Managing the Menace of Roundworms in Cats

By Tess Thompson

Feline parasites, such as roundworms infest cats in almost the same way as worms in dogs. This process is usually completed in three ways:

  • The cat can consume worm eggs from the soil. These roundworm eggs generally come into the environment from the excretion of other infected dogs and cats. The eggs have the capacity to withstand environmental changes and are immune to mild disinfectants. The sticky egg shells cling to the paws or to the fur of the pet. Cats generally ingest the eggs when grooming.
  • Most kittens are infected through their mothers. Roundworms have a long migrating lifecycle inside the body of a cat. Larvae get encysted in tissues and can remain there for years. The litter of an infected mother is already infected in utero. Larvae can also be passed on to the kittens through milk during the lactation period.
  • A cat can ingest an infected host animal like a rodent. Larvae in the host develop into roundworms within the cat’s body.

The first stage of the roundworm lifecycle is while it is dormant in the environment. This is the period before it actually infects the host. This means that fresh feces are not infectious. The actual signs of infestation may start showing only after two weeks to one month of infection.

The second stage is when eggs of roundworms are ingested by a cat or by an intermediate host. Once inside the cat, the eggs hatch in the intestines. If the eggs are ingested by another animal, the larvae remain encysted in the tissues of this animal until a cat eats the host.

The second stage larvae are usually dormant in the liver of the cat until it is time for the worms to move up towards the lungs and the throat. It is during this time that larvae travel to the mammary glands in female cats. Larvae causes irritation in the throat, and the cat usually vomits the larvae. These third stage larvae are swallowed back with the vomit, and they eventually reach the intestines.

The migration of the larvae is complete once they enter the intestines. By this time, the larvae are fully matured. The matured roundworms can now start mating and multiplying at a rapid pace.
Symptoms of worms in dogs and cats are similar. The main diagnostic symptom is the visible evidence of live roundworms in fresh feces. Do not be surprised if you see a live roundworm in the vomit as well.

Roundworms cause diarrhea and vomiting. Intestinal parasites like dog tapeworms and roundworms are equally harmful to cats. A heavy infection in the liver during the third stage can produce serious pneumonia. Roundworms can sometimes block the intestinal passage by sheer numbers. This is due to their fast reproduction cycle in which one female roundworm can lay up to 200,000 eggs in a single day.

Treatment procedures are the same for both species of roundworms that infest cats. A specialized de-worming medication is enough to take care of mild infections. Severe infections require a prolonged regimen of de-worming.

De-worming medications can not tackle encysted larvae. It is also very difficult to stop transmission from a mother to kittens. The transmission through milk can be checked when nursing by hand, but in utero transmission requires regular de-worming from the 40th day of pregnancy right up to 14 days after delivery.

While playing outdoors, children run the risk of getting infected from contaminated soil. Elders too are exposed to such risks. A well drawn-up control plan can help in eliminating contamination of the soil and in turn save you, your family and your cat from the menace of worms.


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