Gastrointestinal parasitism is a common problem in cats, with prevalence rates of up to 45 percent. Parasites can be worms (stomach worms, roundworms, Hookworms, Tapeworms) or single-celled organisms (Isospora, Giardia, Toxoplasma).
Symptoms associated with parasitic infections are quite nonspecific, such as coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, mucous or bloody stools, loss of appetite, pale mucous membranes, or a swollen appearance. The vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and dehydration caused by these intestinal parasites will weaken the cat, making it more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections and diseases.
Importantly, while worms can sometimes cause problems only to cats, some worms can also be transmitted to humans and, in rare cases, can be the source of serious human disease.
Next, I explain the most common intestinal parasites of cats and their treatment.
Types of intestinal parasites
Among the most common intestinal parasites in cats we would have Nematodes (round worms), and Tapeworms (flat worms).
1. Roundworm nematodes
The two most common roundworms in cats are called Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonina . The eggs of these worms are passed through the feces and can remain in the environment for several years.
These eggs can be transmitted to other cats in two ways:
- First, a cat can eat (ingest) eggs directly from a contaminated environment.
- Second, if the eggs are eaten by another animal (for example, a mouse or rat), they can act as ‘intermediate hosts’ and transmit the infection to a cat if it feeds on that infected animal.
Feeding cats can transmit Toxocara cati (Áscaris) to kittens through milk. When a cat is infected with roundworms, some larvae remain dormant in the tissues of the body. When the cat becomes pregnant, these larvae pass into the mammary glands and then into the milk for the kittens.
Regular deworming is recommended for roundworms throughout a cat’s life. However, to know if a cat is infected with maggots, a stool sample needs to be collected and examined in the laboratory for the presence of maggot eggs.
2. Hookworm nematodes
The Hookworms are a type of roundworm of the small intestine that may damage the lining of the intestine where they attach to the surface with some kind of hooks having in their oral apparatus. This can lead to weight loss, bleeding, and anemia.
It can be spread through the mother’s eject, during the pregnancy of the cat , the larvae can cross the placenta, so the kitten will be born infected. Contagion can also occur when the cat steps on surfaces with infective larvae.
The Hookworms most common cat are: Ancylostoma tubaeforme and hookworm stenocephala.
3. Tapeworm in cats
Tapeworms are generally long, flat worms made up of many segments. The mature egg-containing segments are released from the end of the tapeworm and passed through the feces. These segments often resemble grains of rice and can sometimes be seen in the hair around the cat’s anus, in the feces, and on the cat’s bedding.
To complete their life cycle, all tapeworms require an intermediate host that first eats the eggs from the environment, and then the cat will become infected by eating the intermediate host. Animals that act as intermediate hosts vary according to the species of tapeworm. The most common tapeworms that infect cats worldwide are Dipylidium caninum and Taenia taeniaeformis .
To eliminate Tapeworm , highly effective drugs are used, in the form of tablets such as praziquantel for cats , which is administered orally.
Can Tapeworm be spread to humans? People can get Dipylidium caninum by eating infected fleas from cats, something unlikely except in the case of children who play with pets.
We can also be the definitive host for Diphyllobotrium latum , by eating raw parasitized fish.
3.1 Dipylidium caninum cats (Taenia canina)
It is transmitted to cats by fleas and lice. Immature flea larvae ingest the worm’s eggs, but the infection is transmitted to a cat when an infected flea is swallowed during grooming.
It does not reproduce in humans, although it can cause disease. In Dipylidium caninum, contagion to humans is usually accidental, mainly in young children, since they are usually in close contact with pets.
3.2 Taenia taeniaeformis
They are spread when they eat small rodents (rats and mice), the rodents have eaten eggs from the environment. This infection occurs very commonly in hunting cats.
Symptoms do not usually appear, perhaps itching in the anus , abdominal distention, dull or thin fur.
Other tapeworms would be:
- Diphylobothrium latum (fish are intermediate hosts)
- Spirometra spp (amphibians, reptiles, and rodents are intermediate hosts)
- Diplopylidium spp (reptiles are intermediate hosts)
- Joyeuxiella spp (reptiles are intermediate hosts)
- Echinococcus multilocularis (rodents are intermediate hosts)
There are other parasites that can affect cats, especially in kennels, shelters, colonies or shelters etc. The most widespread are the protozoa , among which we can highlight:
Giardia are flagellated protozoa (unicellular organism) that parasitize the small intestine of cats. Cats become infected by ingesting Giardia cysts present in the feces of another infected animal, usually a litter cat or a chronic carrier cat. The giardiasis is more common in homes and farms multiple cats because its mode of transmission. In addition, the infection rate affects more in cats less than one year old.
