What are symptoms of roundworm in cats?

posted: 05/15/12
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Most cats will contract roundworm at some time in their lives, especially as kittens. It's one of the most common parasitic illnesses to affect both cats and dogs, but is also treatable and preventable. Knowing what roundworm is and does will help you spot the signs early, and keep your cat roundworm-free.

How Cats Get Roundworm

Roundworm eggs are present in hosts such as birds, rodents or bugs. Outdoor cats that eat their infected prey will ingest roundworm eggs, which then hatch in their intestines. The resulting larvae infest the intestines and can move to the lungs, liver and bloodstream. Indoor cats are also vulnerable. An indoor cat may ingest an infected insect that brings roundworm larvae into his body. If he shares a home with an outdoor cat, the infected cat's feces may deposit roundworm eggs in the litter box, in turn infecting the healthy cat. Cats can also pick up roundworm from walking on infected soil. Mother cats can also transmit roundworm to kittens through their milk.

Symptoms and Signs

A cat with a mild case of roundworm may show no symptoms. But if he has diarrhea, he may have roundworm. A heavily infested cat may also have constipation and vomit up the adult roundworms, easily identifiable as white or light brown spaghetti-like strands 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7centimeters) long. These adult roundworms could also appear in the cat's feces, and indicate the presence of more larvae growing in his body. His appetite may be poor, and you may notice weight loss, even as the cat develops a pot-bellied appearance. He may also show signs of abdominal distress and his coat will look dull and dry. Coughing indicates the roundworm has moved into his lungs. If left untreated, they can create an intestinal or bowel blockage or pneumonia.

Dangers to Kittens

Kittens often get roundworm from their mothers, whose mammary glands are infected, and who pass along the infection in their milk. They may also get it from walking on infected soil or eating infected animals, just as adult cats do. Kittens with roundworm are easily identifiable by their distended, hard stomachs and severe diarrhea. Because roundworms feed off the contents of the cat's intestines, competing with him for nutrition, this results in poor growth at the time when kittens most need substantial nutrition to put on weight and develop. Significant numbers of roundworm can be fatal for kittens.

Roundworm Treatment and Prevention

Treatment is usually an oral dewormer, called an anthelmintic, which forces adult roundworms out of a cat's intestines and into his stool. Cats need at least two separate doses of dewormer, administered two to three weeks apart, to destroy all roundworms in their bodies. Kittens should be dewormed regularly throughout their first year.

A clean litter box and living area will help keep roundworm at bay. Monthly flea and heartworm medications can also be a roundworm deterrent. Cats that go outdoors may walk on roundworm-contaminated soil or consume infected prey, so keeping them inside is the best prevention.

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