The Ascaris worm or roundworm is a very common intestinal parasite in cats, affecting between 25% and 75% of cats, more frequently in kittens . Adult roundworms are 4 to 8 cm long, cream in color, and live in the cat’s gut.
The most common roundworms are Toxocara canis, a dog parasite, and Toxocara cati , a cat parasite. We rarely meet Toxascaris leonina, a parasite of dogs and cats.
Owners are encouraged to be very vigilant for their companion’s infestations with these worms, as they pose both a danger to animals and humans.
Characteristics of roundworms and risk of contamination
Adult roundworms live in the intestines of cats, so it is sometimes possible to see them in their droppings or vomit. The adult worms lay microscopic eggs that, eliminated in the feces, end up in the environment. These eggs, the main source of contamination, are generated in large quantities and live for several years in the outside environment. It is very difficult to kill them.
Cats can become infected in several ways:
- Oral route:ingestion of food contaminated with microscopic roundworm eggs , ingestion of prey or undercooked meat containing larvae, licking a congener whose hair has been contaminated. Swallowed eggs release larvae that are also microscopic in the animal’s digestive tract, reaching the bronchi and trachea before transforming into new adults in the intestine.
- During pregnancy:roundworm larvae do not always reach the lungs. They can become embedded in various organs, such as the liver, for example, and remain there for several months. In a pregnant cat , the encysted larvae reactivate and contaminate the fetuses when they are in the womb. When they are born, the kittens are infected with roundworms.
- With breastfeeding:roundworm larvae can be found in the milk of female cats that raise their young and therefore contaminate kittens.
Human contamination is mainly due to ingesting microscopic eggs , ingesting contaminated food (such as poorly washed vegetables), or putting dirty hands in the mouth. There are times when we have pinworm eggs on our hands: gardening, petting an animal whose hair is contaminated, touching a cat’s litter box or a dog has its needs … less often, humans can get infected by eating undercooked meat containing larvae .
The dangers of pinworm contamination
Risks for cats
In baby kittens, infestations by these parasites are dangerous. These worms cause slow growth, digestive disorders (vomiting, diarrhea, big belly), respiratory disorders (cough due to larval migration), and skin problems (dull coat, dandruff, itching). If present in large quantities in a kitten’s digestive tract, roundworms can be at the origin of their death from obstruction (formation of a plug) or even cause perforation of the intestine.
In adult cats, roundworm infestation, in most cases, has no visible consequences. However, it should not be overlooked, as worm carriers can be a source of environmental contamination.
Risks to people
For children, roundworms pose a great danger. When a human swallows a roundworm egg, a microscopic larva is released, targeting internal organs.
In healthy adults, the consequences are not significant: a slight fever, fatigue, transient muscle pain, signs similar to those seen during the flu. On the contrary, in children, and in people with weakened natural defenses, the signs are sometimes more marked and the larvae can migrate to very sensitive organs such as the eye or brain.Therefore, there may be a general attack, with fever and liver, lung and digestive signs, an eye attack with loss of vision, a nervous attack with meningitis.
Human contamination is not uncommon . In Europe, for example, an estimated 20% of the population has been infected with these parasites at one time or another. In regions with a hot and humid climate favorable to the survival of parasite eggs in the environment, the figures are higher.
Deworming, to protect animals and people
Treating worms is the best way to protect cats, but also to limit the risks of contamination for people and children. As female cats can transmit roundworms to their young during pregnancy or lactation, and since parasite eggs can be very numerous in the environment, it is advisable to deworm the animals from an early age, and repeat the treatment regularly.
- Vermifugation of kittens: it is recommended to do it from 2 weeks, then at 4, 6 and 8 weeks, then every month until 6 months.
- Kitten deworming: done starting at 3 weeks, then at 5, 7, and 9 weeks, then every month until 6 months.
- Deworming of adult cats: at least 4 times a year (every 3 months). In case of contact with small children or with fragile people, deworming every 4 to 6 weeks is preferable, since it completely reduces the risk of contamination of the environment by parasite eggs.
- Deworming of breeding cats: mothers should be treated at the same time as their young. They can also be dewormed late in gestation with a larvicidal dewormer.
What dewormer to use?
Not all dewormers are effective in intestinal worms, and among those that are, not all have action on the larvae. Only a veterinarian can prescribe the dewormer adapted to your cat , taking into account his age, his lifestyle, the ease of administration of the products, their effectiveness, the absence of side effects. Establish the deworming plan with your vet.
Respect basic hygiene rules
To limit pollution of the environment:
- Collect your cat’s droppings, either in the city or in the garden.
- Do not allow your cat to access the garden, the play areas. If you have a litter box, remove it when the children are there.
To avoid human contamination:
- Wash your hands regularly, especially after handling cats.
- Wash vegetables well, especially if they are to be eaten raw.
- Cook meat well, especially organ meats.
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