Gastrointestinal parasites in cats

Posted May 24, 2017 by Dr. Melissa Mustillo.

Did you know that your indoor cat can develop intestinal parasites? The risk of gastrointestinal parasites in cats increases if you let your cat sit on a patio, deck, porch, or spend a few minutes enjoying some time in the grass. Your cat loves to dig in your potted plants?  No big deal, right?  Well, read on.

What are “gastrointestinal parasites” anyway?

Gastrointestinal parasites are living organisms that live inside an animal’s body and get nutrients from that body. Parasites that commonly affect cats in central Maryland include roundworms, tapeworms, giardia, and coccidia.  Cats develop these parasites after they eat an egg or cyst.  Luckily most of these parasites are easy to diagnose from a stool sample, and we have safe medications to easily treat these parasites.

But how can my indoor cat develop parasites in the first place?

  • Did you know that 15% of potting soil contains roundworm eggs!? Our doctors have seen positive cases of roundworms, and a couple of cats contracting giardia from potting soil.
  • Cats can develop tapeworms from ingesting fleas. It only takes 1 flea! So whether your cat had a flea infestation or just picked one up outside, they are at risk for tapeworms. Tapeworm eggs are not always seen in a fecal sample, but sometimes show up as little white “rice grains” on the stool or around the anal area.  So if you see something like that, be sure to mention it to your veterinarian.
  • Tapeworms can also be carried by small rodents.  If you live in an older house, your indoor cat may occasionally trap a mouse and become infected through ingestion of their prize catch.  If your cat likes to hunt, discuss tapeworm control with your veterinarian.
  • Does your cat enjoy killing and eating bugs? Insects can serve as transport or intermediate hosts for some of the more common intestinal parasites.
  • Let’s face it – cats live fluid lifestyles and enjoy grooming themselves. They can pick up a parasite egg on their feet from walking on a patio, or off your shoes where you walked across the carpet, and then ingest the egg during routine grooming.

So what can we do to keep our cats safe?

“I don’t see any worms in my cat’s stool, so he can’t have worms.  There’s no need to test him.”  We hear this all the time, but if you really want to keep your cat parasite-free, follow these suggestions.

  • Test a fecal sample yearly to screen for intestinal parasites. Most parasites lay eggs that are microscopic in size, so you would never see them just by looking with your eyes.  A yearly fecal sample will allow the laboratory to look for the parasite eggs using powerful magnification. If you are concerned that your cat is at a higher risk (goes outside or plays in potting soil), you can test more frequently.
  • Monthly parasite prevention with Revolution® will kill roundworms in the gastrointestinal tract. Revolution® has the added benefit of monthly prevention of fleas and heartworm disease.
  • Keep cats away from potting soil and stagnant water (such as ponds, or pooling water in dirt/grassy areas). Giardia is more prevalent in wet areas.
  • Keep gardening shoes or other soiled shoes away from cats.

One last important note is that many gastrointestinal parasites of cats can be transmitted to humans. This is just one more reason to be proactive with parasite control and vigilant with yearly fecal screening.

If you do not live in central Maryland (and even if you do), you can check out the CDC website for information about other parasites that might be in your area.

If you live in Germantown, Boyds, Clarksburg Gaithersburg, Rockville or surrounding communities in Montgomery County, Maryland, and would like to discuss parasite prevention with one of our doctors, contact us to schedule an appointment today. Let us help make sure your cat is free of those nasty worms!