Roundworms in Cats: Symptoms, Infection & Treatment

Roundworms in Cats: Symptoms, Infection & Treatment

Author WCF Staff


Cats might not be susceptible to internal parasites like dogs are, but we still need to keep them safe from them. Various parasites can infect our feline companions, one of which is the nasty roundworm. If you think your cat was exposed to this parasite, here are a few things you should know about roundworms in cats.

What exactly are roundworms in cats?

Roundworms are one of the most common feline intestinal parasites. They can be a major source of illness, and even death, especially in kittens and geriatric cats. Almost all cats become infected with roundworms at some point in their lives. That usually happens while they’re still kittens.

These are large-bodied round worms, as their name implies. They average 3-6 inches in length. They do not attach to the intestine's wall as some intestinal parasites do. Instead, they move freely within the intestine. The two types that can infect cats are as follows:

Toxocara cati

Toxocara cati is common, especially in kittens, who can consume larvae through their mother's milk. Cats and kittens can also ingest T. cati eggs after eating infected rodents or other carriers such as beetles or earthworms. The eggs hatch into larvae inside the digestive tract of the cat.

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blue cat

Toxascara leonina

Toxascara leonina is much less common and is more frequently found in older cats (and dogs). It is uncommon for T. leonina to infect humans.

What are the symptoms of roundworm infections in cats?

Roundworms are especially prevalent in kittens. These parasites make it difficult for them to absorb nutrients, causing them to stop growing, develop a poor-quality coat, and have a sickly, pot-bellied appearance. If you notice any of these changes, contact your veterinarian right away.

Roundworm larvae migrate during the early stages of infestation, causing a specific type of pneumonia and coughing. Worms in your cat's vomit or feces may appear as the infection progresses. The following are all of the possible symptoms of roundworms in cats:

  • Development issues
  • Poor-quality coat
  • A potbellied figure
  • Worms visible in vomit and feces
  • Mucousy diarrhea
  • Coughing

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There may be no clinical signs of infection in kittens or adult cats with a small number of worms.

How do cats get infected by roundworms?

The most common route of roundworm transmission in kittens is transmammary or milk-borne infection. Larvae, the immature roundworms, can be found in the mother's mammary glands. During nursing, the larvae pass to her kittens in her milk.

orange kitten in basket

Kittens and adult cats alike can become infected by ingesting infective roundworm larvae eggs. These eggs may have originated in the feces of infected cats or in the tissues of paratenic hosts (an accidental host). The roundworm eggs do not mature into adults in a paratenic host. These sneaky parasites use these hosts as free transportation. The roundworm can complete its life cycle if a cat eats the paratenic host. Earthworms, cockroaches, rodents, and birds are common paratenic roundworm hosts.

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The roundworm's life cycle is complicated when the larvae are ingested, and they hatch in the cat's gastrointestinal tract and migrate through the muscle, liver, and lungs. After a few weeks, the larvae return to the intestines to mature into adults. When the adult worms begin to reproduce, the eggs will pass into the cat's stool, starting the parasite's life cycle all over again.

During migration, some roundworm larvae may encyst. That means they become enclosed in a cyst and reach a dormant state in the host's body. During pregnancy, the larvae can emerge from the cyst in female cats. These larvae are then passed on to the kittens via the placenta or through the milk after birth.

How do vets diagnose roundworms in cats?

A fecal examination is used to diagnose roundworms in cats. Because Toxocara cati can be transmitted to humans, your veterinarian will examine your cat's feces for roundworm eggs and determine the exact species of roundworm.

If your cat is showing signs of intestinal parasites such as roundworms, bring a fecal sample to your veterinarian. It will aid in the accurate and timely diagnosis of your cat's condition. You may even discover that your cat has roundworms during a routine veterinary visit, which is why it is critical to bring your cat in for regular exams.

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How are cats with roundworms treated?

The treatment is the same regardless of the specific type of roundworm your cat picked up. Several deworming medications can be used to treat roundworms. Your veterinarian can help you choose the best one for your cat. Because medications only affect adult roundworms, they must be repeated every two to three weeks to deal with any residual larvae as they mature. The number of treatments required will be determined by the age of the cat and the severity of the infestation. Your vet will tell you all the necessary details you will need to know.

kitten in crate

If you have a pregnant cat, talk to your vet about deworming the mother and kittens. Once dewormed, regular monthly dewormers contain active ingredients that will prevent roundworm infections. Again, there are various options you can choose from, and you should discuss them with your veterinarian. Cleaning up pet waste and preventing your cat from eating rodents can also help avoid parasite infection.

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Can roundworms be prevented?

Roundworm infection can be avoided by taking the following precautions:

  • Females for breeding should be dewormed prior to pregnancy and again in late pregnancy. This reduces the possibility of environmental contamination or transmission from the mother to her newborn kittens.
  • Kittens should be dewormed according to your veterinarian's recommendations. The first deworming should be administered by the time kittens are 2 - 3 weeks old. It should be noted that this is before the majority of kittens are seen for their first vaccinations. At two weeks of age, new kittens should be brought in for an initial examination and deworming.
  • Adult cats are at risk of re-infection with roundworms for the rest of their lives. When roundworms are discovered, the cat should be dewormed right away. Cats at high risk of roundworm infection should be dewormed on a regular basis. Cats that like to hunt mice or cats that live indoors and outdoors should have a fecal examination several times a year.
  • Many heartworm preventive medications include medications that treat roundworm infections. This is the most basic and straightforward method of preventing roundworms. Based on your specific geographical area, your veterinarian can advise you on the best time to administer these products.
  • Controlling insects and rodents is critical because they can be sources of roundworm infection in cats.
  • Your cat’s droppings should be removed from litter boxes on a daily basis. Litter boxes can be cleaned with a bleach solution (one cup of chlorine bleach in one gallon of water). That will remove the roundworm eggs. Because bleach is toxic to cats, thoroughly rinse the litterbox. This bleach solution can also treat surfaces that may be contaminated with roundworm eggs. This solution makes it easier to rinse the eggs but does not kill them. After handling litterbox material, always wash your hands thoroughly.
  • It is critical to properly dispose of cat and dog feces, particularly in yards and playgrounds. Roundworm eggs can survive in the environment for long periods if they are not exposed to direct sunlight or extremely dry conditions.
  • When you come across a homeless animal, contact your local animal control.

kitten looking up

What is the prognosis for cats infected with roundworms?

Simple cases of roundworms in adults, fortunately, are very easy to treat with medication. In those cases, your cat is likely to recover completely. Complications can occur in patients with very serious parasite infections, cats with health issues, or very young kittens. Additional supportive treatment may be required. Roundworm infestations can be fatal in rare cases.

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Can humans get infected?

Humans can pick up roundworms and get infected. Ingestion of roundworm eggs from cat (or dog) feces is the most common way humans become infected.

In the United States, as many as 10,000 cases of roundworm infection have been reported every year. If children become infected, they are at a higher risk of developing health problems. If Toxocara cati eggs are swallowed by humans, the larvae can invade tissues and become encysted in various organs. Humans behave similarly to any other paratenic or unintentional host. Clinical disease may develop if a young child consumes a large number of infected eggs.

World Cat Finder Team

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