Your new kitten is full of cuddles, play, and adorableness….but based on their history, exposure prior to adoption, and their momma cat’s health, they may also be carrying parasites. Our job is to keep your your kitten as healthy as possible, but we also want to protect your family (two- and four- legged) from parasites and the symptoms they can cause.
Dogs and cats can become hosts to many intestinal parasites, some of which can cause serious symptoms and/or be transmitted to people. For this reason, we follow the CDC’s recommendation to deworm all new patients. We also recommend that all kittens have at least TWO negative fecal examinations over the course of their preventative care cycle to ensure that they are parasite free and none have been missed.
Finally, we recommend monthly heartworm preventatives YEAR-ROUND, as these preventatives also contain ingredients to prevent intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and in some cases, whipworms and tapeworms.
Below is a brief description of the common intestinal parasites we encounter in practice and will check your pet for with their routine fecal examinations:
Roundworm infections are spread to kittens from their mother while nursing. Roundworms that are dormant in mother cats are activated by the hormones of pregnancy and the immature larvae enter the kittens during nursing. Since these worms are not yet reproducing, tests of stool samples will be negative early on. It is safest to assume that your kitten has been infected so regardless, our veterinarians will administer an oral dewormer multiple times during their first few visits. It is still recommended that you have your kitten’s poop tested for eggs 2-4 times during the first year of her life.
Hookworms are the second most common intestinal parasites found in dogs, and they are less commonly found in cats. Your pet can become infected when larvae get into the animal’s skin or the lining of the mouth, which may happen if your pet eats or rolls around in infected feces, for example. Cleaning up any animal poop immediately can help prevent the spread of hookworms, and some heartworm preventatives are also effective against other parasites like hookworms.
Once inside an animal, hookworms actually bite into the intestinal lining and suck blood, and infections can result in potentially life-threatening blood loss, weakness, and malnutrition. Plus, hookworm infections are zoonotic, and can be passed to people. In humans, the larvae produce severe itching and tunnel-like, red areas as they move through the skin and can cause intestinal problems if eaten.
It is common for kittens to be infested with fleas. Fleas can be the intermediate host or method of transmission for tapeworms. Tapeworms are difficult to detect on routine laboratory evaluation, but fortunately they are easy to see in and on the stools or around the kitten’s rectum. They resemble a grain of rice.
All of these parasites can impact your kitten and the best way to handle this risk is having your veterinarian deworm the kitten and test her regularly.
Giardia is a microscopic, protozoan parasite (but not a worm!) that causes inflammation of the intestinal tract and subsequent diarrhea that can be very serious for both pets and people. It has been referred to as backpackers’ disease because of the risk of exposure when hiking. Giardia is transmitted by oral ingestion of water or food that has been contaminated by stools of infected people and animals. Acute infection after exposure can last from 1-2 weeks. The clinical signs of Giardia in animals and people are very similar and may include:
Greasy stools that tend to float
Stomach or abdominal cramps
Upset stomach or nausea/vomiting
Dehydration (loss of fluids) and weight loss
Some intestinal parasites, like coccidia, are very tiny microscopic organisms. Cats become infected with coccidia if they eat the eggs in their environment or if they eat infected, smaller-prey animals. Surveys indicate that up to 36% of cats in North America have coccidial infections and that young animals are more likely to be infected and symptomatic, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council. Given how common infections are along with the fact that some animals are asymptomatic even when they are shedding, if your kitten is sick and your veterinarian sees coccidia oocysts on a fecal test, they will still have to decide if the coccidia is the cause of the illness or just an incidental finding. If treatment is required, there are many oral medications that your veterinarian can prescribe for your cat.
While this information can be a little on the gross side, it’s important to keep your cat healthy and parasite free. Using preventatives and checking fecal samples regularly can prevent unwanted symptoms, diseases, and spread to other pets and their people.
Call us today to book an appointment or to speak with one of our team members for more information about your cat’s parasite protection.