What are intestinal parasites?

They are parasites that live and reproduce within the gastrointestinal tract of animals. There are many different kinds that affect dogs and cats, but that is the gist of it.

Dr. Shawn McCorkle
Summer Creek Animal Clinic

How do intestinal parasites affect the health and wellbeing of my cat?

That's the big question. When your cat gets exposed to these worms, and they start to colonize the intestinal tract, they feed inside the intestinal tract. Depending on the type of worm, this colonization can end up leading to significant diarrhea and dehydration, depending on the severity. Some of them even feed on the blood. I've seen many patients over the years that have had serious hookworm infestations, for example, that can lead to anemia or a low red blood cell count. In very serious situations, I've even seen some pets that have died from intestinal parasites.

What preventative measures can be taken to ensure my cat doesn't get worms or other parasites?

It's important to test your cat for intestinal parasites, which we'll talk about more soon. Ensure that you pick up the stool regularly by cleaning your litter box at least once a day. That will help prevent transmission between cats and help prevent your cat from continually getting reinfected. If your cat does have intestinal parasites, they need to be treated appropriately based on the type of intestinal parasite. Having them on monthly broad-spectrum parasite prevention, which often includes a dewormer, is important to help reduce the worm burden and hopefully prevent them altogether.

What are some signs and symptoms of intestinal parasites in my cat?

It depends greatly on the type of parasite, but diarrhea or soft stool is a common sign. They can become what we call a poor doer, especially in a younger kitten, meaning they just don't thrive. They may be underweight because of the intestinal parasite load, which tends to be more of a burden on younger cats. Sometimes weight loss can be an issue if there's a significant worm burden. And as I mentioned earlier, an anemic situation can occur where their red blood cell count is low, which can be extremely dangerous. One of the obvious signs is that you can see the adult worms as they come out into the stool with some of these parasites. Sometimes you can get a clear idea that there's an issue. Even if your cat is clinically normal, they can have intestinal parasites living in the intestinal tract but not necessarily causing a severe current issue. Those situations can be a bit more insidious and cause problems over time.

How will a veterinarian diagnose intestinal parasites in my cat?

Sometimes we can see the worms in the stool, giving us an idea of what type of parasite it is. We will identify at least one type as there are often a couple of different parasites. The most sensitive thing we can do is to run what's called a fecal test, where we take some of the fecal material and do specialized testing. The classic way of testing is to float a sample in the clinic. Although that method is becoming less and less common, it's still done sometimes. We don't do that at Summer Creek Animal Clinic. We send the fecal samples off to the outside lab because it's much more sensitive. They spin down the sample with the centrifuge, which greatly increases the chance of identifying the parasites. They even do additional antigen testing on the feces now for a couple of the common parasites. This means that even if we can't find the eggs, when they spin it down, they can identify the antigen of the parasites in the feces, which tells us that there are adults present. Sending off the fecal samples allows us to be more clear as to whether or not your cat has parasites, and that's extremely helpful.

What are some possible conditions caused by intestinal parasites, and what are the treatments?

The obvious treatment is to deworm them. We use several different dewormers, depending on the type of parasite present. The conditions that can occur include that intense diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and anemia. These secondary things that occur due to the parasites need to be managed. In some cases, it can be managed conservatively, and in others, it has to be very aggressive. Sometimes we even have to do blood transfusions. So it depends on the individual condition of the cat. That's why it's really important to have your cat evaluated by a veterinarian to ensure there isn't anything else that needs to be done besides deworming.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of intestinal parasites so important?

It's much more helpful if we can identify parasites before they cause a problem. Here in Fort Worth, Texas, it's common for us to find parasites in clinically normal dogs and cats. That's the best time to find them. That's why we screen fecal testing ideally twice a year. We want to find those parasites before they're causing a problem so we can treat them and hopefully get them under control. That's important because, as we've talked about, there can be serious fallout if intestinal parasites get out of control. At that point, we're dealing with a much more expensive and potentially dangerous situation for your pet. Additionally, not addressing things early puts other pets at risk. A part of this is thinking about the entire pet population in the community and reducing exposure to these parasites. First and foremost, reduce exposure of other pets in the household and then the entire community.

When should my cat see a veterinarian for deworming?

As early as possible. If you have a kitten from a very young age, you need to start deworming them at two weeks and then get dewormed every two weeks until they start broad-spectrum parasite prevention, which is typically around eight weeks. When you get a kitten, you need to see your veterinarian as early as possible so you can work through those things. If you have an adult cat that hasn't been to the veterinarian again, the best way to approach it is by establishing a relationship with your veterinarian. You should also have the feces tested and start on broad-spectrum parasite prevention, including heartworms, fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasite prevention.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (817) 523-1139, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Deworming - FAQs

Dr. Shawn McCorkle
Summer Creek Animal Clinic

Can all intestinal parasites be prevented?

