The Advanced Guide to Cat Poop Parasites
As with all animals, cats are also prone to becoming carriers of certain parasites that can cause them a lot of pain and discomfort, as well their owners too. For many cat lovers and feline enthusiasts, there is a major risk that comes with having, tending to and nurturing your favorite cat.
This is infection from parasites carried around by the cat. Studies have shown that as much as 45 percent of examined cats had parasites resident in their gastrointestinal tracts and were evident when their fecal excretions were examined. If you have a cat and want it to be in great health, then you should endeavor to know the most common parasites that can infect them, causing them to fall sick in the process.
In fact, most veterinarians tend to see these parasites a lot in cats that are brought in for treatment. Cats that are most susceptible to these infections include younger cats, those in dirty environments, cats that consistently kill rats and eat uncooked meats, as well as those with consistent health problems.
The older, well trained cats that only eat foods you give them and hardly venture out into unknown territories, are less likely to get infected. Unfortunately, because cats have always had these parasites for eons, they have found a way to co-exist with them and even live without any symptoms.
Only those who know what to look for in their cat’s feces will find these parasites in cat poop. Also, the symptoms too tend to show up only when the cat is likely immunocompromised, has other health conditions, or the parasites’ population experiences a sudden growth.
In this guide to cat poop parasites, we will examine
- The most common parasites found in cat feces
- Highlight the individual symptoms of each parasite infection, so you know what to look for
- Highlight those with higher risk of exposure and infection
- Show you the effects of exposure to cat poop parasites and their health implications
- Identify all possible treatment protocols
- Suggest all preventive measures necessary to prevent the cat from getting infected by any of the parasites
Cat Parasites Symptoms
Because these symptoms can be similar to that of other conditions, it might have to take a visit to your local veterinarian before a proper diagnosis can be made.
That said, once you notice one or more of the following symptoms in your cat, chances are that they might be suffering from some sort of infection caused by parasites frequently found in cat poops. Some of the more common symptoms, particularly in younger cats (kittens really) include:
- Low energy or lethargy
- Dull and/or brittle hair coat
- Stunted growth
- Unusual weight loss and thinness
- Big, rotund bellies on very thin frames
- Choosy eating habits among some cats
Most of the kittens that suffer from these tend to be offsprings of poorly nourished or malnourished feral cats living outdoors, in sheds and without proper care. Most of these feral cats themselves tend to be in relatively poor health.
You’ll hardly find symptoms of cat poop infections in cats that are properly cared for or those living in a controlled or clean environment. This is because, unlike many other animals, cats are usually very particular about cleanliness.
But, when they are placed in dirty, unkempt environment, not only do they become exposed to these parasites, but they are also vulnerable to other conditions courtesy of their immunocompromised states.
Please note that the aforementioned symptoms are the general ones. As we examine the various parasites, we’ll be mentioning their specific symptoms for each one of them –if there’s any.
Common Cat Poop Parasites
Hookworms are usually passed on to the kittens through their queen while the cats are still in the womb or through colostral transfer –transfer through milk from the mother cat. While they aren’t as pervasive as the roundworms, they are prevalent enough to be a public health issue for cats.
The adults themselves become infected by ingesting the hatched larvae that’s resident in the soil or making contact with the larvae, which then pierces the skin and gradually burrows itself to the lungs and onwards to the intestine.
Another way through which the cat gets infected is by eating the tissues of infected rodents. These worms usually lie dormant in the rodents as eggs, until they find their way into the cats, where they hatch into the larvae form and grow.
While there are many different species of hookworms, cats in North America, Europe and other parts of the world where there’s a prevalence of the hookworm, are often victims of the more common Ancylostoma spp. Specifically, A. tubaeform and A. brazilense.
While there are no exact figures to showing the exact number of infected cats, it is estimated that these worms are resident in an average of 30 percent of all cats in North America –that’s an average of 3 out of every 10.
These 0.5 inch long worms look like threads and are often found in cat’s intestinal walls. Their primary means of nutrition is the cat’s blood. Spotting these pests in cat feces with your eyes is often impossible.
The best way to see them is through a smear observed under the microscope. Because these parasites feed on the cat in very small, negligible quantities, they can live undetected in the cat for years –most will live in the cat throughout its lifespan- until the cat dies.
The average hookworm will live in the cat for four months to two years. However, because they lay eggs, which hatch and mature in the cat’s intestine, their population can remain stable or even grow.
Cats with mild cases of hookworm infection will mostly present with symptoms like weight loss and diarrhea. But, when there’s a population explosion, the cat will most likely become anemic owing to so many hookworms sucking their blood at the same time, and may even die if it doesn’t get the requisite treatment on time.
