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Home Remedies for Cats with Worms

This cute little stray kitten probably has worms. See more cat pictures.
Hemera/Thinkstock

If you're a long-time cat owner -- especially of outdoor cats -- you may be all too familiar with the sight of what appears to be small grains of rice around your cat's anus. Ewww, worms!

Just as in humans, it's normal and healthy for a cat's stomach and intestines to contain a variety of microscopic organisms. But sometimes the eggs of parasites get into your cat's digestive system, developing into adult worms that feed off the food going through his or her gut and steal its nutrition. Worms produce more eggs that are shed in the cat's feces and spread to other hosts.

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The most common unwanted tenants of your cat's digestive tract are roundworms, tapeworm and Coccidia. Roundworms look like short strands of thick white thread, and a cat with a particularly bad case may actually vomit them. Adult roundworms lay eggs that can be seen under a microscope in a cat's stool. Tapeworms attach to the lining of the cat's intestine by their heads and grow by segments. Each egg-containing segment is shed with the cat's stool. Sometimes, the tapeworm segments -- the "grains of rice" mentioned above -- can be found clinging to the cat's anus. Coccidia are actually microscopic one-celled organisms that live and breed in the cat's intestines.

So where did the worms come from? Fleas are one likely culprit -- tapeworms sometimes lay eggs in them. When a cat swallows the flea with the tapeworm eggs while grooming, voila -- infestation. Similarly, a cat who goes outdoors is likely to come in contact with eggs (or spores in the case of Coccidia) shed in the infected cat's stool. Another common pathway comes in the form of infected birds, mice or other unfortunate small creatures that your cat captures and eats.

You can't really treat worms effectively in your cat at home without help from your vet. However, you can learn what to look for when you're trying to figure out if your cat has worms.

 

It can be difficult to tell if your cat has worms (unless you see the evidence yourself). Kittens with worms may have diarrhea, slow weight gain and a potbelly. Infected adult cats may have dark tarry stools, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. However, both are just as likely to have no signs of their worm infection at all. If your cat has never been checked for worms, it's an absolute must. You should also have a stool sample checked for any new cat brought into your home. Deworming is usually a standard part of the protocol for shelter cats, and young kittens are typically dewormed several times as they get worms from their mother's milk and will pass them back and forth. Even if your cat has been treated for worms before, a reinfestation is possible at any time because treatment just kills the existing worms.

This is one case where you have to go to the veterinarian for help. She needs to diagnose the type (or types) of worm infesting your cat in order to prescribe the correct medication. Over-the-counter deworming medications often don't have enough punch to knock out worms for good. No home or folk remedies have been shown to be both effective and safe enough to get the job done, either. An infestation that goes unchecked for months or even years robs your cat of vital nutrients. She will also be shedding eggs or spores and infecting other animals (and could even infect you).

Cats who go outdoors, hunt, eat raw or undercooked meat or meat products, have fleas or share quarters with a cat who has been diagnosed with worms have the highest risk of being infected and should have a stool sample checked by a veterinarian. In the case of worms, prevention is the best cure. This includes regular flea treatments. The good news is that most common worms usually aren't dangerous, although untreated cases -- especially in cats who are already ill -- can be. So get your cat to the vet and rid him or her of those nasty parasites; you'll both be happier for it!

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Sources

  • Companion Animal Parasite Council. "Roundworms in cats." CAPC. 2009. (April 13, 2011)http://www.petsandparasites.org/cat-owners/roundworms.html
  • Cornell Feline Health Care. "Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Nov. 15, 2006. (April 13, 2011)http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/brochures/parasite.html
  • Eldredge, Debra M., et al. "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook." Howell Book House. December 10, 2007.
  • Nash, Holly. "Tapeworms of Cats." Pet Education. 2011. (April 13, 2011)http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=0&aid=768
  • Web Vet. "Intestinal worms in dogs and cats." Web Vet. June 3, 2008. (April 13, 2011)http://www.webvet.com/main/2008/06/03/intestinal-worms-dogs-and-cats

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