. If they are infected, however, you might notice they're sitting a little more hunched or not as interactive as they used to be. Those could be indications that they're just not feeling well. Other things could be evidence of bleeding in the intestinal tract, which most often would be associated with the change in their stool. It would start to look much darker. Sometimes we'll even have a tarry appearance in really severe cases. Intestinal parasites can cause bleeding and ulcerations, which would sometimes show up as blood, but other times will just show up as pain. And then also they can cause obstructions in the intestines, which vomiting could indicate.
There are also some diseases that we call "fakers" in that they look like severe diseases, but an infestation of intestinal parasites causes the symptoms. That's why we tend to recommend frequent intestinal parasite checks. And then, depending on what we find, we can recommend a treatment.
Why is early detection and diagnosis of intestinal parasites so important?
The parasites are freeloading a good meal, and they're reproducing. So we can get to the point where the burden is so bad that we can have an obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract. It can lead to so much depletion that it makes your cat extremely ill. While this is very rare, some cases are so severe that the worms have caused such severe anemia that the cat needs a blood transfusion.
In addition, some of these parasites are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted to humans. We don't want your cat or dog to have parasites, and we certainly don't want children exposed to them. We'd like to have every dog and cat that lives with a family to have a fecal sample checked at least once a year. And then we also want to deworm every dog and cat for roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm.
When should my cat see a veterinarian for deworming?
As veterinarians, we recommend keeping the cat on the monthly prevention that covers everything—ear mites, heartworms, fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites. For the most part, that's all you need to do. Suppose you don't have your cat stay on monthly all-in-one prevention, and your cat goes outside. In that case, we'd recommend deworming that cat every three months, especially if they're hunters, as they can pick up intestinal parasites from mice, rabbits, crickets, or bugs. Talk to your cat to determine how often to deworm your cat based on their lifestyle.
Ideally, we like to see cats a minimum of once a year when they're young, and as they get older, in the seven to eight range, we like to see them twice a year. And every time we see them for their annual or bi-annual visit, we check a stool sample. For indoor kitties, once a year is probably adequate, but again, for cats that are going outside, it's a good idea to check a stool sample twice a year at a minimum.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is another excellent reference for cat deworming. If you still have questions about cat deworming or are due for an appointment to get your cat on these helpful preventative medications, please don't hesitate to call us at (510) 441-8500 or email us at [email protected].