Worms and Fleas

A cat full of worms and fleas is not pleasant for the cat nor for you. Parasites debilitate the cat, robbing them of nutrients, and in extreme cases causing organ damage and even death. 

The cat will feel weak and has pain in the stomach area, blood in the faeces, diarrhoea, and a bloated appearance.  

Feline Intestinal Worms and Fleas

Worms and Fleas

Outdoor cats are more likely to suffer from worm infestations, by eating contaminated prey and ingesting the faeces of other cats from the soil. 

Fleas are also a common source. Before beginning any treatment, first, establish what the problem is.  Some conditions can only be diagnosed accurately by the vet. 


Tapeworms have long, flat, segmented bodies up to a metre in length, and live in the intestines. Tapeworms can modify their length, decreasing and increasing as necessary. These worms are ingested from fleas or infected prey. The tapeworm hatches when the flea is in the cat’s stomach.

Tiny white worms and worm segments appear on the rear end. Cats should be treated for tapeworms every six months. Regular grooming helps to avoid tapeworms.

Humans can become infected by tapeworms when ingesting substances that are contaminated by cat waste which is infested with tapeworm eggs. This is a possibility when an infected cat sleeps on the owner’s bed. The cat may shed eggs that then come in contact with the human body and enter through the mouth. Symptoms of infection may take years to appear.

These can include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Craving for salt
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdomenal pain
  • Loss of weight
  • Weakness
  • Malnutrition due to insufficient absorption of nutrients


Roundworms are the most common internal parasite and absorb nutrients, preventing the proper absorption of food. Roundworms are long, white and spaghetti-like in appearance and can be seen in the faeces. Roundworms are passed to the kitten from the mother’s milk, or eaten as eggs in the soil.

Young kittens are particularly susceptible, being infected by the mother’s milk. Kittens with a heavy worm burden may be sick and this may contain roundworms. In severe cases, they may have a pot belly due to the sheer number of worms. Kittens should be routinely treated for roundworms at three weeks of age, and every fortnight, until they reach eight weeks of age. After eight weeks, treatment should be repeated at six months. Treatments can then be every three months.

It is possible for humans to ingest substances or come in contact with surfaces contaminated by roundworm eggs. An infected cat may groom itself, and then lick the owner’s face or hand. If this is then transmitted from the hand to the mouth, an infection will develop.

Roundworm infection in humans can take two forms.

Ocular Larva Migrans

Ocular larva migrans is when the roundworm has entered the eye, with the following symptoms :

  • Squinting
  • Discomfort when the affected eye is exposed to light
  • Pain in the affected eye
  • Reduced vision
  • Bloodshot appearance
  • Presence of floaters
  • Eye becomes misaligned (strabismus)
  • Loss of vision (in severe cases)

Visceral Larva Migrans

Visceral larva migrans, is when the roundworm larvae affect the lungs, liver, or nervous system.

Symptoms can include :

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Itchy skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough and wheezing
  • Enlarged liver
worms and fleas


Hookworms attach to the lining of the intestine and cause diarrhoea, weight loss and a staring coat. Hookworms are 1 cm long and thread-like. Hookworm eggs move through the intestine and are deposited on the faeces. The cat then becomes contaminated with the soil. Hookworm larvae live in the soil, and there may be lesions on the cat’s paws where they have entered.

It is possible for humans to become infected by walking barefoot on the ground containing hookworm-infested cat stools. The worms can penetrate human skin and burrow below. Symptoms could include:

  • Rashes and severe itchiness on infected areas
  • Red, bumpy, vein-like tracks visible on the skin’s surface
  • Diarrhoea
  • Anaemia
  • Weight loss


Lungworm is relatively uncommon in cats. Symptoms of lungworm can include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, open-mouthed breathing, lethargy, loss of appetite and fever. Lungworm can be extremely serious.

It can cause haemorrhages in the lungs, liver, intestine, eyes and spinal cord and in other areas of the body. If not treated, it can be fatal in severe cases.

Other types of parasite

Whipworms and threadworms live in the intestine and can cause anaemia.

Flukes infect the intestine and pancreas and cause diarrhoea, anaemia and jaundice. These can occur when the cat ingests fish.

Heartworms have no obvious symptoms, apart from a drop in energy, reduced appetite or increased grooming around the rear end. Screening from a vet can diagnose an infestation.

Common symptoms of worm infestation in cats :

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Bloated stomach
  • Course fur
  • Loss of interest in food
  • Dragging the rear end along the ground
  • Blood in stools
  • Breathing problems
  • Unhealthy gum colour – white, grey or washed out pink
senior cat
senior cat

If a cat has a bad reaction to worms and there is diarrhoea or sickness, simple foods such as rice with chicken or white fish can help to settle the stomach. Freshwater should always be provided. It is important to use a worming treatment to get rid of the infestation.

When your cat has been diagnosed with a worm infection, a veterinarian will be able to identify the parasite and provide treatment. The vet will need to monitor the deworming, which will include multiple visits for the duration of the treatment. If you have found any worms it’s very helpful for the vet to see them so they can identify the type.

Designated worming treatments specific to the type of worm are necessary. The vet will prescribe tablets to mix with the food, or drops applied topically or injections.

Broad-spectrum dewormers are also available from the vet.

