Your guide to keeping your cat or kitten free from worms
As responsible cat owners we must provide our felines with the proper care and veterinary treatment. This includes keeping your pet free from internal parasites such as worms. Worms can do untold damage to your cat or kitten’s internal organs and can even result in death. In this article we shall be detailing the types of worms that affect your cat or kitten, the safe and effective treatment of worms and also tips on how to safely administer wormers with minimal distress to your cat or kitten as well as keeping your fingers safe!
What are worms and why are they bad for cats and kittens?
Worms are a group of internal parasite that live inside your cat’s body for all or for part of their life cycle. Worms come in many different types and species and each one has a different life cycle and can affect your cat in different ways. Take a look at our worm profiles below so you know what you are dealing with and can better understand how to keep your cat or kitten safe from these parasites.
Types of worms
These are the profiles of some of the most common types of worms that affect cats and kittens which as a loving cat owner you should be aware of.
Round worm (Toxocara Cati & Toxoscaris Leonine)
Size: Up to 10cm in length
Area of the body they are found: Adults are found in the small intestines
Brief life cycle: The adult female lays eggs which are passed with the cat’s faeces. The egg spends time in the environment, during which time the larvae that grows within the egg develops and moults until it becomes what is known as the infective third-stage larvae. The eggs take usually 2-3 weeks during the summer to reach this stage and can take many months during winter. These eggs can survive for over 2 years in the environment.
The eggs containing the larvae are ingested by an intermediate host such as a mouse, earth worms, birds and dogs. The eggs and larvae are then ingested by the cat when he or she consumes any of the host animals or comes into direct contact with the eggs. The larvae hatch from the eggs and begin to migrate through the body towards the small intestine where they will complete their lifecycle and begin laying eggs of their own. Migrating larvae can travel all around the body and have even been found in muscle tissue as well as the lungs and liver. Larvae may also be passed on from a mother cat to her kittens via her milk and so for this reason it is standard practice to assume that all kittens have worms and to treat them accordingly. They do not contract them in the uterus.
How they cause damage to cats: Round worms cause serious ill health and even death to kittens or older and debilitated cats. Large numbers of adult worms can cause intestinal obstruction and the migrating larvae can cause damage to the lungs, liver and any other tissue they migrate to.
Treatment: Several drugs kill round worms. Pyrantel, moxidectin, fenbendazole and fenbental formulated with praziquantel are all used for treating roundworms. You can buy a suitable wormer from many places including online or from your vet. A wormer that comes highly recommend by vets is Panacur Oral Paste for the treatment of round worms. It is safe for both adult cats and kittens and it is very easy to administer and much kinder than tablets. As an added bonus, it is also effective on lung worm and tapeworm as well as other gastro-intestinal parasites, such as whip worm and hook worm.
Treatment of round worms needs to be given at 2, 5, 8 and 12 weeks of age. Once a kitten reaches 12 weeks of age he or she should be treated every 3 months. Adult cats should be treated every 3 months for their entire lives.
Worm: Tape worm (Dipylidium caninum)
Dipylidium caninum is one of the most common types of tapeworm to be found in cats, though there are a number of different species.
Size: Up to 20” depending on the species.
Area in the body in which they are found: Adult tapeworms anchor themselves to the wall of the small intestine of your cat by using a specially adapted mouthpiece called a scolex. The larvae are found in the body of the flea which is the intermediate host for this parasite.
Brief life cycle: Tape worms have segmented bodies. These segments contain eggs and break away from the body of the adult worm, travel through the intestinal tract and emerge from the anus where they fall into the environment either with faeces or onto bedding etc. The eggs are then ingested by flea larvae. When the flea matures the eggs develop into the infective cysticeroid stage. An adult flea can have around 10 of these cysticeroids inside it and when a cat ingests the flea the cystceroids finish their transformation into adult tapeworms. The time span from ingestion of the flea to the tapeworm becoming an adult usually takes 2-4 weeks.
How they cause damage to cats: Tapeworms can potentially cause intestinal obstruction if they grow large or if they are present in large numbers. As with most parasitic infections it is the young and old or debilitated who are most at risk from complications. Diarrhoea and constipation can occur in cats with tape worms as well as a pot-bellied appearance. In heavy burdens convulsions and even death can occur.
