Cat Worms: Symptoms & Deworming Treatment

Dr. Martha G. Cline, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Martha G. Cline, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/10/20242-4 minutes
cat grooming itself

Cats may become infected with intestinal parasites like roundworms and tapeworms. Neither of them are good for your cat. They can cause everything from lethargy to a change in bowel habits, as well as weight loss and other symptoms. 

Luckily, it’s easy to keep an eye out for the symptoms of worms in cats. If you know the most common signs, you can take your cat to the vet for treatment early. 

What Are Cat Worms? 

Worms are the most common intestinal parasites that are found in cats. They can occur in cats and kittens throughout the world. Worms that commonly infect cats are roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms. They can be a concern and should be treated but don’t usually have long-term effects. 

How Do Cats Get Worms? 

How cats get worms depends on what type of worm it is. It can be from ingesting eggs or ingesting the host indirectly by eating another animal/insect that is infected with the worm or its eggs. We have more on this below.  

Types of Worms in Cats 

There are a few species of cat worms, the most common of which are roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. 

Roundworms (Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonina) 

Roundworms are a common intestinal parasites in kittens and cats. They are long, white and look like spaghetti. Toxocara cati can infect not only cats, but also humans. Eggs from these cat worms are passed in the feces and can live for months or years in the soil. Cats can become infected in three main ways: 

  • Ingestion of eggs directly from contaminated soil (e.g. by licking them off their feet)

  • Consumption of a rodent who has previously eaten worm eggs from the environment

  • Ingestion by kittens of worm larvae in their mother’s milk (Toxocara cati only). The vast majority of new-born kittens are infected with roundworms by this route.  

Tapeworms 

Another type of cat worms your cat could be infected by are Tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum and Taenia taeniaeformis). Tapeworms are long, flat and composed of many segments which contain eggs. The segments are regularly shed in feces and resemble grains of rice which can sometimes be seen crawling around a cat’s anus or on their bed. 

To complete their lifecycle, tapeworms require an intermediate host to eat their eggs from the environment. Cats then become infected by consuming the intermediate host. Intermediate hosts include fleas (Dipylidium caninum) and rodents (Taenia taeniaeformis). For this reason, if your cat is diagnosed with tapeworms they will need treatment for fleas. In addition, if they hunt and eats rodents, they will likely also require tapeworm treatment. You can find out more about tapeworms in cats with our easy guide. 

Hookworms 

Hookworms are another intestinal parasite which can affect both cats and dogs. They have hook-like mouthparts which they use to anchor themselves to the intestinal wall and get their nutrients. Cats can become infected by eating rodents or licking the soil on their paws that contain hookworm larvae. Your vet will be able to diagnose the parasite infection by evaluating a stool sample from your cat. 

6 Most Common Symptoms of Worms in Cats 

Some cats can stay symptom-free, however, there are a few signs that are connected to cat worms you should keep an eye on.  

We’ve listed all the common signs of worms in cats for you to look out for. If you think any of these are a concern, make sure to contact your vet. 

  1. Weight loss and a distended stomach. Cats who have worms often still have a good appetite, but you may notice that despite eating a normal amount, they are losing weight. If your cat is losing weight for any reason, it’s time for a trip to the vet, but if it is accompanied by a ‘distended’ stomach – i.e. a stomach that looks bloated – it may be a symptom of worms. 

  2. Coarse fur. Another symptom of worms in cats is a change in their fur condition. Their fur may become coarse and rough and lack its usual luster. This is particularly a symptom of worms if it is accompanied by a distended stomach. 

  3. Change in bowel habits. You might notice changes in your cat’s poop bowel habits as well. It’s important to keep an eye out for any unusual symptoms and contact the vet for help and advice.

  4. Visible traces of worms. You may find that worms, or parts of worms, are visible in your cat’s stool. They may also be visible around their anus, or possibly in their bedding. Worms can be a variety of sizes; the most common worm, roundworm, can grow up to 10cm long (although you are unlikely to see one this big). Worms are usually white. Look out for whole worms or sections of their bodies. Tapeworm sections look like small white grains.

  5. Lethargy. Cats with worms can become lethargic, especially with severe disease. They may lack energy or seem to have less interest in things that usually excite them.

  6. Cat scooting on floor. When cats drag their bottoms along the carpet, it may be because worms are irritating them. This common symptom is known as “scooting”. Cats and dogs alike will scoot their bottoms along the floor to try to rid of the irritating sensation.  

Do Worms Cause Diarrhea in Cats? 

Yes, worms can cause loose stools and diarrhea in cats. Cats with worms may experience a change in bowel habits, particularly the onset of diarrhea. This can be a symptom of worms, but whether this is cause or not, it’s important to take your cat to see the vet if they experience this. 

How to Prevent Worms in Cats? 

Remember, preventing cat worms is better than having to treat them. Your cat should be regularly wormed to prevent them being infected. Many monthly flea preventatives also treat for intestinal parasites. Follow advice from your vet to find the most suitable worm prevention for your cat, and how often you should treat them. 
Your cat may also contract worms by swallowing a flea, as some fleas may carry worms. For this reason, preventing against fleas is also important. Find out more about fleas in cats.

How to Treat Worms in Cats 

There are many types of cat worm treatments available. Your vet will be able to tell you which treatment is the most suitable for your cat. If you notice any symptoms of worms in your cat, it is important to get an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Be prepared to bring in a poop sample from your cat. 

How to Get Rid of Worms in Cats or Kittens 

Deworming cats is simple as worming treatments are now available as liquids, pastes, granules and palatable worming tablets as well as liquid ‘spot on’ formulations, so you can choose the easiest one for your cat. Follow the on-pack instructions in full and stick to the advised schedule for your chosen product. 

Because roundworms are so common in kittens, it is vital to begin treatment from an early age. It is recommended that kittens are treated for roundworms starting at 3-4 weeks old every two weeks from until 3 months of age, then monthly until six months of age. Kittens typically only require tapeworm treatment if they also have fleas.  

Adult cats should be treated regularly per label instruction with a product effective against both roundworms and hookworms, often found with flea and heartworm preventatives. 

What is the Best Dewormer for My Cat? 

There are four different types of dewormer available for your cat. They are: 

  • Tablets 

  • Liquids 

  • Pastes  

  • Spot-on treatments 

If you want to know what the right dewormer is for your cat, always consult your vet. They will be the best resource when it comes to the right worm treatment for your cat.  

Can Indoor Cats Get Worms? 

Yes, indoor cats can get worms as worms can be transported into the house either on clothes or shoes, from other pets, or pests like fleas or rodents. Even though indoor cats aren’t as exposed to the outside world, and therefore may appear less likely to pick up worms, this can still happen.  

Can Humans Get Worms From Their Cats? 

Feline roundworms can pose a risk to human health. Contact with cat feces or contaminated soil can result in human ingestion and infection. Children should not be allowed to play where cats pass feces, and children’s sand pits should be covered when they are not in use to avoid cats defecating in them. It is also advised that gardeners wear gloves to avoid contamination and that litter boxes are cleaned out every day. 

Worming your cat is simple, and following a regular cat worming program will not only help keep your cat healthy but also helps prevent human infections too!  

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

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