These include:

  • Fenbendazole (Panacur) – for Roundworms, Hookworms, Whipworms and Taenia Tapeworms
  • Praziquantel, in combination with Pyrantel (Drontal plus) – kills tapeworms
  • Pyrantel Pamoate – works against roundworms and hookworms by paralyzing their bodies.
  • Piperazine – against roundworms

To prevent reinfection, it is necessary to disinfect the cat’s bed and any areas where it has slept or come in contact with. Any recurrence can be avoided by annual faecal and physical exams.

To help prevent worm infestation in cats, guidelines are:

  • Keep the cat indoors
  • Daily cleaning of litter trays
  • Weekly disinfecting of litter trays
  • Use gloves when cleaning litter trays
  • Avoid over-crowding of cats
  • Over the counter deworming medicines

Annual faecal float test by the vet. This is often part of the annual cat wellness vet visit and will identify the presence of roundworms, whipworms, hookworms and sometimes tapeworms.


Treatment of Worm Infestation in Humans

Treatment of roundworm, hookworm, and tapeworm infections usually involves a course of prescribed oral medications. These act to kill and remove parasites from the body.

This is followed by regular check-ups to ensure that the body remains clear of infection. Tapeworm eggs may remain in the body, and faecal checks will determine whether the treatment has cleared any lingering eggs.

To help prevent worm infestation in humans, guidelines are:

  • Always wash hands after handling and petting cats
  • Do not allow the cat to lick or touch the face
  • Do not share food plates with the cat
  • Keep the litter tray in a permanent area
  • Avoid walking barefoot if there are cats in the household
  • Use gardening gloves if working in the garden

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Cat Fleas

How to avoid fleas and treatment

Fleas are common in the summer. They can be caught from other animals, the cat going outside, or from the home (if brought in on shoes or clothes).

Cat fleas are tiny red-brown insects, that leave black specks of droppings in the fur. If the cat is scratching, it may already have fleas, which must be treated immediately. Fleas can transmit diseases between cats, and feed on the cat’s blood. While scratching, the cat can draw blood and incur an infection or allergic reaction.

You can check if the cat has fleas by using a flea comb. If tiny black dots are left on the comb, often referred to as ‘flea dirt’, it is the excrement of the flea. The black specks can be smashed with a damp paper towel, leaving a rust colour or red. This is the residue of the cat’s blood.

A small number of fleas may be present, but not visible. A veterinarian will often be able to spot the tiny black dots on the comb.

If there is a heavy flea infection, the blood loss can become significant. Small kittens can develop dangerous anaemia.

Tapeworms – the flea is the intermediate host and facilitates the spread of the Dipylidium tapeworm. Any cat with fleas may also have a tapeworm infection.

Feline Infectious Anaemia – caused by a blood-borne bacteria, called Mycoplasma haemofelis. This is carried by fleas, and transmitted between cats. This disease can be fatal.

Bartonella – the cat can pass this infection to humans through scratches. It is also passed between cats by fleas.

Feline Leukaemia Virus – it is possible for fleas to transmit FeLV from cat to cat.

Some cats are susceptible to Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD). This is an allergy to flea saliva. A cat with FAD will become severely itchy, in several areas, after just one flea bite. It can develop scabs and lumps in the skin (miliary dermatitis), bald patches, and skin infections.

Cats with Flea Allergic Dermatitis must be kept 100% free of fleas.

Cat fleas lay their eggs in carpeting and furnishings. It is important to treat the cat’s environment as well as the cat. Environment anti flea sprays kill fleas in the area and those containing methoprene inhibit the development of flea larvae.

Never put a dog flea treatment, or household anti-flea spray on a cat. They may contain ‘permethrin’, which is extremely poisonous to cats (as well as fish and birds). Contact your vet immediately if your cat has come into contact with a dog flea treatment, or household flea spray. Remove fish tanks and food and water bowls, before using the environment spray.

It is necessary to wash bedding regularly, to break the flea cycle, and in Summer it is advisable to wash bedding every few weeks.

Treat your cat and any other cats, dogs and rabbits in the house, on the same day. It is most recommended to use a prescription treatment from the vets. Supermarket or pet shop treatments may not be as effective.

Fleas cannot survive on humans, but they can bite. If your pets have fleas, they will also be present in your home. There may be itchy bite marks around your ankles or on your arms. Contact your pharmacist, or doctor if you contract a skin irritation.

Preventing fleas

  • De-flea all of your cats, dogs and rabbits regularly.
  • De-flea your home once a year.
  • Vacuum and mop regularly.
  • Wash animal bedding at 60°C.
  • Only allow flea-free cats, dogs and rabbits into your home.
  • Regularly check your pets for flea dirt, particularly around their back end and above the base of their tail.

Combing the cat with a fine-tooth comb every day can help prevent fleas. Commercial flea powders can be puffed on, and brushed out and also cat shampoos can be used. Brushes with hollow spikes are available, which can be filled with flea powder and act when brushing the cat. Alternatively, liquid treatments can be applied to the neck. Most flea products also dispose of lice, mites and ticks.

Conventional flea collars – these work by releasing powdered insecticide gradually over a cat’s coat. They require a couple of days to take effect, the collar should be replaced every two to three months, and the neck checked for inflammation. The collar should be removed if it or the cat gets wet, and not replaced until dry. Remove the flea collar if the cat goes outside, as it may be dangerous if it catches and entraps the cat.

Sprays are not ideal as they frighten the cat, and damage the environment. However, if these are used, spray outdoors and downwind. Spray the back and belly, and the fleas will die as they move around the cat. Avoid spraying the cat within several days of worming, as the combination can prove toxic. Kittens require specific flea treatment.

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