Treatment: The treatment of tapeworms can be achieved with various drugs; however, Praziquantel remains the most effective. Certain products are designed to treat tape worm and others are designed to treat more than one type of worm. Drontal, by Bayer, for example, is a tablet that has been formulated to contain various drugs so that not only tape worm are targeted but also round worm, hook worm and whipworms. Droncit by Bayer, treats tapeworm and does not contain the same drugs as Drontal and so will not target the wider range of worms so be sure to read the label to ensure your cat receives treatment for the worms you intend to treat. If in any doubt please contact your veterinarian.
Generally speaking, treatment is best carried out every 3 months on adult cats using a broad spectrum wormer that targets multiple species. Kittens should be wormed with either panacur oral paste or Panacur liquid and you should take great care to check that a particular wormer is suitable for a kitten. Your vet will be able to advise you if you are stuck on which one to get.
Worm: Lung worm (Angiostrongylus abstrustus )
Size: up to 9mm long
Brief life cycle: Adult lung worm live in the lungs and lays their eggs which hatch into larvae which are so small they can only be seen with a microscope. Your cat then coughs up these larvae and swallows them and they pass through the digestive tract and are excreted in the faeces. The larvae go on to infect other creatures such as snails and slugs and continue their development. The slugs and snails are eaten by various animals such as rodents and birds or even your cat. When your cat eats any of these prey animals they become infected.
How they cause damage to cats: Lungworm can cause severe damage to the lining of the lungs and cats may show signs of respiratory distress, such as laboured breathing, cough or wheezing. Not all cats will display symptoms so it is important to treat your cat for lung worm regardless.
Treatment: Lungworm can be treated and your vet will be the best to advise on this if your pet has lungworm. The best way to prevent the risk of lungworm infection is to administer a monthly product such as Advocate which is a spot-on product by Bayer which is only available from your veterinarian. Keeping good hygiene practices such as regularly cleaning water bowls and cleaning litter trays will always help.
Panacur oral paste is also effective against lungworms and remains one of the best wormers to use for both adult cats and kittens.
Worm: Hook worm (Ancylostoma tubaeforme and Ancylostoma braziliense)
Size: 2-3mm long
Brief life cycle: Adult hook worms live in the intestine where they remain anchored to the intestine wall and feed off of the blood and tissue. There the adult will lay eggs which pass in your cat’s faeces and hatch into larvae which will live in the soil for up to a few months. Cats can come into contact with these larvae and then ingest them while grooming and so the cycle starts again.
How they cause damage to cats: Hookworm pose a serious risk to young kittens or older debilitated cats which can become anaemic due to blood loss as a result of a heavy hook worm infestation. A poor coat and even itching feet can be a sign of hook worms since hook worm larvae can burrow into the skin. This can cause lesions to appear in between the toes and on the skin of the feet where the larvae have burrowed into the skin. Hook worms can prove fatal and cause inflammation of the small intestine and so it is important that this parasite be dealt with effectively.
Treatment: The treatment of hookworm can be dealt with fairly easily by following a regular worming routine. If your cat has become ill through hookworm infestation then he or she may need to be treated for anaemia and require iron tablets or other nutritional supplements. Consult your veterinarian regarding this. Panacure oral paste is effective against this parasite amongst others and is safe to use on both adult cats and kittens.
How do cats and kittens get worms?
Cats and kittens can get infected with worms in a number of different ways depending on what type of worm we are discussing. In general though, the various worms are picked up by contact with contaminated faeces, contaminated soil and the environment and by the ingestion of either larvae themselves or by the ingestion of intermediate host animals and insects such as fleas, mice, birds etc.
Signs of worm infestation
Different worms can illicit different symptoms but many symptoms are the same or very similar. If your cat or kitten has a very high worm burden then they may exhibit signs of general ill health or lack lustre as well as a few other signs. It should be noted that although a cat or kitten may not be presently showing any outward symptoms of worms they should still be treated with the correct dose to ensure that a worm infestation doesn’t take hold where they can cause irreparable damage to the internal organs. Many cats and kittens will only show outward signs of ill health when they are suffering from a heavy worm burden, by which time irreparable damage can have already been caused. Others may show signs with less of an infestation. The point is, not to use outward signs as a way of determining if your pet should be treated for worms or not.
