Just like with humans, there are a lot of diseases and medical issues that can affect a cat’s health. Those medical problems are most often the result of genetics or environmental factors.
One problem that comes from the environment and commonly affects cats is worms.
Worms are parasites, which means they are organisms that live in a host (the cat) and benefit by obtaining nutrients from them. There are different species of worms, some of which are more common and dangerous to humans than others.
Not all types of worms that a cat has can affect humans. But there are certain types of worms that humans can get from cats, typically those that live in a cat’s intestines. In this article, we explain which types of worms commonly affect cats, which ones can affect humans, and what to do if you or your cat become infested.
3 Types of Intestinal Worms That Cats Can Get
The reality is that no matter how careful you are and how well you take care of your cat, you can’t 100% prevent them from getting worms. That’s why it is important to know what types of worms cats can get and how they might become infested in the first place. Let’s look at which types of worms are most likely to infest your cat.
Roundworms are among the most common types of intestinal worms that your cat can get. They are so common that almost all cats will get them at some point in their life. The two worms that cats can get are called Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonina. They usually infest your cat’s intestines and can potentially cause serious illness and in extreme cases, death, especially in kittens.
Adult roundworms are typically around 3–6 inches long and have rounded bodies. They live inside your cat’s intestines without attaching to the intestinal wall and feed from the food that your cat eats. Infestation can affect your cat’s eating habits, appearance, and growth.
The reason that roundworms are so common in cats is how they are transmitted. In kittens, roundworms are most often transmitted through the mother cat’s milk during nursing. Another likely cause of your cat having roundworms is your cat ingesting something that was infested with roundworms. Roundworm eggs can be found in soil or areas where they live, and roundworm larvae can be found inside hosts like insects, birds, and rodents. Since cats are natural-born hunters that tend to prey on birds and mice, it’s highly possible for them to get roundworms by ingesting an infested prey (host).
Hookworms are other types of worms that commonly infest cats. Like roundworms, hookworms live in your cat’s intestines. However, they are only about ⅛ of an inch long and are very hard to see as a result.
Hookworms attach to your cat’s intestines via a mouthpart that acts as a hook. Once they are attached, they feed off the tissues that line your cat’s intestines, as well as the blood inside the tissues.
A cat can get hookworms by ingesting larvae or through the skin—for example, walking across an area contaminated with hookworm larvae. When a cat grooms their feet afterward, they can ingest the larvae, which then travel through their digestive tract and into the intestines. Once inside the intestines, it takes between 2 and 3 weeks for a hookworm to fully grow and mature, so you may not even know that your cat has become infested for several weeks.
Tapeworms are other types of intestinal parasites that cats can get. Like hookworms, they attach to the wall of your cat’s intestine and feed off of it. But they are considered a distinct family from hookworms.
Tapeworms typically live in a cat’s small intestine. They are flat, long worms that can grow up to 11 inches long. They are composed of segments that can be passed in your cat’s feces. These resemble a grain of rice in color, size, and shape. Due to their size, it will be noticeable if your cat is infested with tapeworms.
The part of a tapeworm that usually passes in a cat’s feces is the part that contains the eggs. It will eventually break open as it dries out, causing the eggs to be released into the environment. If you live in a multi-cat household, this can cause your other cats to become infested too, particularly if they have fleas.
Flea larvae usually consume tapeworm eggs, at which point, the egg grows into a tapeworm larva inside the flea. If a flea gets on your cat, your cat could ingest the flea while grooming or biting at itchy skin, and the tapeworm as a result. Your cat needs to eat the flea in order to get infested with the tapeworm, though, because the flea has to act as a host first.
What Types of Worms Can Cats Pass to Humans?
Although several types of worms can affect cats, only some of them can be transmitted to humans. Diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. Typically, only certain cat intestinal worms post any inherent risk to humans, which means that, for example, you don’t have to worry about getting heartworms or lungworms from your cat.
The reason intestinal worms can infest humans is that the infestable forms are passed through a cat’s feces. Since humans are responsible for cleaning the litter box and cats rest on sofas or beds, they are more likely to come into contact with them. But not all types of intestinal worms pose the same risk to humans.
Roundworms and hookworms are the most common types of worms that humans can get from cats, but the method of transmission for the two is different. For example, roundworms usually have to be ingested. Of course, this would be accidental ingestion, but it usually happens as a result of not washing your hands after cleaning the litter box or having contact with contaminated soil or water.
Although hookworms tend to mostly affect the intestines of cats, they can generally affect the skin of humans. They do this by penetrating your skin when you’re cleaning a contaminated litter box or walking barefoot on contaminated soil. The tiny larvae can burrow into human skin and cause a disease called cutaneous larva migrans, or “ground itch.”
One type of intestinal parasite that you don’t get directly from your cat is tapeworms. In order to become infested with tapeworms, you have to eat the vector (flea), not the eggs. This is, fortunately, not very common.
Can Humans Get Worms From Fleas?
Theoretically, humans can get worms from fleas, but the chances are low. It’s important to remember that the only type of worm that fleas typically carry are tapeworms. Since tapeworms usually have to be ingested in order to be transmitted, you won’t get them just by being bitten by a flea that was on your cat. You’d have to ingest a flea that was carrying a tapeworm in order to get infested, since this is the way that the life cycle of the parasite is completed.
What Are Signs of Worms in Humans?
In the event that you were to get worms from your cat, you might not even notice. You wouldn’t start showing signs until the worms became fully mature, and sometimes you may not have signs at all, depending on the severity of the infestation.
But if you do experience signs, they are similar to those that your cat may experience. Signs of intestinal worms in both cats and humans include:
How Are Worms in Humans Treated?
If you are experiencing a number of the signs listed above, you need to seek advice from your doctor. In the event that you are diagnosed with intestinal worms, you’ll likely be given an antiparasitic medication that will work to kill the worms.
The exact type of medication that you’re given will depend on the type of worm you have as well as the severity of the infestation. Usually, the worms will be gone within a few weeks when taking the proper medication.
How Can You Protect Your Cat and Yourself From Getting Worms?
The best way to protect yourself from getting worms from your cat is to protect your cat from getting worms in the first place. Regularly worming your cat is vital to kill any possible worms that your cat may have. It’s important to understand that this medication does not prevent your cat from getting worms, but it kills the worms that your cat may already have. Keeping your cat indoors can prevent them from coming into contact with disease-carrying insects and animals. If fleas are a problem, give your cat flea medication to kill them and prevent your cat from becoming infested.
If you do notice that your cat has worms, it’s essential to take them to a veterinarian so they can get started on a dewormer medication. Finally, wear gloves and make sure you are washing your hands thoroughly immediately after changing your cat’s litter to prevent any potential worm infestation from happening.
Although it isn’t an incredibly common thing to happen, there are certain types of worms that a human can get from a cat if you aren’t careful, especially roundworms and hookworms. If you do suspect that you or your cat has worms, it’s important to seek medical treatment immediately. Taking preventative measures ahead of time can help minimize the risk that you or your cat gets infested with worms in the first place.
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Featured Image Credit by: New Africa, Shutterstock