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Understanding Gastrointestinal Parasites in Cats

  •   5 min reads
Understanding Gastrointestinal Parasites in Cats
A vet examines a cat in the clinic. (Photo from iStock royalty-free images.).
By Mariana Burgos

As cat owners, we cherish our feline companions and strive to provide them with the best care possible. However, despite our best efforts, our beloved pets can sometimes fall victim to gastrointestinal parasites. These minuscule invaders, ranging from roundworms to tapeworms, can wreak havoc on a cat’s health if left untreated.

Types of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Cats

Dr. Phil Good, owner of Beyond Pets Animal Hospital, shared a comprehensive guide to caring for cats infected with gastrointestinal parasites in his article “What are Gastrointestinal Parasites in Cats?”

Gastrointestinal parasites encompass a diverse array of organisms, each with its own characteristics and effects on feline health. Here are some common types of gastrointestinal parasites found in cats:

Roundworms, scientifically known as Ascarids, are among the most common gastrointestinal parasites found in cats. These spaghetti-like worms inhabit the intestines of cats, where they can grow to significant lengths. Roundworm infestations are particularly concerning as they can lead to a variety of symptoms, including weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, and a potbellied appearance. In severe cases, intestinal blockage may occur, posing a life-threatening risk to the affected cat. Roundworms are typically contracted through ingestion of contaminated soil, food, or water, or through transplacental transmission from an infected mother cat to her kittens.

This shows the inside of an intestine of a cat with roundworms. (Photo from iStock royalty-free images.)

Hookworms are blood-feeding parasites that attach themselves to the intestinal wall of cats, where they feed on the host’s blood. This parasitic attachment can lead to anemia and other health complications, especially in young kittens or cats with weakened immune systems. Cats typically contract hookworms through contact with contaminated soil, where hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin and migrate to the intestine. Symptoms of hookworm infestation may include weakness, pale gums, weight loss, bloody diarrhea, and lethargy.

Tapeworms are long, flat worms that attach to the intestinal lining of cats, where they can grow and produce segments containing eggs. These segments are often visible in the cat’s feces or around its anus, resembling small grains of rice. Cats commonly acquire tapeworms through ingestion of infected fleas or rodents, which serve as intermediate hosts for the parasite. While tapeworm infestations may not always cause noticeable symptoms, they can lead to digestive upset, weight loss, and increased appetite in infected cats.

Giardia is a single-celled parasite that differs from typical worms in structure and behavior. Despite its microscopic size, Giardia can cause significant health issues in infected cats, including diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. The parasite is typically contracted through ingestion of contaminated food, water, or surfaces, or through contact with infected feces. Giardia infections can be challenging to eliminate and may require specific antiprotozoal medications for treatment. Additionally, strict hygiene measures should be followed to prevent the spread of infection to other animals or humans.

Coccidia are microscopic organisms that reproduce in the intestinal walls of cats, leading to inflammation and damage to the tissue. While coccidia infections can affect cats of all ages, they are particularly problematic in kittens, whose immune systems may not yet have developed immunity to the parasite. Symptoms of coccidia infection may include watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Treatment typically involves the use of sulfa-type antibiotics to stop the parasite from reproducing, combined with measures to maintain a clean environment and prevent reinfection.

Toxoplasma gondii, commonly known as Toxoplasma, is a parasite with significant implications for both cats and humans. While cats serve as the definitive hosts for Toxoplasma, the parasite can also infect other mammals, including humans. Infection can occur through ingestion of contaminated meat or exposure to infected feces. While many cats may show no symptoms of Toxoplasma infection, others may experience loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, and respiratory or neurological problems. Treatment typically involves antibiotics, and in severe cases, hospitalization and additional supportive care may be necessary.

A chart showing different kinds of parasites. (Photo from iStock royalty-free images.)

Lungworms are parasites that reside in the airways of cats, leading to respiratory issues and other health complications. Cats typically contract lungworms through ingestion of infected hosts such as birds or rodents. Symptoms of lungworm infection may include a chronic cough, wheezing, respiratory distress, weight loss, and general ill health. Treatment often involves antiparasitic medications administered multiple times over a few weeks, along with supportive care as needed. Strict adherence to the veterinarian’s instructions is crucial to ensure effective treatment and prevent reinfestation.

Diagnosis of Feline Gastrointestinal Parasites

The process of detecting gastrointestinal parasites in cats involves a combination of physical examination and laboratory testing. Standard diagnostic methods include fecal flotation analysis, fecal smear tests, the Baermann technique, direct observation, and blood testing.

Treatment and Care for Cats with Gastrointestinal Parasites

The management of gastrointestinal parasites in cats usually requires the use of deworming medications given orally or via injection. These medications are designed to target particular parasites and should be administered at scheduled intervals to guarantee full eradication. Furthermore, supplementary care may be needed, particularly in instances of significant infestation or complications.

Prevention of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Cats

Effective prevention of gastrointestinal parasites in cats involves implementing a comprehensive strategy. This includes scheduling regular veterinary examinations, administering preventive medications, practicing good hygiene, providing appropriate nutrition, ensuring a secure outdoor space, controlling fleas, and refraining from feeding raw food.

Frequency of Deworming

The frequency of deworming a cat is dependent on a variety of factors including lifestyle, age, and geographical location. Indoor-only cats may need to be dewormed once or twice a year, whereas outdoor cats or kittens may require more frequent deworming.

In summary, gastrointestinal parasites present a significant risk to the health and well-being of our feline companions. By recognizing the types of parasites, detecting infections early, administering prompt treatment, and implementing preventative measures, we can protect our cats from these harmful invaders. It is important to emphasize the importance of regular veterinary care and proactive parasite management in order to ensure the health and happiness of our beloved pets.

About the Author: Mariana Burgos is a freelance artist, writer, and tutor. She has been a solo parent for 17 years now because she is the wife of Jonas Burgos, a Filipino desaparecido. She and her daughter are animal lovers and are active in advocating not only human rights but the rights of animals as well.

This article also appears in the Manila Standard

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