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Health & Wellness

Roundworms in cats: symptoms and treatments

Have you noticed white, moving strings in your cat’s stool?

Picture this: It’s your assigned day to wrap up all the house chores. Next on the list is cleaning out your cat’s litter box, and while you’re scooping, you notice white, spaghetti-like shapes moving in their poop. It’s not your mind playing tricks on you — your cat may have roundworms (a common parasite that can infect cats and kittens).

How do cats get roundworms?

According to Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, kittens and outdoor cats are more likely to be infected with roundworms. “Kittens are often infected from nursing from an infected mother,” she adds. “Outdoor cats are at a higher risk because they are outside and therefore are exposed to eggs deposited in the environment.”

After being digested, roundworm eggs end up in the cat’s feces. If the environment in which the feces end up is warm and humid, the eggs begin to develop to the point where they can cause infection if consumed. An infected mother cat will also pass roundworms through their milk to nursing kittens.

"Once the cat ingests eggs from the environment or by eating infected prey [or through their mother's milk], the roundworm larva migrates to the liver, intestines and the lungs," she explains. "The larvae in the lungs are coughed up and swallowed then mature into adults to begin mating and producing eggs in the digestive system."

Roundworm symptoms in cats

Roundworm symptoms present differently (or sometimes not at all!) depending on the cat. Dr. McCullough says to watch out for vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, a potbellied appearance, poor fur quality and gastrointestinal obstructions. In severe cases, roundworms can be fatal. 

Are roundworms contagious? 

If you notice your cat experiencing roundworm symptoms, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Roundworms can live in some environments for months, or even years, making them contagious to other animals and people, Dr. McCullough says. 

“Humans get infected with roundworms by ingesting eggs from a contaminated environment,” she explains. “This is more likely to occur due to improperly washed produce and poor hygiene after participating in activities in parks, sandboxes, playgrounds and gardens than from their pets.”

Your veterinarian can diagnose roundworms through an examination of your cat’s stool.

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Roundworm treatment for cats

Cats with roundworm are often prescribed a roundworm dewormer and anti-parasitic medications, Dr. McCullough says. “In most cases, treatment will need to be repeated 2 to 3 weeks after the initial treatment,” she adds. 

Practicing good hygiene after handling your infected cat, as well as their toys, bedding and waste, is always a good idea. Dr. McCullough explains that it can take 3 to 6 weeks to eliminate roundworms from cats, but symptoms typically resolve within a week.  

How to prevent roundworm in cats

Parasite control products and veterinarian-guided routine checkups of your pet’s stool can help protect your cat from contracting roundworm altogether, Dr. McCullough says.

Roundworms aren’t pleasant to look at, and they’re harmful to your cat’s health. So make sure your cat is safe and roundworm-free with these tips.

Photo by Jacalyn Beales on Unsplash

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