Some of the most common signs of a worm burden are as follows:
Lack lustre coat
Loss of weight
Decreased appetite (often seen in cases of hookworm)
Lesions on the paws and in between the toes
Treating worms in cats and kittens
Cats and kittens may be treated for worms by administering the appropriate drug for the worm you are trying to treat. Many medications treat more than one type of parasite so you don’t have to be giving lots of different medications to your pet.
Medications to treat worms can be purchased from a variety of places including online, your local or large pet shop or your veterinarian. The amount you give your cat will depend on the type of drug being used as well as the weight of your cat and so you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. There should be an advice note detailing any contra-indications and the correct dose of the medicine in with the medicine you purchase. This should be kept in case of any adverse reaction. It will also contain the correct dosing and administration instructions which should be adhered to. Not all worming medications are suitable for both adult cats and kittens so please check with the manufacturer. The medication will usually state whether it is safe for either cats, kittens or both.
How often cats and kittens should be wormed
Worming should be carried out regularly and should be started from a young age whilst kittens are still with their mother. Typically young kittens should be wormed at 2, 5, 8 and 12 weeks of age then continuing to be wormed every 3 months for the rest of their life.
Types of wormer
Treatment for worms comes many different forms thanks to the modern world of veterinary medicine. The main types of wormers can be administrated in either a tablet or granular form. If concealment in food doesn’t work with your cat and you are not confident putting your fingers in a mouth of sharp teeth then a pill gun may help you. These usually take most standard sized worming tablets.
In recent years we have also see the introduction of spot on wormers which are fantastic for avoiding pilling cats which is no fun for either you or the cat; though most will agree that administering a worming tablet is a case of being cruel to be kind. Usually spot on wormers are only available to treat tape worms.
Oral paste and gel is also available which is excellent and very easy to administer with the least amount of fuss and distress – not to mention keeping delicate human fingers out of the way of sharp teeth!
Syrup is often used for kittens and puppies and this is usually administered by oral syringe.
Here are some guidelines on how to safely administer each type of worming medication in the safest and least distressing way to your cat or kitten.
Note: Correct administration of the varying forms/brands of worming medication may vary from what has been described here so please always check the advice leaflet that comes with all medications before attempting administration.
Worming granules should be mixed in with your cat’s food. This works well with wet food but does not work very well with dry food since it falls to the bottom of the bowl and remains unconsumed. Usually the correct does will be already measured out for you but depending on the size of your cat you may need to adjust the amount given – always check with the manufacturers label and if unsure discuss it with your vet.
Pour the correct amount of worming granules over the food and mix in thoroughly. Feed the food to your cat. Be sure to keep other animals away until your cat has finished and be sure that your cat eats the entire amount of food. If your cat doesn’t eat the full amount he or she will not have received the correct dose and this can promote worm resistance whereby worms become resistant to the drugs we use to treat them. This is becoming quite a problem in horses where it is difficult to get the exact weight and therefore dose correctly.
Tablet form is perhaps the most common and widely used. Some tablets are film coated now for easier swallowing. When administering a tablet to your cat you should begin by placing your cat on a firm surface such as the floor or a grooming table. Be sure your cat cannot fall off and hurt itself if it panics. If your cat objects strongly to worming you may need to secure him or her by wrapping them securely in a towel so their claws can’t be used to scratch. You may also wish to have someone to help you by holding your cat while you administer the tablet.
It might be your preference to use a pill gun to administer the tablet. If you are using a pill gun then load the tablet beforehand so that you are prepared.
Place your cat on the firm and clear surface. Secure your cat either in a towel or by your arm wrapped around him or her, gently place your hand over the top of the head and cup your cats head gently enough to be kind but firm enough to be effective at holding the head still. Using your thumb and forefinger gently squeeze the side of the jaws to separate them. You are not squeezing the top or bottom jaw but rather both, imagine trying to gently push your fingers between the top and bottom teeth on both side of the mouth. This will cause the jaws to open. Once the jaws are open place the tablet towards the back of the throat. If using a pill gun be careful not to poke the back of the throat or any of the soft palate in the roof of the mouth. If you are using your fingers be careful not to get bitten.
