Roundworms in Cats – Signs, Symptoms and Prevention

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At a glance

About: Roundworms are a common parasitic worm to infect cats. They feed on the intestinal contents, competing with the cat for food.

Transmission: Cats become infected by ingesting infective eggs in the environment or food, water, prey such as rats, mice, beetles, and earthworms or trans-mammary infection via the mother’s milk.

Symptoms:

  • Poor coat condition
  • Stunted growth in kittens
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting, which may contain worms
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing (due to roundworm migration)
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)

Treatment: Worming medication to kill the parasites.

Roundworms in cats

About

Roundworms (ascarids) are a common intestinal parasitic worm. There are two species which infect cats, Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonina. Infection with T. cati is most common.

Roundworms feed upon the intestinal contents, competing with the host for food. They are around 3 – 5 inches long with a spaghetti-like in appearance.  Both T. cati and T. leonina occur throughout the world.

Roundworm infection is called toxocariasis.

Domestic and wild felids are the natural host, but other mammals can become transport hosts.

Transmission

Toxascaris cati Direct ingestion (ingestion of eggs via contaminated food, feces, water and environment)Once consumed, the larvae hatch from the egg and can behave in one of two ways. In young kittens, the larvae migrate through the intestinal wall and into the circulatory system. From there they pass through the liver and moult into stage three larvae (L3). They migrate into the windpipe (trachea), and they are coughed up and swallowed. Finally taking up residence in the cat’s small intestines where they reach sexual maturity and begin to produce eggs which are shed in the feces. Once in the environment, they develop into the infectious stage containing second stage larvae (L2).

If an older kitten or adult ingests an infective egg, the larvae hatch and migrate to organs and muscles where they encyst and become dormant. Some can migrate back to the small intestine, mature and produce eggs. Others remain dormant until activated by pregnancy (see below).

Transport hosts  (ingestion of infected rodents).

Rodents can be accidental (paratenic) hosts if infected by eggs in the environment. However, infection is similar to that of older cats where larvae migrate to the tissues and encyst, becoming dormant. If a cat ingests a rat containing infective cysts, the larvae are released into the cat’s gut where they reach maturity and produce eggs.

Transmammary infection (via the mother milk).

As we know, roundworms encyst in tissues of older kittens and adults. Pregnancy can reactivate larvae which migrate to the mammary glands and infect nursing kittens.

 

Toxascaris leonina

 

The life cycle of t. leonina is much more simple than that of t.cati, once a cat has ingested infective eggs or cysts from transport hosts), the entire development remains in the small intestine.

  • Direct ingestion (ingestion of eggs via contaminated food, feces, water and environment)
  • Transport hosts (ingestion of infected mice, rats, beetles, and earthworms).

 

 

Symptoms

Many cats will not show signs of roundworm infection; however, cats with a heavy worm burden and kittens may develop the following symptoms:

  • Dull and unkempt coat
  • Presence of worms in the vomit or feces (heavy infestations)
  • Diarrhea
  • Pot-bellied appearance, especially in kittens
  • Coughing (due to roundworm migration through lungs)
  • Fatigue
  • Stunted growth (in kittens)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe infestations can lead to pneumonia and intestinal and bowel blockage

Diagnosis:

Roundworms in cats
Image Denni Schnapp, Flickr

Fecal flotation – Diagnosis is performed by examination of the feces for the presence of roundworm eggs.

Adult roundworms are sometimes visible in the vomit of an infected cat.

Are roundworms dangerous to cats?

If the infestation is severe roundworms can lead to pneumonia as the roundworms migrate to the lungs as well as intestinal blockage.

As the roundworms are competing with the host for food, a heavy infestation can lead to malnutrition as well as stunted growth in kittens.

A heavy infestation, especially in kittens, can cause death.

Do I need to worm my indoor only cat?

Yes, even indoor cats can still potentially catch worms and should be regularly wormed unless advised otherwise by your veterinarian.

Are roundworms contagious to other cats?

Infected cats shedding roundworm eggs in their feces can contaminate the environment, which can then infect other cats who come into contact with the infective eggs.

Nursing cats can pass roundworms onto her kittens via her milk.

Can I catch roundworms from my cat?

Toxocariasis is a disease in humans caused by roundworm infection. Most cases have been identified as those of T. canis.

