Intestinal parasites - diagnosis, treatment and prevention

Although cats get worms easily, getting rid of them is equally straightforward. There is an effective treatment for all worm infestations. However, it is important to frequently examine the faeces of your cat for any signs of infection, before the worm population in your cat's intestines becomes dangerously high. In the early stages of infection cats rarely show any clinical signs. As the parasites multiply cats will show any or all of the following symptoms: diarrhoea, perhaps with blood; weight loss; dry hair; generally poor appearance, or vomiting, perhaps with worms in the vomit. Of the four most common worm infections (roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm and whipworms) two can be seen with the naked eye (roundworms and tapeworms), the detection of the other two will require the vets's microscope to examine the faeces.

Although as we said before, many parasites can live in the intestines without causing the cat much distress, too many can be life threatening. For example, a large number of roundworms can actually block the cat's intestines which is very dangerous. In addition, worms are long-lived parasites. Hookworms, for example, are capable of living as long as the cat itself.


There are oral deworming medications which you can get over the counter. These are not worm-specific and are recommended for general prevention. It it is a good idea to administer these tablets (the medication is usually in tablet form) once every 3 months or so. Note that taking this necessary medication is seldom the cat's favourite pastime, and solutions are as individual as every cat. We know, for example, of one cat that takes her tablets wrapped in fine cheese. However they are got into the cat, these tablets not only help prevent infestation but will also be help to stop the worms coming back again afterwards. Over-the-counter deworming tablets are cheaper than prescribed medication, but theyare not be as effective against a specific parasite as targetted solutions.

Once a diagnosis has been made, the vet will prescribe a specific deworming solution. These are oral medications which, after being administered, need to be followed up with another dose after a specific period (usually 3 weeks to 3 months). Always make sure to follow the vet's recommendation, and always give the second dose, even if the cat seems fine.

Other parasites

Cats can pick up other intestinal parasite which are not worms, and for the most part these can only be diagnosed by microscope. Diagnosis is normally made by identifying cysts (parasites in their thick-walled, egg-like stage) in the faeces. In some cases a number of samples have to be checked since the parasites only sporadically shed their eggs into the gut. Several effective medications are available for parasitic infection. But some parasites, for example Giardia, may become resistant to the treatment, and eliminating this pest can be difficult


Parasite infection and reinfection is common, but following a few basic prevention measures will help to minimise the risk.

Below is a checklist of ways to keep parasites out of your cat:

  • good sanitation
  • daily removal of the faeces from the litter tray and regular cleaning of the tray
  • use diluted disinfectant (e.g. diluted household bleach) for cleaning the tray. Do not use strong bleach since the smell of the disinfectant can put your cat off using the litter tray.
  • always wear gloves when cleaning the litter tray since some parasites can also infect humans
  • examine your cat's faeces regularly for signs of worms and take the faeces for detailed examination to the vet every 6-12 months if infection is a problem in your area.
  • use regular treatment for ticks and fleas since they are the intermediate hosts for tapeworms
  • as much as possible prevent your cat from eating garden rodents
  • avoid a diet with raw meat, or if your cat insists make sure it is good quality meat
  • use preventive deworming
  • deworm female cats before breeding from them and after they give birth, so as to prevent spread of the infection to the kittens.

Note: This information is for guidance only. It is not intended to replace consultation with a licensed practitioner.

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