Worming….all you need to know

Why should I worm my cat regularly?

The chances are, every cat will get worms at some point in their life. Often, infections are manageable but even healthy looking animals may have the beginnings of something more sinister inside them.

If I don't worm them, what might happen?

In extreme cases and depending on the type of worm, there may be awful consequences such as intestinal blockages, blockage of blood flow in the heart, inflammation of arteries, anaemia, and even death if left untreated. Early signs to watch out for include poor growth and a bloated abdomen in kittens, a dull and brittle coat, increased appetite, weight loss, coughing and abnormal breathing, vomiting and diarrhoea (either may contain whole or fragments of worms!), blood in faeces. A tell-tale sign of tapeworm in particular is small white fragments of worm in the fur around the bottom.

Where does the threat come from?

Throughout their lives, parasites pose risks in many ways and we need to be aware in order to protect our cats properly.

Their mother
After birth, kittens can be infected by their mother's milk, as the Toxocara roundworm larvae can find their way into mammary ducts. As the mother is a constant source of infection, regular worming every two weeks, until weaning is complete, is essential.

Toxocara roundworm eggs pass out in the faeces of infected cats and mature into an infective stage in the environment. Infective larvae are able to establish infection if eaten.

Contaminated grass, food and water can transmit infection, so picking up faeces is very important.

Nursing mothers are often reinfected when they clean up after their litter, and the cycle continues as larvae are passed on via the milk again.

Active hunters run greater risk of infection, as prey animals like rabbits and rodents act as middle-men for many nasty types of roundworm and tapeworm.

Lungworm is a growing concern in the UK and cats can pick up infection by eating slugs and snails. If lungworm is prevalent in your area, it is best to discuss options with your vet, as established infection requires careful treatment because the adults live in the heart. To prevent lungworm, a single dose of a non-prescription wormer is not sufficient.

Regular flea treatments go hand-in-hand with worming. Fleas feed on the eggs and carry the larvae of the most common tapeworm and if a cat accidentally swallows a flea while grooming or gulping down unfortunate prey, you can pretty much guarantee they'll get infected.

Other types of tapeworm like the Taenia species hibernate in cysts inside muscle tissue of their middle-men, and if meat is fed raw or undercooked, they can survive to infect cats.

So, how often should I worm my cat?

Adult animals come across a greater variety of worms and depending on their lifestyle, may need worming once a month or once every three months. If you have indoor cats with restricted access to wildlife and the outdoors, worming every three months as a precaution will be ideal in most cases, providing that fleas are kept at bay too.

Cats who spend a lot of time outside hunting or love to scavenge while in the garden are more likely to need worming once a month, along with a regular flea treatment.

Animals living in large groups should also be wormed more regularly, as risk of roundworm infection from a contaminated environment is higher.