Can my indoor cat really have worms?

posted: by: Lisa L. Mendez Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

 

Intestinal Parasites.  

 Let’s face it. The possibility of your cat having intestinal parasites can be pretty frightening, confusing, and simply put: gross. This article is meant to simply inform readers of how to help diagnose intestinal parasites with the help of your veterinarian, which ones are the most common; and how to treat them.  

  What we hear most from owners is this: “Mr. Fluffy-Pants is an INDOOR ONLY cat; he doesn’t have parasites!” Although this point is quite valid, it is simply not true. Cysts or eggs that have been left in soil that you track into your home, from either another infected cat’s feces, or a rodent that was infected by a parasite; are now deposited onto your floor and shoes. Mr. Fluffy-Pants walks on the floor; and then grooms himself; ingesting the cysts or eggs. Maybe a moth that flew into the house several weeks ago, which was ferociously caught, then consumed by your cat; contained parasitic eggs or cysts. These eggs or cysts can stay dormant for years, and some are resistant to freezing.

The most important point of parasite prevention is testing your cat’s stool. It is recommended that you have your cat tested every six months. The sample to be tested should be fresh, no older than 24 hours. This involves sending a sample to a laboratory for chemical, and or microscopic testing. Testing time is fairly quick, usually no longer than 24 hours, and very affordable. On occasion, it may take more than one sample sent to a lab to show a positive result. Not ALL fecal samples contain evidence of infestation. Just like other life forms, parasites have a lifecycle as well. Some pet owners feel that if there are no symptoms, they shouldn’t bother testing.  The symptoms or affects of parasite infestation can be “asymptomatic”, meaning there are no symptoms. Other times; depending on the specific parasite; there may be vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, dark tarry stools, weight loss, a swollen abdomen, dull hair coat, and even anemia due to blood loss. Occasionally, some pets may test positive for multiple parasites.  Some parasites can even infect humans. These are known as Zoonotic diseases. Practicing good hygiene will prevent humans from becoming infected. Cleaning litter boxes often with water and bleach will also help stop the spread of intestinal parasites.

 Intestinal parasites can be broken down into two categories: Wormlike Parasites that can be seen with the naked eye; and Protozoan Parasites that are one celled organisms that can only be identified microscopically.
 
The most commonly seen worms are Roundworms. Roundworms can become life threatening if left untreated, causing intestinal blockage. Your cat may have symptoms such as weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and a swollen abdomen.
Hookworms are also common; they attach themselves to the lining of the intestines and feed on the host’s blood. Symptoms may include anemia due to blood loss, weakness, diarrhea (possibly black or tarry), pale mucous membranes, and weight loss. Hookworm larvae can also penetrate the skin of its host, including humans. Yes; that’s gross!
Tapeworms are also one of the parasites that humans may become infected with. Infestation may occur when your cat ingests infected fleas while grooming, or by ingesting a rodent that is infected. Adult Tapeworms live in the small intestines. The small head is attached to the lining of the intestines, while the end segments of the worm are filled with eggs. As they mature; the end segments break off into the feces. These may be seen in your cat’s feces, as well as near and around your pet’s anus. They resemble a grain of rice.
Whipworms are also seen in cats, but are less common. They live in the large intestine and usually are asymptomatic.

Microscopic parasites (protozoan) that can infect your cat may include Isospora, also known as coccidia. Cats ingest the egg like cysts and become infected. Usually this parasite causes no disease in adult cats. However; in Kittens this parasite can cause significant disease and infection.
Giardia is another less common, one-celled organism that may infect your cat. The most common symptom can be acute or chronic, occasional or constant diarrhea. This parasite may also be a bit harder to eradicate than others.
Another microscopic parasite seen in cat populations is Toxoplasma. It is common to see this parasite in cats; however it does not normally cause disease in them. It is contracted by eating infected raw meat or prey; and unfortunately can be contracted by humans through cat feces. Pregnant women are at the highest risk, and should avoid litter box duty. (No pun intended). Again; this is where good hygiene plays an integral role.

All of the parasites mentioned here are easily treated and diagnosed by your veterinarian. Some require topical treatments, while others require oral treatments. These products are safe and easy to administer and using them in conjunction with diagnostic lab tests are readily available to pet owners through their local veterinarian. Why not bring down a fecal sample to make sure Mr. Fluffy-Pants is free of parasites? He’ll be thankful you did!

By: Lisa L. Mendez