What is the one chore cat owners never want to do?  That’s right—the litter box!

The odors that lurk in that box make it hard to stay near to get the job done sometimes. However there may be another unpleasant element in the litter box that we are not always aware of. Worms.

There are many different kinds of parasites but most often the kind you would find in your kitty’s feces is called Toxocara cati, which is a roundworm or Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan. Not every cat has worms but it is important to know the signs so that you can recognize them in case any concerns arise.

Some common signs your cat may have worms include weight loss and an insatiable appetite, vomiting and an unusual amount of attention being paid to scratching their behind. Other signs may be loose or bloody stool and diarrhea.

The easiest way to see if your cat has worms is to slowly clean out the litter box and pay attention to the way their kitty clumps look. Worms are most often white color and have the diameter of a piece of string spaghetti; the length will vary. If you see a worm you should bag the feces (perhaps in a Ziploc baggie) for the vet to examine and make an appointment as soon as possible.

Another major issue of worms is the transmission to humans. As doctors will tell you, people can get sick from their cats’ worms, but most often our immune system is strong enough to fight it off. However Toxocara can cross through body tissue barriers in our bodies including the uterus and placenta. A fetus does not have the immune system strength to fight off the parasite and can become ill, develop defects or even die. It is strongly recommended that pregnant women stay away from the litter box to prevent toxoplasmosis.

To understand more about preventing transmission, we need to know about the worm’s life cycle. An adult worm has eggs that are so small we cannot see them with the naked eye. The eggs are laid in a cooler place, such as a bodily exit of your cat, and some eggs come out of the cat’s body with its waste. These eggs can get on your hands when you are near the litter box. If you touch your face, the eggs can travel to an entry point on your body and find their way to your intestines where they will feed.

Every time after you touch the litter box, scoop or anything to do with your cat’s feces, always make sure to wash your hands properly with soap. When suds build , it weakens the egg’s wall and briskly rubbing your hands will rupture the egg and instantly kill the “baby” worms. When you rinse your hands you are washing away any egg residue and can walk away clean and healthy!

If you are concerned your kitty may have worms, I would always recommend seeing your vet. Stores do sell OTC worm medication but in my experience, repeated doses do not work nearly as efficiently as single dose prescribed by your veterinarian.

Cover image from http://www.ah.novartis.com

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