After ingesting Giardia cysts, it will take 5 to 16 days for the cat to show signs of diarrhea. Acute or chronic and continuous or intermittent diarrhea is the most common sign of infection. The cat probably requires several exposures to the body before infection occurs.
The diagnosis of giardiasis depends on the microscopic identification of cysts in the stool. For an accurate diagnosis, multiple stool samples may need to be evaluated, as the cysts are not continuously shed in the stool.
It is not clear whether the Giardia species that infect cats are contagious to humans or vice versa. Careful hygiene will eliminate the risk of accidental ingestion of cysts.
2. Coccidia Apicomplexa
The Isospora is a microscopic unicellular organism that causes coccidiosis in cats . Virtually all cats become infected with Isospora felis during their lifetime. Cats become infected with this parasite by eating the cyst (thick-walled egg-like stage) that has passed into the feces and matured in the ground. Cysts can be infectious within six hours of being passed in the stool.
Isospora infections generally do not cause problems in adult cats, but serious illness in kittens. The coccidia in kittens destroy the lining of the gut and cause diarrhea which often contains mucus.
Good sanitation and hygiene will help control Coccidia, but accurate diagnosis and effective treatment can only be achieved with the assistance of a veterinarian. The Isospora cats can not cause disease in humans.
Cats are the definitive host for the Toxoplasma organism . Infection with this protozoan parasite is quite common, but the actual disease caused by this parasite is relatively rare in cats.
Cats can become infected with Toxoplasma by ingesting tissue cysts in infected prey or other raw meat. Toxoplasma multiplies in the small intestine and in approximately two to three weeks the oocysts are excreted in the feces of the infected cat.
We must prevent our cat from consuming raw meat, or rodents , in that way we avoid contagion. Infection of cats by ingesting sporulated oocysts in the environment is not common, since these are found in the feces of other cats, and coprophagia is not common in cats.
Symptoms of intestinal parasites in cats
Intestinal parasites may not cause observable symptoms, especially when the infestation is new or less severe.
Some cats may live with an intestinal parasite and have no symptoms, but as the infection becomes more severe, symptoms appear, and other types of infections increase as the immune system weakens.
Also, if the parasitic infection spreads outside the intestinal tract, other symptoms may be observed:
- Watery stools or bloody stools.
- Inability to control the intestines.
- Abdominal swelling
- Weakness or lethargy
- Lack of appetite.
- Exercise intolerance
- Tremors and confusion
- Pale mucous membranes.
How to eliminate intestinal parasites in cats with medication
This product has been on the veterinary and human market longer than any other. The piperazine only kill roundworms living in the intestine of the cat. It is effective against ascaris (Toxocara canis and Toxocaris Leonina) but has little effect on hookworms, with an efficacy of 40%.
2. Pyrantel Pamoate
This is an excellent and safe product for removing roundworms and hookworms. It is inexpensive and easy to administer. In the correct dose, it is safe to administer to pregnant and very young animals. One dose is rarely enough to kill all the parasites.
3. Fenbendazole (Panacur cats)
It is labeled for dogs, but is frequently given to cats. For the prevention and control of Giardia infections
4. Praziquantel (Profender)
This drug kills only tapeworms. It is extremely effective in doing so. It can be administered orally or by injection. It should not be administered to kittens under 4 weeks of age and with caution in debilitated animals of any age.
This medicine, like Praziquantel, is also effective against Tapeworms.
6. Drontal Cat
It is a broad spectrum internal antiparasitic specially designed for cats, indicated to control adult and larval forms of nematodes and tapeworms that commonly affect cats.
It contains praziquantel against tapeworms and pyrantel , which is effective against roundworms.
Home remedies to eliminate intestinal parasites in cats
Below I offer you some home remedies that can be used to eliminate to effectively combat intestinal parasites in your cat:
- Pumpkin seeds:highly antiparasitic and packed with healthy vitamins and minerals, they can kill both adult tapeworms and larvae. Add 1 teaspoon of highly crushed pumpkin seeds to your cat’s food for at least 3 weeks.
- Parsley water:prepare a homemade “tea” with the leaves of this herb to give your cat a mild and natural diuretic. It is full of antioxidants and nutrients, in addition to normalizing the digestive system.
- Thyme:Thyme is antiseptic and will help you eliminate parasites from your pet’s gastrointestinal tract. You should powder him and put a small amount in his food, once a day and for several days.
- Fasting with apple cider vinegar: A day of fasting will be highly beneficial to detoxify our cat. During the fasting day add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, which is a powerful antiseptic.
- Garlic: it is antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial, being also useful to eliminate intestinal parasites. You should mix a tablespoon of garlic with your food, twice a day for 15 days.
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