They’ll also suffer significant damage to their intestinal wall as these worms move about and find new spots to hook onto. Cats with severe infection will often excrete darker colored feces, which is usually an evidence of digested blood.
Other common symptoms of hookworm infection in adult/older cats include occasional vomiting, weakness, and bloody feces. Some of these symptoms however bear some similarity to panleukopenia. So, talk to your veterinarian to test for both, just in case they both exist in the cat’s body at the same time.
These are more common in cats and easy to spot because of their size. There are two major common species: the Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonina. Even though both of them are roundworms, they have a few distinguishing features.
Roundworm adults are generally peach colored and 3-5 inches long. They are usually found in the intestines of between 3 and 7 cats out of every 10 older and adult cats and has an even higher rate of infection among kittens.
They usually get their nutrition from feeding off of the host cat’s ingested food. Unlike the hookworm however, they don’t attach or hook themselves to the cat’s intestines –which makes them the “lesser evil” in a sense.
Cats that are infected by roundworms typically get them from eating roundworm larvae infested rodent tissue or swallowing eggs that are either in the soil or attached to food particles on the ground.
The eggs in the soil are usually from cat feces and are often produced by the female roundworm while in the cat’s intestine. Younger cats and kittens that are dependent on the queen for milk often get these worms by ingesting the larvae in the queen’s milk.
In fact, this is how and why many kittens often get roundworms –particularly the Toxocara cati– within their first few hours to days on earth.
Toxascaris leonina on the other hand, is very rare, if not completely absent in kittens younger than eight weeks. This is largely because they aren’t can’t be passed through the queen’s milk to the kittens.
Older cats with roundworms will most likely, not suffer any side effects or major symptoms. But, younger juvenile cats and kittens may have bouts of constipation, poor appetite, diarrhea and vomiting.
The best thing to do is get them treated as soon as you notice these symptoms. If you don’t treat quickly and allow the infection fester, the cat or kitten might suffer from perforated intestines or anemia –two conditions that can result in their death.
So, even though the last two scenarios are very rare, it’s still enough for you to take the necessary precautions and get your cat’s feces tested periodically. Please note that testing just once is insufficient as the adult worms only release their eggs once in a while.
So, just because your cat tested negative to roundworm infection today, doesn’t mean the test won’t be positive in a week or two.
While this isn’t as common in cats as it is in dogs, it still happens enough to be a source of concern. It is estimated that less than five percent of all cats in northern America have this parasite. And when they get infected, they have what is known as Giardiasis.
Giardia is a unicellular organism that also doubles as a parasite when it resides in cat intestines. Infection in cats only occur when they ingest the cysts from another infected cat or dog.
As a result, you would most likely observe a frequent occurrence of Giardiasis in homes or households where there are multiple cats or pets. It’s not often found in cats that are older than a year, therefore, you’ll most likely only find it in young cats and kittens.
There are differing opinions on the resistance of the cysts to water chlorination and freezing. However, drying and exposure to the sunlight seems to work effectively in killing off the organisms.
Cats infected with the cyst will not manifest any symptoms until about sixteen days as that’s how long it’ll take for the organisms to break out of their cysts and start colonizing the intestine. The good news is that it is possible for older cats to be hosts to this organism without it affecting their wellbeing.
The major symptom of Giardiasis is intermittent or persistent watery diarrhea. If your veterinarian suspects Giardia, all they will do is mix some of the stool sample with saline, observe the slide under the microscope, and the wriggling protozoans will light up like a Christmas tree.
Other symptoms of a Giardia infection are rectal prolapse and rapid weight loss. So, if you have a kitten that’s younger than a year, and starts exhibiting these symptoms, it might be possible that you have a case of giardia on your hands and need to see the vet quickly, seeing as the rectal prolapse can result in the loss of life for kittens in particular.
While there are treatment options for giardia including the administering of vaccines and/or medications, there’s a strong chance that the organisms will be resistant to the medications. Your best bet is to put preventive measures in place so that there’s no infection in the first place (we’ll talk about preventive measures very shortly).
Also known as Toxoplasma gondii, this cat poop parasite infection is known as toxoplasmosis. This can infect many animals, and rarely causes any issues. Cats however, are the only animals in which the parasite reaches its full cycle and life span.
It’s also the most likely source of infection for humans. So, while other animals can get infected without ever exhibiting any symptoms or suffering from the disease, immunosuppressed individuals tend to suffer the most from the infection.
One of the infections that can make the jump from cats and animals to man, humans become infected with they accidentally ingest some food particles that have had some form of contact with cat feces that’s riddled with the organism.
