What are intestinal parasites?

There are two different things we're referring to when we think about intestinal parasites. We think about intestinal worms and then what I categorize as intestinal parasites. Intestinal worms in cats would consist of roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. We have two different single-celled organisms. One is called giardia, and one is called coccidia. I referred to those intestinal parasites because they're not worms. They're actually just single-celled organisms that can live in and wreak havoc in the intestinal tract. I would lump all the rounds, hooks, tapeworms, coccidia, and giardia as intestinal parasites.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

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

Significantly. In many cases, particularly with kittens or older cats, they can also have a big impact on adult cats. Virtually every kitten and puppy is born with hookworms and roundworms, and they get those through the placenta of a mama cat or mama dog because larva migrates into the body and then gets into the milk supply. That's how puppies and kittens typically get the rounds and hooks. They can have a huge impact on the quality of a kitten's vitality because, especially with the hookworms, they're voracious bloodsuckers. Unfortunately, they can be such an issue where, in extreme situations, because they're bloodsuckers, they can cause extreme anemia or blood loss and be fatal for both puppies and kittens.

Roundworms are not likely going to be fatal, but they can cause these big pot bellies, and kittens just don't feel good, and it can affect their bowel movements. We see intestinal parasites, such as coccidia and giardia, can call blowout rocket diarrhea, so those can really be messy to deal with. Fortunately, they're relatively easy to get rid of. Still, they can cause dehydration because they have so much water loss from diarrhea. Tapeworms can also make them feel pretty bad. Depending on the volume of the tapeworms that they have, because the tapeworms compete for the nutrients within the intestinal tract, it can make them not only feel bad but also look poorly.

What preventative measures can be taken to ensure that my cat doesn't get worms?

I'm going to refer to both prevention and treatment because although they're not the same, they kind of work hand in hand. So if we get a kitten or puppy come in, we always want to deworm them because we know that virtually all of them will have roundworms and hookworms. Most people have been conditioned to know that their puppies and kittens must be dewormed. They may not know what for, but it's for roundworms and hookworms. That's treatment, not prevention. We can't prevent the fact that mama cat is actually passing it on to her kittens. Tapeworm prevention involves a couple of things. If they stay inside, they're not going to be hunting small animals because eating small animals or mammals is one way they can get tapeworms. The other way they get tapeworms is by ingesting fleas. So if we provide appropriate and effective, and let me emphasize 'effective,' flea control, we should be able to prevent issues with tapeworms. The coccidia and the giardia are environmental issues, things that they're going to pick up from the environment or in unclean conditions. Sometimes sadly, we'll see it in puppy mills or kitten mills or kitten breeding facilities where they have very poor hygienic practices, and they can be a horrible source for coccidia and giardia. So again, clean conditions also greatly impact trying to prevent the problem in the first place.

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

A couple of things we mentioned. As far as the signs and symptoms go, particularly in kittens, they just don't look good. They don't feel good, don't want to eat well, and may have a pot belly. The tapeworms, in particular, compete for some of the nutrients, so if we continually have tapeworms, we might have intestinal issues with vomiting and loose stools, and these cats may have a hard time trying to maintain weight because of the competition for adequate nutrition for those cats. The intestinal parasites, such as giardia and coccidia, can call some blowout diarrhea, so these cats just feel miserable. We would need to get rid of the intestinal parasites to help improve the quality of those cats' lives.

Can you see worms in your cat's stool?

Good question. We have mentioned these five different parasites. Giardia and coccidia are microscopic. You can't see those, and they're not worms anyway. You can see tapeworms. They look like grains of rice. Sometimes you'll see them on the poop when they have a bowel movement, or sometimes you'll see the little segments that look like rice wiggle out of your cat's or dog's rectum. Roundworms can be seen as well. Again, that's primarily a kitten issue. They look like skinny pieces of spaghetti. If you see them pass a bunch of them, they'll look almost like a bunch of rubber bands. Sometimes they'll even spit them up as well. You're not able to see hookworms.

