What You Need to Know About Roundworm in Cats

Ann Roberts
Roundworm under microscope
To the naked eye, roundworms resemble spaghetti.

If you have a cat who goes outside, it's essential to understand the transmission of roundworm in cats and humans. These worms cause a parasitic infections in a variety of species, but you can control and prevent them with a few simple tips.

Facts About Roundworms in Cats

Roundworm infections are serious for both pets and pet owners, and there is more than one type of roundworm that can take hold in a cat. The Toxocara catis roundworm can be carried by a variety of animal species, but it will remain dormant and encysted until it is ingested by a cat. A second form of roundworm, Toxascaris leonina, can infect a horde of different species including humans.

These distinctions are important because the average pet owner will not know how to distinguish between these two types of roundworms, but harboring the eggs of Toxascaris within the home poses a threat to any pets and humans who reside therein.

How a Cat Becomes Infected

Concerning the two types of roundworms in cats, the cycle of infection differs slightly. Both roundworms can be transmitted into cats through the ingestion of eggs. This commonly occurs when cats have either contact with outdoor soil where infected fecal matter is present, or through the consumption of a rodent or some type of smaller animal. Toxocara eggs present the more complicated version of infection cycles. For starters, Toxocara eggs can remain active and infected for months or even years. This means that any eggs lying in soil are potentially hazardous to your cat for quite a while. Once ingested, Toxocara eggs and larvae run through several stages, from hatching to encysting and then spreading throughout the cat's body only to end up once again in the intestinal tract. By the time Toxocara re-enters the cat's intestines, it is mature enough to mate and release new eggs.

Toxascaris eggs go through fewer phases when it comes to development. Also, this type of roundworm doesn't navigate throughout the body to the same degree as the cat-specific roundworm. Regardless, its threat is not limited to cats, and this makes it a more fearsome foe for households.

Roundworm infection can also be spread by nursing cats to kittens when larvae inhabiting the mammary glands pass into the kittens via the nursing process. Deworming medications can only affect roundworms that are in the intestinal tracts, so larvae found anywhere in a cat's system are still quite viable if they remain outside the intestines for an extended period of time.

What to Expect

When your cat is infected with roundworms, symptoms can manifest in different bodily systems. When it comes to a Toxocara infection, the larvae will creep into the respiratory tract which can cause numerous symptoms and even a serious bout of pneumonia. Wheezing and breathing difficulties are very common. Moreover, once the matured worms of either Toxocara or Toxascaris reach the intestinal tract they can interfere with a cat's food supply, stealing essential nutrients and actually starving the animal. A bloated abdomen is usually visible during this phase of infection.

Treating Roundworms

Treatment for a cat's roundworm infection is vital for both the safety of the cat and any pets or humans living within the same household. Your veterinarian can recommend deworming medications, but most of these medications may require more than one treatment to be fully effective. Again, deworming products can only treat worms that reside in the intestinal tract. Larvae that live within the cat's system remain unaffected. Moreover, roundworms lay eggs that can take weeks to hatch. This is why your cat's deworming procedures will consist of medication that is taken periodically, typically in doses spaced three weeks apart. Three or four medication cycles may be necessary to completely end the roundworm battle. If one cat within a household is infected with roundworms, it is also advisable to treat any other cats and pets living in the same home.

Moreover, if your cat is an outdoor animal, reinfection is always a risk. Routine dewormings are one way to protect your household from constant roundworm issues. The most effective means of preventing your cat from roundworms is, of course, to keep your pet indoors where the likelihood of coming in contact with feces-infected soil is virtually non-existent.

What You Need to Know About Roundworm in Cats