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Published: May 17, 2012

Worms in cats are a common problem that every pet owner should be looking out for, as these internal parasites can quickly cause major issues for a feline and health problems for the people in the household. Routine fecal testing is recommended so your veterinarian can detect a parasite problem before your cat becomes sick.  Fortunately, there are a number of monthly preventative medications your veterinarian can prescribe that can help your cat avoid internal parasites altogether.

Internal parasites are transferred to the cat in a variety of different ways, but most require an intermediary host, such as a flea, mosquito or even a bird. It's possible for the cat to also contract the parasites by ingesting the feces of a similarly infected animal.

There are four common types of worms known to infect cats - roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and heartworms. Each of these worms results in different clinical signs the cat may display and each requires different medication.

Of the four, the most dangerous type of parasite for a cat is the heartworm. Heartworms are transferred by mosquito bite and get their name due to the fact that they affect the heart. Obviously, this is quite dangerous for the cat and could result in sudden heart failure at just about any time. Heartworms in cats may also lead to vomiting, heavy breathing, coughing and weight loss in cats. Prevention is the only way to fully stop heartworms, so be sure to talk with your veterinarian about pet parasite protection before the cat becomes ill.

Roundworms have also been known to cause fatalities, especially in kittens. These parasites do not need a host to transfer into a feline, making them all the more dangerous. Clinical signs of these worms in cats include diarrhea and vomiting. Roundworms are often spotted because they give the cat a "pot-bellied" appearance.

Cat diarrhea is also a common clinical sign in felines infected with tapeworms. These parasites inhabit the digestive system and traces may be found in the cat's stool - they look like small white grains of rice. In some cases, a cat may also vomit up an adult tapeworm, in which case the animal should be taken to a vet immediately for treatment.

Finally, hookworms are another common pet parasites. Cats can be affected by hookworms by swallowing the immature worms (larvae) from the soil or these larvae can burrow directly through the cat’s skin and migrate to the intestine where an infection occurs.  Hookworm infection may result in the presence of digested blood in the stool, anemia, a poor hair coat and weight loss.  Less commonly, a cat may experience skin irritation on the paws if the larvae have burrowed through their skin.