We can, with reasonable confidence, prevent most parasites. The problem with saying we can prevent them altogether is that environmental exposure can sometimes be very high, and even with monthly deworming, you can still end up with parasites. It's hard to deworm for every potential parasite. By following the next steps, we can reasonably and confidently prevent most parasites in cats: ensuring that your indoor cat's litter box is cleaned at least once a day to ensure that the feces is picked up because that's commonly how parasites are transmitted.

Make sure your pet is on monthly broad-spectrum parasite prevention year-round, especially if you're in Fort-Worth, Texas, or in a similar climate. Fleas transmit some intestinal parasites, so ensuring that your pets are on good flea prevention will help to avoid that particular parasite called tapeworms. Following these steps can greatly reduce the chance of your pet getting intestinal parasites.

How can my cat get intestinal parasites?

Some cats go in and outside in multi-cat households and transmit parasites through fecal contamination. So even if the feces is picked up, animals still step in it and we get fecal material on our shoes. We can bring it into the house, get on the pet skin, and when they're grooming, they get infected. They get exposure even without gross fecal material being apparent. They also get parasites from the soil, so they'll get exposed if they are indoor-outdoor cats. We see intestinal parasites in indoor-only cats as well because fecal material can be transported in microscopic amounts so easily. Those are the common ways that cats get exposed to intestinal parasites. Kittens specifically are the most susceptible to these worms, and they often get these parasites from their mother. We'll sometimes see young kittens with multiple worms, depending on the situation with the mom and the litter.

What can I do to prevent tapeworm?

Fleas transmit tapeworms in cats. The cat has to ingest the fleas, so you don't have to have a severe infestation of fleas to have a problem. One or two fleas can be on your cat, and when they bite the flea, they get exposed. The best way to prevent tapeworms in your cat is to have them on monthly, year-round quality flea prevention. It doesn't completely eliminate the potential for exposure, but it's uncommon to see tapeworms in a cat that's on prevention. That includes indoor-only cats. We see many indoor-only cats with fleas and tapeworms as a result.

Is there medication to prevent my cat from getting intestinal parasites?

We use medications that help reduce the magnitude of parasites with reasonable confidence. For example, the cat product we use at Summer Creek Animal Clinic is called Revolution Plus. It is a prevention for heartworms, fleas, ticks, and it contains an intestinal parasite dewormer. So it does deworm for the common intestinal parasites we see in cats, but it does not treat tapeworms or coccidia, for example. Those parasites require very specific deworming that isn't in most monthly preventions. But again, the Revolution Plus prevents fleas extremely well, reducing cats' exposure to tapeworms. There are medications like Revolution Plus, among others, that will greatly reduce your cat's chance of getting intestinal parasites. Different parasites require different treatments, contributing to the importance of having your cat's fecal matter tested at least annually.

How can I keep my cat from passing on intestinal parasites to other pets in my household?

The best thing you can do is to clean the litter boxes at least once a day to lessen the fecal exposure of other cats. Another important thing is to have an adequate number of litter box boxes for the number of cats in your house. You have the ideal recommendation. Depending on the household, the ideal number of litter boxes is one litter box per cat plus one. Having plenty of litter box resources will help reduce fecal exposure between the cats. We recommend putting those litter boxes in different places around the house. If your cats are messy with the litter box, get into the habit of wiping their feet every so often. Again, I can't stress the importance of regular parasite prevention for all the cats enough, even if you only have indoor cats.

Can any intestinal parasites be passed onto people?

This is a very important question. The answer is yes, although it isn't common in America. An example includes ringworm, a skin parasite in cats that is extremely contagious and can be transmitted to people. Regarding intestinal parasites, roundworms are a serious issue in other countries and can be transmitted from animal feces to people. Roundworms can be found in really weird places. They found them in the eyeballs of people and sometimes in the brain, where they can be devastating. Fortunately, we don't see them in America a lot, but it's still possible.

The next parasite is hookworms. Hookworms are not as life-threatening as roundworms, but they can be problematic. If the larvae of the hookworm are in the stool or the yard, and a person walks in that environment barefoot, they can burrow into the skin and cause intense itching. Hookworms are usually self-limiting and go away, but it's not very fun or comfortable. The best way to minimize risks to people is to focus on the guidelines we mentioned about prevention. Be hygienic, pick up the stool, wash your hands, and keep all the pets on good parasite prevention. These measures will all reduce your risk of getting infected.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (817) 523-1139, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.