Many people think that round worms are literally round, like peas or marbles. This is not actually the case – they look more like spaghetti and the ‘round’ bit is really to describe their cross section, just as tapeworms are flat, like a tape. This has led to confusion; if you see long thin worms around your cats anus or in its litter tray or in the garden, these are round worms. The small rice-like grains you may see sticking to the fur near the cat’s anus or on its bedding are the egg cases of tapeworms. Most worming preparations are to deal with both kinds anyway, so there is no real need to worry.
Are roundworms serious?
It is certainly better for your cat not to have roundworm, but an infestation is not life threatening. If your cat is otherwise unwell, it can happen that the worms can multiply and cause a problem, in that the cat will not eat properly, as its gut is overloaded with worms and it doesn’t feel hungry. Also, the worm is taking nutriment from the cat, which will eventually cause it to become anaemic. But most cats can cope with a few worms quite well. Toxocara cati can be passed to humans from an infected cat and this can be quite dangerous, especially for children, although this is more commonly contracted from dogs than cats. The disease in humans is known as visceral larval migrans, as the worms travel round the body and may reach the eye, which can cause blindness.
How do I know my cat has roundworm?
The vast majority of cats with roundworm will be symptom free, but if the cat is otherwise not on top form it may have a problem dealing with an infestation of worms. In these cases, the cat may look a bit ‘pot-bellied’ and be off its food. It may vomit, which may lead to dehydration, so this should be watched quite carefully. The animal’s coat may ‘stare’, giving it an unkempt appearance and it may be that eventually the cat will become quite lethargic and clearly unwell. Prevention of roundworm is so easy that it is best never to get to the stage of having to watch out for symptoms by simply worming the cat on a regular basis.
A roundworm’s life
The life cycle of the roundworm is a relatively simple one. A roundworm in the gut will lay eggs which are shed by the cat; these can lie dormant for years in the soil or around the house, deep in a carpet or bedding – and in fact must be in the environment for two weeks before it becoming infective. The cat then picks them up while grooming, or eating prey which has the eggs on it and then the lifecycle starts again. This is why regular worming is essential, as you can never be sure that the cat has not come into contact with the eggs. It may even be that you or a visitor has brought some in to the house on shoes or clothing, so even indoor cats can get roundworm.
Unfortunately for kittens, in the middle of this simple life, the worms can migrate into the tissues of the host and there encyst. If they migrate to the mammary cells of a lactating queen, they will be passed on in the milk, so quite small kittens can get worms. Most worming preparations will say on the pack if they are suitable for nursing queens and kittens and regular dosing is important to eradicate the worms as early and as thoroughly as possible. Toxascaris leonina, a roundworm found less frequently in cats, does not migrate in this way, so kittens don’t tend to be at risk until they are weaned.
Prevention and cure of roundworms
Routine worming of cats is part of being an owner and there are many products on the market to make this easy. Most of them are for tapeworm and roundworm and are given at intervals to interfere with the lifecycle of the parasite. What type of worming preparation you use really depends on what works best for you and your cat. Some cats really hate taking tablets and many an hour can be wasted as you and your pet wrestle and fight to get a pill down its throat, only for you to find it spat out behind the sofa days later. Others don’t mind and a spot of butter or soft cheese around it will mean it is gone in seconds. On the other hand, some animals are fine with a spot-on wormer, but other animals can exhibit some quite serious side effects with these and if your cat is one which objects to having dirty or wet fur and will over-groom in these situations, they may be best avoided.
The main thing to remember no matter what type of wormer you use is that it must be used regularly. Most come in sets of tablets or sachets and also may have a little calendar to fill in, to remind you when the next one is due. Remembering the next dose is important and by then hopefully your deep scratches from last time will have healed nicely!