My cat has worms. Can I use an over-the-counter dewormer to treat it? How can I prevent them?
There are several types of worms with which cats can become infected, but the tapeworm is the most common in an adult cat. It is likely that your cat has tapeworms. When a cat is infected, the tapeworm latches onto the wall of the small intestine. As the worm grows and matures the end segments fill with eggs, which, once filled, will detach and exit the cat’s intestinal tract via the anus. These are the “worm segments” that people typically see near the cat’s rear-end or in the stools. The segments are capable of movement, and may crawl around until they dry up to the size of a sesame seed. Eventually these “egg packets” are consumed by a flea or rodent in which the next part of the life cycle occurs. A cat is only infected by the tapeworm by consuming an infected rodent or infected flea and can’t become infected by direct consumption of the tapeworm segments.
There are some over-the-counter broad spectrum dewormers that can be used to treat this parasite; however, because an accurate dose calculation is necessary, you should contact your veterinarian for the proper medication. The newer generation topical treatments for this parasite have become much easier to administer and are better tolerated by most cats, but are prescription only.
The key to prevention of tapeworms is through prevention of the carriers: fleas and rodents. A high quality and effective flea control regimen (I prefer Vectra or Revolution once a month) is necessary to stop the most common tapeworm species. In order to avoid the other, less common tapeworm, you will have to stop your cat from hunting rodents. Fortunately, tapeworms are usually not terribly harmful and most cats are symptom-free when infected (they don’t even usually get the weight loss symptoms that most people expect).
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Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals. Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228. More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.
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