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

Some of the things we already talked about. They don't feel good, and they don't look good. Those are going to be the main conditions we're going to see with adult cats. Kittens can feel so poorly, or if they have hookworms that are sucking a lot of blood, they become anemic, and so then they lose a lot of their vitality, and in extreme cases, it can be fatal. But here's the good news—we can treat each of these conditions caused by these different parasites. We use the same medication for hookworms and roundworms. They're easy to get rid of. Tapeworms are also easy to treat, but it requires a different type of medication. We have a topical liquid, so people don't have to struggle to try to poke a pill down their cat's throat and get into a catfight. You can use a topical liquid, but it will take care of the roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms with one application. The intestinal parasites, giardia and coccidia, there are two different medications. Each one has its own unique treatment. So again, they're also pretty easy to get rid of, but first, we need to identify if they have them in the first place.

How will a veterinarian diagnose intestinal parasites in your cat?

Sometimes, the pet parent can make the diagnosis for us. They come in and say, Oh my God, I saw this nasty, disgusting worm that looks like spaghetti coming out, and they had a kitten, so we know that kitten's got roundworms. The other type of worm is tapeworms, which can be seen as well. Tapeworms look like little grains of rice. There are different types of tapeworms, from the one they ingest from the flea to the one they get when they eat a small mammal, but they're easy to see. The other way we diagnose is by doing a fecal or stool sample. In a fecal or stool sample, we will look for the eggs of the intestinal worms, the roundworms and the hookworms.

We can easily look under the microscope and see if they have hookworms or roundworms. Unfortunately, the eggs of tapeworms are in that little rice-like segment, so we're not really expecting to find evidence of the tapeworms in the intestinal tract because the eggs pass out the body in that little rice-like segment. For that reason, it's very unusual for us to ever be able to diagnose or find evidence of tapeworms in a stool sample. We also take a stool sample for the coccidia and the giardia, the two intestinal parasites. We take a little bit of your pet's poop, but no more than a little thimble full of poop is all we need. Then we do something special with that. We put it in a special solution and then look under a microscope for the intestinal worm eggs or for these intestinal parasites.

When should my cat see a veterinarian for deworming?

Right away. If we have no idea how long your pet would've had intestinal worms, you can imagine how uncomfortable they must feel. Not painful, but uncomfortable and just lousy. So if there's any indication, like if you're seeing any evidence of intestinal worms, let us know. We can get the medication for you and take care of them immediately. That'll certainly improve the quality of their life.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Deworming - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What are intestinal parasites?

Intestinal parasites include intestinal worms, plus there's a sort of a separate category, what we would call intestinal parasites. I'll give you the breakdown. What's the difference between intestinal parasites and intestinal worms? Intestinal worms would be brown worms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Those are the three that we're most likely going to see in cats. Then we have two other types of organisms there. If you think back to eighth-grade biology, you're looking under the microscope or drop of water, and you see this little single-celled organism swimming around. Well, there are two of those. One is called coccidia and the others call Giardia, which we also see in cats, but those are not worms. They are just intestinal parasites, just these little single-celled organisms. I want to make that distinction. When we use a dewormer, we're just getting rid of the worms. If we see either one of these two intestinal parasites, each of them has its own unique medication to eliminate them.

How does my cat get worms or parasites?

Good question. So let's start as a kitten. Most kittens and puppies will get what we call roundworms and hookworms. They can get those from mama cat or mama dog. They can get them through the placenta. They migrate into the body and through the placenta before they're born, or they can get them through the milk while they're nursing. Adult cats can continue to get roundworms and hookworms, but those are a problem for outside cats, and they get them from going out and grazing. A lot of cats, of course, will eat grass, which would be how they would get it as an adult cat. And then the other type of worm we see are what we call tapeworms. They get tapeworms from either ingesting a flea or eating a small mammal. Those are the three types of worms that we see.

Are worms painful to cats?

I wouldn't say causing sharp binding pain, but they can make them un-thrifty, so they can affect their overall health and wellbeing. I wouldn't call it pain, but it would definitely impact their overall health.

Are worms visible in my cat's stool? What do they look like?