Humans are dead-end hosts, and roundworms can’t go past stage 2. Larvae migrate to various tissues in the body (visceral larva migrans) including the lungs, brain, eyes, and liver. The larvae can remain alive for many months, causing inflammation as they migrate through the tissues.

There are two forms of toxocariasis:

  • Ocular larva migrans (OLM) results from the larvae entering the eye, causing an inflammatory response, which leads to damage to the eye; in severe cases, it can result in blindness.
  • Visceral larva migrans (VLM): The larvae migrate to the various organs and cause an (inflammatory immune response) which leads to damage.

Prevention

  • Prevent hunting behaviour as well as maintaining rodent control.
  • If you are planning to mate your queen, de-worm her before mating and give another dose late in pregnancy.
  • Keep litter trays clean. Scoop solids at least once or twice a day and disinfect once a week and replace all litter at this time.
  • Dispose of cat feces in the garbage, don’t put it in the garden.
  • If your cat does defecate in the garden, remove feces daily.
  • If you have a sandpit in your garden, cover when not in use to prevent cats defecating in it.

Kittens – Worm from two weeks of age, and every two weeks until they are 12 weeks old.

Adults – Worm every 3-6 months, or as stated on your worming medication.

Treatment

There are several effective medications which can treat both species of roundworms. As they only work on adult roundworms, and not larvae or cysts.  Therefore it is necessary to repeat treatment every two weeks as the larvae mature in the cat.

Advocate/AdvantageMulti

Active ingredients: Imidacloprid and Moxidectin

Type: Spot on (monthly)

Treats: Fleas (adult), roundworms, hookworms,  lungworm and ear mites. Heartworm preventative. Does not treat tapeworm.

Minimum age/pregnancy: 9 weeks old. Safe use on pregnant and lactating females has not been established.

Aristopet

Active ingredients: Praziquantel and Pyrantel embolate

Type: Tablets (every 3 months)

Treats: Roundworm, hookworm, and tapeworm.

Minimum age/pregnancyCan use on pregnant and lactating females and kittens over 6 weeks.

Excelpet

Active ingredients: Praziquantel and Pyrantel embolate

Type: Tablets (every 3 months)

Treats: Roundworm, hookworm, and tapeworm.

Age/pregnancy: Can use on pregnant and lactating females and kittens over 6 weeks.

Heartgard

Active ingredients: Ivermectin and Pyrantel

Type: Chews (monthly)

Treats: Roundworm, hookworm, heartworm preventative.

Age/pregnancy: Can use on pregnant and lactating females and kittens over 6 weeks.

Milbemax

Active ingredients: Milbemycin Oxime and Praziquantel

Type: Tablets (monthly)

Treats: Roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm. Heartworm preventative.

Age/pregnancy: 6 weeks and over 500g. Can use on pregnant and lactating females.

Panacur

Active ingredient: Fenbendazole

Type: Tablets and paste (every 3 months)

Treats: Tapeworm (Taenia taeniaeformis species), roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, lungworm, and giardia. Does not treat Dipylidium caninum tapeworm.

Age/pregnancy: Can use on pregnant and lactating females and kittens over 2 weeks.

Popantel

Active ingredients:  Praziquantel

Type: Tablets (every 3 months)

Treats: Roundworm, hookworm, and tapeworm.

Age/pregnancy: Can use on pregnant and lactating cats and kittens over 6 weeks.

Profender

Active ingredients: Praziquantel and Emodepside

Type: Spot on (monthly)

Treats: Roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm, and lungworm.

Age/pregnancy: 8 weeks and over 500g. Can use on pregnant and lactating females.

Purina Total Care

Active ingredients: Pyrantel embolate and Niclosamide

Treats: Paste and tablets (every 12 weeks)

Type: Roundworm, hookworm, and tapeworm.

Age/pregnancy: 6 weeks old. Can use on pregnant and lactating females.

Revolution

Active ingredients: Selamectin

Type: Spot on (monthly)

Treats: Fleas (adult, larvae, and eggs), intestinal worms (except tapeworm), lungworm and ear mites. Heartworm preventative. Does not treat tapeworm.

Age/pregnancy: 6 weeks old. Can use on pregnant and lactating females.