Getting a new kitten is always exciting – so much to plan for! But try to remember that most kittens, no matter how good the home they’ve come from, have been exposed to an insidious parasite. So do you know how to deal with Toxocariasis in your new arrival, to keep you and your family, as well as the new kitten, safe?
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Toxocariasis is an infection caused by roundworms found in the faeces of cats. It is a common, non–life-threatening condition in cats with diagnosis and treatment being straightforward. However, there is zoonotic potential (the worms happily infect people, especially children). And infected eggs are difficult to remove after an environment has been contaminated.
Cat roundworms are brownish-yellow, round-bodied worms, and can get up to an incredible ten centimetres long! And many kittens are infected by the time they’re a month old.
What is the lifecycle?
Roundworms in cats reproduce by laying eggs within the intestine. These eggs are tiny and are not visible to the naked eye. These eggs are passed out with faeces, mature for up to a month, and then become infectious. Cats then ingest these infectious eggs, which hatch into larvae. Importantly, larval roundworms can travel out of the gut to a wider range of tissues; including multiple organs such as the liver and lungs, skeletal muscle, and the gut wall, where they may form cysts. This allows cats to maintain a level of infection, and females can pass on infections to their kittens via the placenta or milk.
A roundworm infection, also called toxocariasis, can be picked up by a cat in one of four ways:
- By eating infectious eggs, in contaminated soil or faeces
- By eating another infected animal, which can include rats or birds – this is the most common route of infection for adult cats who like to hunt.
- Kittens routinely get roundworms through their mother’s milk.
What are the symptoms?
With so many sources of infection, and a high prevalence of toxocara infection in cats in the UK, roundworms are a risk for all cats.
In a healthy, adult cat there may be no outward signs of a roundworm infestation beyond visible adult worms in the faeces or vomit. However, in severe infestation, or in younger kittens or cats that have a poor immune system, you may also see:
- A pot belly.
- Weight loss, or poor growth
- Poor coat quality
Sadly, a heavy infestation in a young kitten can even be enough to kill.
How do I remove the worms from my kitten?
There are lots of options for preventing an infestation developing. Worming treatments can come in the form of tablets or spot-ons, and often manage a range of parasites including roundworms.
The best parasite protocol for your cat will depend on your cat’s age, you, your cat’s preferences and personality, your lifestyle and even the season, and your vet or SQP can help you decide which regime works best for you.
However, should you choose to manage worms in your cat, make sure to speak to a vet or SQP about the most suitable anti-parasitic available. They can also help you plan a worm prevention plan going forward too, to make sure your cat stays protected.
If your kitten is unwell, then you should seek veterinary advice, if there is any doubt, your vet may recommend a faecal test. This will look for evidence of worms, such as eggs, and may also look for bacteria within the faeces.
How often should I treat for worms in kittens?
You will need a worming treatment suitable for your kitten’s age and weight. Ideally the first treatment should be at 3 weeks old and after that, they should be wormed every two weeks until they are 16 weeks old. After 16 weeks, they will need a treatment every three months depending on their lifestyle and product used.
Can I get worms from my cat?
Sadly, humans can also become infected with Toxocara, and this is most commonly with the species found in dogs and in cats. Infection is common, and fortunately many people who are infected with toxocara roundworms show no signs at all. However, some people, especially children and those who have a poor immune system, can develop problems as the larvae can migrate to the organs and the eyes. This can cause a range of signs depending on the body systems affected, with the worms tending to burrow into the muscles and liver. However, if an eye is affected, a condition called ocular larval migrans, then there is a risk of blindness; and if the worms invade the brain, neurological signs can result.
Advice to protect you and your family’s health:
- Make sure your pets are kept up to date with their worming treatments.
- Promote handwashing after playing with pets or playing outside.
- Clean up after your pet as quickly and frequently as possible – as Toxocara roundworm larvae take time to mature in faeces, fresh faeces are not a risk for human infection.
- Teach children that it can be dangerous to eat soil.
- Cover sandpits when not in use – pets, especially cats, and wildlife can use sandpits as bathrooms, making them hotbeds for infection.