Also, most cats never get sick from exposure to Toxoplasma, and can carry it through their lifetime without exhibiting any symptoms. A few however, can have symptoms like diarrhea, blurry vision and difficulty in breathing.
Toxoplasmosis should be of serious concern to you as a cat owner because of its ability to cause serious health conditions such as developmental problems, neurological problems, injury to babies in the womb and even death.
This is why pregnant women are often advised to stay away from cleaning out their cat’s litter as they could be infected. Then, there’s the study that links rage to toxoplasmosis, although it has not been conclusively proven that it causes Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) yet. This is coming on the heels of a CDC report which estimated that one in five Americans has toxoplasmosis.
This parasite is commonly found among cats. In fact, studies have shown that almost all cats will eventually encounter this parasite during their lifetime. It’s so common that at any given time, you’ll find it in the stool samples of eight out of a hundred cats in any animal shelter.
The good news is that over time, cats have become used to and have adapted to the parasite in their body. The easiest mode of infection is usually through the ingestion of the cyst from feces that was deposited in the soil by another infected animal.
Typically, it takes only six hours for the cyst to become active and infect the next unsuspecting cat. Other means of infections include the consumption of roaches and flies carrying the cyst.
Adult cats are usually immune to the parasite and will live with it without any manifest symptoms. Kittens and weakened cats on the other hand, are not so lucky. The parasite is capable of causing mucus containing diarrhea, damaging their intestinal wall lining, triggering vomiting episodes, dehydration as well as reducing the cat’s appetite.
While these symptoms do point to the fact the young cat is infected, you can only get a definitive diagnosis from the vet. Infected cats will only start manifesting the symptoms after about a week of infection. The good news though, is that it cannot jump from cats to man, thus making us immune to it.
Some other cat poop parasites that are worthy of mention include tritrichromonas, cryptosporidium, tapeworm. All but the last of the three pose no direct harm to man. The tapeworm though, is notorious for jumping from cats and other animals to man where they can do considerable damage to his health. As for the effects on cat, tapeworm has little or no effects and will not trigger any major health conditions.
Preventive Measures Against Cat Poop Parasite
Whatever the infection, you will agree that it’s better for your cat to not even experience the agony and pain of the illnesses these parasites can cause. The best solution to the cat poop parasites is to take proactive measures to prevent any infection, contamination, or spread of the infection. This is even more so when you have little ones in the home or are pregnant and immunocompromised. Some of the ways you can prevent your cat from getting any of the cat feces parasites include:
- Clean up the yard and house. Many of these parasites thrive in muddy, wet, shady areas. Once exposed to direct sunlight, many of them die off really quick.
- Limit your cats’ exposure. As much as possible, find ways to prevent your cat from wandering off your property or even the house. This is one of the best ways to minimize any form of contact with these parasites.
- Avoid taking in strays. We know you love cats. But, strays can be dangerous to your other cats. This is because there is the likelihood that they’ll have had some sort of contact with these parasites, thus making it easy for them to transfer the parasites to your other infection free cats.
- Add an extra layer of soil to contaminated areas. If you suspect that there are areas in your yard that are already contaminated and home to these parasites, you can always add an extra layer of soil to the yard. The hope is that the cat won’t dig too deep into the soil, thus ensuring that they don’t have any contact with the contaminated soil.
- No raw or partially cooked meat. If you must give your cats meat, make sure they are completely cooked. Usually cooking meat properly will kill off all these parasites. Then train them not to kill rodents or play with insects that might be possible carriers.
- Clean the litterbox frequently. If it’s possible, do it on a daily basis. And even then, always wear gloves while doing so.
- You might also want to keep them on a monthly preventative medication routine that will help keep them protected from any infections. And in the event that they are, these should help control the population of the parasites so that your cats can live healthy, normal lives free of the symptoms of those ailments.
- Also, find a way to minimize contact with the children, particularly when they haven’t washed after playing sports. As much as possible, wash the children’s hands and face with water and soap after playing with the cats and before eating anything.
As for treatment, your best bet would be to take your cat to the vet if you suspect that they are suffering from any of these parasites. There, the vet would be able to recommend the best treatment protocol for each cat’s unique situation.
There you have it… everything you needed to know about cat poop parasites. Hopefully, you’ve learned something, and more importantly, found out how to prevent your cats from the many parasites that they could be exposed to.
Please adopt these techniques to keep your cat free of all parasites, so that they can enjoy a healthy life and continue to bring a smile to your face. Your cat deserves to be pain-free. Endeavor to keep them protected and shield them from these nasty critters.