Lungworm in Cats: Symptoms & Treatments

Dr. Karie Johnson, DVM
By Dr. Karie Johnson, DVM
Updated: 5/20/20242-4 minutes
calico cat laying on the floor

If your cat is coughing and lethargic, lungworms might be the culprit. Find out more about cat lungworm symptoms and treatment. 

Lungworms in cats can pose a series of dangers for your little ball of fur. These parasites travel the distance, hopping from host to host looking for perfect places to burrow. Every once in a while, an unlucky cat becomes a stop on their route. Although less common than intestinal worms, lungworms are not to be ignored. Here are a few useful things to know about lungworms in cats and how you can help your cat get back to a clean bill of health. 

What is Lungworm in Cats? 

Lungworms are parasites that infect other organisms, use their nutrients to stay alive and produce eggs at the expense of their host. If you are more familiar with the classic lungworms in dogs, these are not known to affect cats. In fact, cats have a different type of lungworm to contend with. There are two types of lungworm in cats: the Aelurostrongylus abstrusus (feline lungworm) and Capillaria aerophilus (bronchial capillarid that affects cats and dogs) and they can both cause lung damage.  

How Do Cats Get Lungworm? 

If you have an outdoor cat, the higher chance there is for your cat to get lungworm. The little parasites usually have to travel through an entire food chain before reaching your cat’s system. 

Cats become infected with lungworm when they drink water or eat prey infected with the larval stage of the worm. 

The lungworm larvae migrate out of the intestines via the bloodstream to the lungs, where they develop into adult worms and lay eggs in the cat’s lungs within 40 days. The eggs are then coughed up by the cat or passed in feces, which may then be eaten by birds, rodents and/or snails. 

What Are the Symptoms of Lungworm in Cats? 

Lungworm infections in cats can masquerade as other conditions, so it is important to check with your vet if you notice your cat having coughing fits that just won’t go away or difficulty breathing. 

Other symptoms of lungworm in cats include lethargy and no interest in play. If your cat doesn’t seem to be their usual self, make sure you book an appointment with the vet. 

How is Lungworm in Cats Diagnosed? 

The vet will start by asking you about the symptoms you have noticed. To determine whether your cat has been infected by lungworms, they may then perform a series of tests which might include: 

  • Blood tests 

  • X-rays to check the lungs’ condition 

  • A bronchoscopy to check the cat’s airways (typically performed at a specialty center) 

  • The cat’s feces may also be tested for the presence of larvae 

Should You Worry if Your Cat Gets Lungworms? 

Usually lungworm in cats is not a life-threatening condition. But if your cat’s immune system is not up to the task of putting up a good fight against this parasite, the infection can turn out to be more serious than normally expected. Lungworm in kittens can be particularly dangerous as well. It can also be dangerous if your cat is a senior or there are pre-existing conditions likely to have weakened the cat’s immune system. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable kittens are also the most prone to lungworm infections. The most important thing to do is seek professional advice from your vet, and follow the treatment plan closely. 

What is the Treatment for Lungworm in Cats? 

Once the infection is diagnosed, the vet will likely prescribe one of several different parasiticides such as Fenbendazole, Albendazole, Ivermectin, Praziquante and Levamisole. In extreme cases when secondary infections, such as pneumonia, have started developing, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed too. 

Once a course of treatment has been completed, an otherwise healthy cat should be back in tip-top condition in a matter of a couple of months. 

How to Prevent Lungworm in Cats 

There are a few things you can do to help prevent lungworm in your cat. Make sure the cat doesn’t miss any regular deworming medication that might create a window of opportunity for the lungworms to show up. You can also try these games with. 

For more expert tips on keeping your cat healthy, explore our other cat health articles. 

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