VCA Animal Hospitals

Roundworm Infection in Cats

What are roundworms?

roundworm_infection-1Roundworms are one of the most common intestinal parasites of the cat. They can be an important cause of illness, even death, in kittens. As their name implies, these are large-bodied round worms, averaging about 3-6 inches (8-15 cm) in length. They do not attach to the wall of the intestine, as some intestinal parasites do. Instead, they are literally "swimming" freely within the intestine.

The scientific name for the feline roundworm is Toxocara cati. Another less common roundworm, Toxascaris leonina, can infect both dogs and cats. Roundworms are sometimes called ascarids and the disease they cause is called ascariasis.

What are the clinical signs of roundworm infection?

"...large numbers may cause life-threatening problems in kittens and debilitated older cats."

Roundworms are not particularly pathogenic or harmful to adult cats, but large numbers may cause life-threatening problems in kittens and debilitated older cats. In kittens, common clinical signs include a pot-bellied appearance, abdominal discomfort, depressed appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, or poor growth.

In both kittens and adult cats with small numbers of worms, there may be no clinical signs of infection which is why contacting a veterinarian is so important if you are concerned for the welfare of your cat.

We’ve Got Positive Cattitude! We help to make cat care easier for you – Get a Free Feline First Exam* (for new clients).

How do cats get roundworms?

roundworm_infection-2Trans-mammary or milk-borne infection is the major route of roundworm transmission in kittens. The immature roundworms called larvae are present in the mother's mammary glands and pass through her milk to the kittens during nursing.

Both kittens and adult cats may become infected by swallowing eggs that contain infective roundworm larvae. These eggs may come from the feces of infected cats or from the tissues of paratenic hosts. In a paratenic host, the roundworm eggs do not mature into adults, but are merely transported. If a cat eats the paratenic host, the roundworm is able to complete its maturation. Common paratenic hosts for roundworms include earthworms, cockroaches, rodents and birds.

The lifecycle of the roundworm is complicated. Once ingested, the larvae hatch out in the cat's gastrointestinal tract and migrate through the muscle, liver, and lungs. After several weeks, the larvae return to the intestine to mature into adults. When the adult worms begin to reproduce, eggs will pass into the cat's stool, thus completing the life cycle of the parasite.

During migration, some roundworm larvae may encyst in a dormant state in the host's body. In female cats, the larvae can come out of dormancy during pregnancy and be passed to the kittens across the placenta or through the milk.

How are roundworms diagnosed?

To diagnose roundworm infection, a small amount of the cat's stool is mixed in a special solution that causes the eggs to float to the top of the solution. The sample is covered with a glass slide on which the floating eggs will collect, and the slide is examined under a microscope.

"The distinctive eggs are easily recognized under the microscope."

The distinctive eggs are easily recognized under the microscope. Roundworm eggs are usually plentiful but, in some cases, it may take more than one fecal examination to find them. Occasionally, intact adult roundworms can be found in the cat's stool or vomit.

What is the treatment for roundworms?

Fortunately, the treatment for roundworms is safe, simple, and relatively inexpensive. The dead and dying roundworms pass into the stool after administration of the anthelmintic or deworming medication. Since none of these treatments will kill the immature forms of the worm or the migrating larvae, at least two or three treatments are needed; they are typically performed at two to three week intervals. Ideally, kittens are dewormed with each visit for booster vaccinations. If your adult cat goes outdoors, you may wish to administer periodic doses of an anthelmintic.

What is the prognosis for a cat diagnosed with roundworms?

The prognosis of a roundworm infection is good if appropriate medication is given promptly. However, in some instances, extremely debilitated kittens may die.

Can I prevent my cat from getting roundworms?

roundworm_infection-3Prevention of roundworm infection should include the following measures:

  • Breeding queens (females) should be dewormed prior to pregnancy and again in late pregnancy. This will reduce the risk of environmental contamination or transmission from the mother to her new kittens.
    "First deworming should be given at two to three weeks of age."
  • Kittens should be appropriately dewormed as recommended by your veterinarian. The first deworming should be given at two to three weeks of age. Note that this is prior to the time most kittens are seen for first vaccines. It is entirely appropriate to present new kittens for initial examination and deworming only.
  • Adult cats remain at risk for re-infection with roundworms throughout their lives. Whenever roundworms are seen, the cat should be promptly dewormed. It is appropriate to routinely deworm all cats that remain at high risk for re-infection. For example, it is advisable for cats with predatory habits or indoor/outdoor cats to have a fecal examination several times a year.
  • Many heartworm preventative products contain medications that will treat roundworm infections. This is the easiest and simplest method for preventing roundworms. Your veterinarian can advise you of the appropriate time to give these products, based on your specific geographical area.
  • Control of insects and rodents is important since they may serve as sources of roundworm infection for cats.
    "Rinse the litterbox thoroughly to remove all bleach since it is toxic to cats."
  • Stool should be removed from litter boxes daily, if possible. Litter boxes can be cleaned with a bleach solution (one cup of chlorine bleach in one gallon of water) to facilitate removal of eggs. Rinse the litterbox thoroughly to remove all bleach since it is toxic to cats. Surfaces that may be contaminated with roundworm eggs can also be treated with this bleach solution. This solution makes the eggs easier to rinse away but does not kill the eggs. Always wash your hands after handling litterbox material.
  • Appropriate disposal of cat and dog feces, especially from yards and playgrounds, is important. Roundworm eggs may remain viable in the environment for long periods unless they are exposed to direct sunlight or very dry conditions.
  • Strict hygiene is especially important for children. Do not allow children to play in potentially contaminated environments. Be mindful of the risk that public parks and non-covered sandboxes pose. Even though stool may not be visible, roundworm eggs may be present. Sandboxes that have fitted covers are popular and help prevent infection of children with roundworms.
  • Contact your animal control officials when homeless animals are found.