Of the worms that we see, roundworms and hookworms can be seen in kittens. Roundworms are the ones that look like skinny pieces of spaghetti. They can be several inches long, but usually, you'll see several of them. You might see a little cluster of them. They look like rubber bands being passed out sometimes. You're not able to see hookworms. So you could say, Well, I do not see any worms in my kitten or Mm puppy, so they don't have worms. They very likely could have hookworms. You're just not going to be able to see them. Tapeworms, again, are the ones they get from ingesting a flea or eating a small mammal, and you can see those as well.

They typically look like little grains of rice. Those little grains of rice will either be passed along with the poop, or they can crawl out of the rectum. So sometimes people will see their catlike laying on the bed, and all of a sudden, they'll see this little rice-like worm crawling out of the rectum. I will mention a couple of things about tapeworms.

As I mentioned, pets can only get them from ingesting a flea or eating a small mammal. However, when they have the tapeworms, it doesn't mean they're going to pass them regularly. Depending on the tapeworm, it can get to be about two feet long, and they're made up of dozens and dozens of those individual segments. But it doesn't mean they're going to be continually passing those segments out where you would see them. They could pass some today, and it could be weeks before they pass them again. You could look around their rear end every day to see if you see those little segments. It could be weeks before they pass more of those little segments. Those little segments would break off from the long chain. But again, it's not something you'll necessarily see regularly. Typically, with the roundworms, once they start passing them, you'll see them frequently until they get rid of them.

What are the signs my cat has worms?

The most common one we see with kittens is a round pop belly. So if we see these little pop belly kittens or puppies coming in, they're almost going to have roundworms, but they may not necessarily have the pop belly. Although, that's a classic situation. They've got a really heavy burden with the tapeworms. That's probably the most visible sign you would see. Otherwise, we have a term in veterinary medicine that's called ADR: they ain't doing right. Some of those cats are kittens. They're just unthrifty. We'll always be suspicious if they're not doing well that they could have intestinal worms or intestinal parasites.

How common are worms in cats?

Very common in kittens. In fact, most kittens and puppies have intestinal worms, roundworms, and/or hookworms. That's very common in household cats. At least, once we get rid of the roundworms and hookworms, if you've got an exclusively inside cat, there's virtually no chance they would get them again because, as an adult, they can only get roundworms and hookworms from going outside and grazing and getting it from the grass. The larva lives around the grass in the dirt. As for tapeworms, they can get them from ingesting a flea, so if you should have any risk of exposure or getting fleas, or you've got other pets that come in the house and expose your indoor cat to fleas, they can absolutely get tapeworms. But again, they're not going to get the tapeworms from eating a small mammal unless you've got mice running around the house. If they consume a mouse, they can pick up the tapeworms that way, but if they're not going outside to hunt or catch chipmunks and mice and bowls and such, they're not going to get it any other way. Indoor cats can get intestinal worms, but it would only be the tapeworms as an adult.

How long can worms last inside my cat?

If we check a pet's stool sample, we're not looking for the worm. We're actually looking for the eggs of the worms. A cat or dog can have roundworms or hookworms, and I will mention whipworms because that can show up in dogs too, but it is very rare in cats. I personally, in a 40-year career, have never seen whipworms in a cat. Can it happen? Yes, but it would be extremely unusual. But if they get those worms, they live in the intestinal tract. They lay their eggs and keep the cycle going. However, it's easy to get rid of intestinal worms. We shouldn't have any problem getting rid of it. Just know that your cats can have it, and yes, they can keep them alive.

It's virtually the same situation with a tapeworm since they get them from ingesting a flea. They get them from eating a small mammal, but they don't lay the eggs in the intestinal tract. Those little rice-like segments that I described pass out into the environment, and the eggs are in those segments. We're not going to find the eggs in the intestinal tract, which is why if your veterinarian does a fecal sample and checks for intestinal worms, they'll almost never see evidence of tapeworms simply because the eggs are not laid in the intestinal tract. That's what we're looking for. We generally rely on the owners to see the tapeworms pass in their own pets' poop. If we know that your pet has a flea problem or if they're a hunter, then yes, they will likely have tapeworms.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.