Once the tablet is released, close the cat’s mouth and hold it shut, gently tipping the head back to help stop the cat spitting the tablet back out. Gently massage the throat to encourage swallowing. When you are sure your cat has swallowed the tablet you can release him or her from any restraint and offer a treat if you wish.
You will need to be fairly quick but do not rush and endanger your cat. The mouth is a very sensitive area and it is quite an unpleasant experience for your cat already without suffering un-necessary injury. If you really struggle to administer this type of worming medication then either use another wormer presented in a different form in the future that is easier of your cat or take your cat to the veterinarian. It is not advised to administer tablets to small kittens. They are just far too tiny. Instead stick to syrup or a paste form.
Spot on wormer for cats is an ingenious idea that makes worming far easier and less unpleasant for your cat. Spot on wormer commonly only treats tapeworm with the exception of some of the veterinary bought products. Spot on wormer comes as a liquid presented in a small phial.
Place your cat on a secure surface where he or she cannot fall and hurt themselves. Part the fur between the shoulder blades at the base of the neck and empty the contents of the phial onto the skin. It is important that the liquid sits on the skin and does not just simply sit on top of the fur. The drug is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream which is why this is so important. Do not allow your cat to groom immediately after worming. The product you choose will state how long your cat should not groom the area for so stick to the guidelines for the product you choose.
Oral paste is presented already pre-loaded into a syringe. The plunger of the syringe is marked with notches and each notch represents a measured amount of worming paste. The dose is adjusted by twisting a small nut on the plunger of the syringe until it reaches the required number of notch’s for your cat’s weight. The nut prevents the plunger from being pushed any further than where the nut is positioned and so you cannot administer more than you intended unless you inadvertently twist the nut up too far. It is a very easy way to administer wormer and in my opinion is far less distressing than tablet wormers.
To administer simply set the syringe to the correct does as instructed by the manufacturer, then place your cat or kitten on a safe and firm surface and secure him or her by either wrapping in a towel or wrapping your arm around them. Gently open the jaws by pinching your thumb and forefinger either side of the mouth aiming between the upper and lower teeth until your cat’s mouth opens. Put the tip of the oral syringe into your cat’s mouth and squirt the contents onto the back of the tongue then simply release your cat’s jaws and it’s all done. Since it is not very liquid it does not simply fall back out of the mouth as is often the case with liquid wormers.
Syrup is administered by oral syringe and involves drawing the required dose into the syringe, securing your cat on a safe and firm surface, gently opening the jaws as previously described and gently squirting the syrup into the back of the throat. You may have to go steady on this and administer a little then let them swallow that and administer the rest as it is otherwise liable to go everywhere and your cat or kitten may not have a full dose. Panacur oral suspension is an excellent liquid wormer and recommended by vets.
Warning! Important notes when administering worming medication!
- If you worm your cat or kitten and are not sure they have received the full dose for whatever reason DO NOT administer more to make up for what you think they haven’t had. If you are really worried your cat has not consumed the correct amount you must consult your veterinary surgeon for advice.
- Always weigh your cat before administering medication to ensure you are giving the correct dose.
- Always wash your hands after administering worming medication
- If you are struggling for whatever reason, be it general handling or perhaps you are unsure on what product to use or what dose to give your cat or kitten always speak with your veterinarian and they will help you.
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Furkidz.org always advocates consulting your veterinary surgeon before administering ANY medications to your pet and the information in this article is in no way any substitute for proper veterinary treatment or consultation. It is merely provided to you for general information only and we would strongly advise discussing your animal’s health with a qualified veterinary practitioner. We shall not be held liable for any damage occurring to yourself, your property or your animals in any way, shape or form as a result of you administering medication to your pet as detailed in this article and should you choose to use any of the products or methods discussed in this article we advise that you do your own research by contacting the manufacturer or your veterinary surgeon before purchasing and administering any medication to your pet.