Internal parasites (worms) are a frequent problem in cats. All kittens are infected with roundworm shortly after birth via the mother's milk. Moreover, cats of all ages are constantly exposed to potentially harmful parasites through soil in the (back) garden and in parks contaminated with infectious worm eggs, and through prey animals (e.g. mice) carrying the infection. Although some of these parasites can be harmful, they can be easily controlled and disease from the most common worms - hookworm, roundworm and tapeworm - can be prevented.
Why worms are a problem
Worms can be particularly harmful to kittens, but can also affect the health and well-being of the adult cat. It has been shown through research that 25% of parks and 60% of sandpits in a large city are infested with roundworm eggs. Worms can also be harmful to public health.
How can you examine your pet?
It is best to have your pet examined for worms. This can be done with a fecal examination. Many owners think that if they do not see worms the cat therefore does not have them. This is not true! You do not always need to see worms for a worm infestation. All kittens have worms. It is therefore essential to control them and ensure constant prevention afterwards.
Treating and preventing worms
Since all kittens are already infected right after birth and are constantly reinfected via mother's milk and the environment, it is important to start worm-killing treatment in the very first weeks of life. Even after that, it is important to continue worming the kittens often. For the first weeks, we have a worming paste. When the kittens weigh more than 500 grams, they can be dewormed with tablets for the first time. Until 9 weeks of age, kittens should be wormed every 2 weeks, at 3, 5, 7 and 9 weeks of age. From 2 to 6 months every month and every 3 months thereafter. The female cats should be treated at the same time as the kittens. This prevents kittens from developing the disease and excreting worm eggs through their faeces, so the environment does not get infected.
We too can become infected with some of the worms mentioned and this can occasionally cause substantial problems! It depends on the type of worm you get infected with. Because of the wide spread of worms and the ease with which infection can be contracted, adult cats should also be treated regularly (at least four times a year).
There are many drugs available for the treatment and prevention of worms. Some of them work against all common cat worms, providing complete protection for the pet. Make sure you give your pet the drug that best meets his and your needs in terms of ease of use, effectiveness and safety (especially when treating young kittens).
Roundworms, also known as ascarids, are most common in cats and dogs. The adult worms are found in the intestines where they live off intestinal contents. In appearance, they resemble spaghetti and can grow up to 10 cm long.
How are roundworms transmitted?
Most kittens are infected through mother's milk immediately after birth. In addition, cats can get roundworms through the environment, by inadvertently swallowing the infectious eggs in contaminated soil or by eating infected rodents.
The life cycle of the roundworm
Adult roundworms live in the small intestine of cats, where they lay eggs that are released into the environment through the cat's faeces. Within a few days, infectious larvae develop in the eggs.
When a cat swallows the infectious eggs, they hatch in its stomach and then the larvae penetrate the stomach wall and start migrating to various organs, before returning to the intestines. There, they develop into adult worms that lay eggs. Some larvae do not reach the intestine: they remain encapsulated in the various organs until a stimulus, such as pregnancy, reactivates them and causes them to migrate again and develop into adult worms in the intestines.
Roundworms are especially harmful to kittens where the migrating larvae can cause liver, lung and brain damage. The presence of adult worms in the intestines leads to intestinal inflammation that has a variety of effects on digestion, development and growth.
Hookworms are common parasites in the small intestine of dogs and cats.
How hookworms are transmitted
Cats can be infected by inadvertently ingesting hookworm larvae through contaminated soil or through larvae that actively penetrate the skin. Another way of infection is through ingestion of infected prey animals (e.g. mice).
The life cycle of the hookworm
Adult hookworms live in the small intestine of cats where they lay eggs that are released into the environment via the cat's faeces. Within a few weeks, larvae hatch from the eggs, ready to infect the cat. After infection, the larvae begin to migrate until they reach their destination: the cat's intestines, where they develop into adult worms that lay eggs.
Larvae penetrating through the skin cause intense, itchy inflammation; migration through the respiratory system can cause inflammation and coughing.
Adult worms attach to the intestinal wall with hook-shaped teeth and live off blood and tissue, causing discomfort, bloody diarrhea and anaemia. This is compounded by their strong tendency to migrate across the intestinal surface, leaving bleeding wounds that are especially dangerous for kittens.
Tapeworms (cestodes) are common parasites in the small intestine of cats and dogs; they are flat and can be from a few millimeters (Echinococcus) to 2.5 meters (Taenia hydatigena) long. They attach to the cat's intestinal wall and live off intestinal contents absorbed through their integument ('skin').
How are tapeworms transmitted?
Adult tapeworms live in the intestines of cats where they lay eggs that enter the environment through the cat's faeces. These eggs contain a larva in the first stage and, when eaten by an intermediate host, for example a small mammal such as a mouse - for Taenia and Echinococcus multilocularis - or an arthropod (flea or louse) - for Dipylidium caninum -, development continues until the second larval stage. These larvae are infectious to the cat and when the latter swallows the intermediate host or its tissues, they attach to the intestinal wall and become adults within a few weeks.
Adult tapeworms are unpleasant to see but cause little damage in cats, although a severe infestation can lead to intestinal damage due to the physical presence of the worms.