All of us have at some moment in our lives been acquainted with the gripping paralysis of grief in losing a beloved pet. Unfortunately, we who rescue animals cannot always rescue every animal we find. There are things that cannot be prevented or ignored; one of these problems is the horrifying outcome of Feline Internal Parasites.
Internal Parasites in Cats
Internal parasites is a common condition that plagues many cats. Internal parasites such as worms can live in a cat’s digestive system. Most often they do not cause any harm and owners may not even realize their cat has them, but a severe infestation of internal parasites can cause illness.
- There are several different types of feline internal parasites, but the four most common include the roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworm. Roundworms are the most common type of internal parasite. They resemble spaghetti and usually don’t cause any severe illness. Roundworms are often found in kittens. This is because they can lie dormant in the mother and affect her unborn offspring. The kittens are born with the worms and should be wormed within a couple of months following birth.
The hookworm is a parasite that attaches itself to the wall of the intestine and feeds on blood. The hookworm is not as common as the roundworm, but an infestation of hookworms can cause anemia and intestinal illness.
Whipworms are more common in dogs, although there are species that infect cats as well. The whipworm looks like a piece of thread and lives in the large intestine.
Tapeworms are segmented worms that are often transmitted through fleas or ingesting rodents or other infected wildlife. Tapeworms live in the intestine and rarely cause illness. They are often detected when segments that are small, white and resemble grains of rice are passed in the stool. A tapeworm infestation cannot be treated with over-the-counter medication. It is necessary to see a veterinarian for treatment of tapeworms.
- There are other internal parasites that may infect a cat beside worms. Coccidia are microscopic parasites that attach to the lining of the intestine. These parasites reproduce in the cells that line the intestinal tract, killing the cell in the process. Coccidia is one of the most common parasites found in cats and kittens. It can be contracted through contaminated feces or ingesting rodents or other contaminated sources.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that lives in the intestines. It can be contracted through contaminated feces or consuming contaminated food or water. It is also transmitted through the ingestion of infected rodents or other wildlife. Toxoplasmosis can cause illness and interfere with digestion.
Giardia is a one-celled parasite that invades the gastrointestinal tract and causes diarrhea. Giardia can be contracted through infected water. Usually this doesn’t cause severe harm other than temporary diarrhea, but severe diarrhea and subsequent dehydration can occur in young kittens or a debilitated cat.
- Heartworm is another internal parasite that may infect felines, although it is rare. Heartworm is more common in dogs since cats are not a natural host for this parasite. If a feline does become infected with the heartworm parasite, the heartworm usually dies and causes no harm. If the heartworm does manage to mature and live in a feline, death could occur rapidly due to obstruction of the heart’s blood vessels. According to information at PetCenter.com, male cats are more susceptible to heartworm disease than females, although the reason for this is unknown. Signs of heartworm infection can include loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss and respiratory distress.
- Most internal parasites cause the same or similar symptoms, making it hard to determine what type of parasite has infected your pet. Certain parasites such as the tapeworm may be distinguished by the appearance in the stool. But even so, it is important to note that over-the-counter worm medication may not solve the problem depending on the type of parasite. Different parasitic infections often require different treatment. Below is a list of common symptoms caused by internal parasites, but it should also be noted that some cats may not show any symptoms.
Decrease in appetite
- If internal parasites are found during a routine veterinary exam, cat owners may be surprised especially if the cat is otherwise healthy and has shown no symptoms. Even though your cat may seem perfectly healthy, untreated worm infestations can cause debilitation. A cat with worms is not getting proper nutrition because the worms are depriving the pet of needed nutrients. Although a relatively healthy cat may not have any immediate health problems, over time the cat could become weakened and suffer ill health.
- The most common means of transmission of intestinal parasites is through contaminated feces and the consumption of infected wildlife and other sources. Many cat owners attempt to eliminate an infestation of worms through the use of an over-the-counter dewormer. While these medications can be effective to a degree, they need to be repeated since worm infestations can recur. Just because a cat has been dewormed once does not mean that it will stay worm free. The best course of action is prevention. Clean litter boxes thoroughly and take the proper steps to eliminate fleas. You may want to consider keeping your cat indoors since cats that are permitted to go outside are more prone to parasitic infestations because they may come in contact with contaminated soil, water or eat infected rodents.
Sometimes, FIP cannot be cured, as was the unfortunate case in our dear little Clank.
Clank was born 8-15-10, a very young kitten in Karen’s care. He at one point was one of the only surviving litter members, most of whom also succumbed to FIP. Clank seemed to have been spared, until a few weeks ago when Karen realized how sluggish he was acting, and how ill he seemed. The vet confirmed the worst, and Karen opted to put Clank down. So Clank, we will always remember you and your sweet disposition.