Are roundworms a danger to my family or me?

Roundworms can be a health risk for humans. The most common source of human infection is by ingesting eggs that have come from soil contaminated with cat (or dog) feces.

"In suitable environments, the eggs may remain infective to humans and cats for years."

As many as 10,000 cases of roundworm infection in humans have been reported in one year in the United States. Children are at an increased risk for health problems should they become infected. A variety of organs, including the eyes, may be affected as the larvae migrate through the body. In suitable environments, the eggs may remain infective to humans and cats for years.

Related Tags

adult, adults, anthelmintic, bleach, cases, cats, children, clinical, contaminated, debilitated, dewormed, deworming, diagnosed, distinctive, easily, environments, examination, fecal, feces, host, hosts, immature, important, infected, infection, infective, intestinal, intestine, kittens, larvae, litter, litterbox, mature, medication, microscope, migrate, older, parasites, paratenic, pregnancy, prevent, re-infection, recognized, remain, remove, rinse, risk, rodents, roundworm, roundworms, stool, toxic, treatment, treatments, worms

Looking to learn more?

We also offer free, instant access to over 1,500 related articles on your pet's health including preventive medicine, common and not so common diseases, and even informative case studies. We encourage you to read any of these popular articles below or search our extensive pet health library.

Most Popular Articles

About our approach to exceptional pet health care

At VCA Animal Hospitals, our veterinarians take you and your pet's health seriously. With over 600 hospitals and 1,800 fully qualified, dedicated and compassionate veterinarians, we strive to give your pet the very best in medical care. We understand your pet is an extension of you, and appreciate the opportunity to share in providing exceptional pet care and quality of life.

* Free initial health exam for new clients only. Not to be combined with any other offer. Not good toward boarding, grooming, prescription and non-prescription medication, and retail items. Not good toward emergency and/or specialty veterinary services. Coupon good for up to two pets (dogs or cats only) per household. Redeemable only at a general practice VCA Animal Hospital. For pet owners who are aged 18 and older.

If you are a new client, you can get a free first exam* on your first visit.

Free First Exam

Get to know us by visiting one of our neighborhood hospitals.

Locate a Hospital
CLOSE CLOSE

General Practice

We have over 540 animal hospitals in 41 states that are staffed by more than 2,000 fully qualified, dedicated and compassionate veterinarians, with more than 200 being board-certified specialists. The nationwide VCA family of general practice hospitals give your pet the very best in medical care, providing a full range of general medical and surgical services as well as specialized treatments*: Wellness, Spay/neuter, Advanced diagnostic services (MRI/CT Scan), Internal medicine, Oncology, Ophthalmology, Dermatology, Cardiology, Neurology, Boarding, Grooming

*services may vary by location.

Our family of pet hospitals stands out by delivering the greatest resources in order provide the highest quality care available for your pets. By maintaining the highest standards of pet health care available anywhere, we emphasize prevention as well as healing. We provide continuing education programs to our doctors and staff and promote the open exchange of professional knowledge and expertise. And finally, we have established a consistent program of procedures and techniques, proven to be the most effective in keeping pets healthy.

Find a VCA General Care Animal Hospital near you:

 

See all VCA Animal Hospitals >

CLOSE CLOSE

Specialty Care

Sometimes sick or injured pets need the care of a veterinary medical specialist. When that happens, VCA specialty hospitals work closely with the general practitioner veterinarians who refer cases to us in order to provide seamless veterinary care to your pet. When your pet is facing any kind of serious illness or injury, our specialty referral hospitals will provide the compassionate and expert care your beloved pet needs.

Our goal is to make sure that when you and your pet are in need that you have access to board certified specialists who are up to date on the very latest developments in their field. In our state of the art hospitals, our specialists also have access to the most sophisticated diagnostic and treatment tools and techniques from ultrasonography and endoscopy to CAT scans and even MRI.

We have twenty-eight specialty hospitals across the US so there may be one near you. Our specialized services include: cardiology, critical care, dentistry, dermatology, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, radiology and surgery.

Find a VCA Specialty Care Animal Hospital near you:

 

See all VCA Animal Hospitals >

CLOSE CLOSE

Emergency Care

In case of emergency, please call us immediately. If it is after hours, check with a local animal hospital emergency clinic.

CLOSE CLOSE