Left undetected and untreated, intestinal parasites can rob or cat of much-needed nutrients, can cause severe gastrointestinal upset, and can predispose it to secondary disease. Internal parasites are widespread throughout the pet population.
To make matters worse, many internal parasites of cats are also classified as zoonotic diseases; that is, they can be directly communicable to humans, especially children. As a result, controlling intestinal parasites is a vital part of any preventive health care program.
Management of intestinal worms should begin when a kitten is as young as 3 weeks of age. At this age, these infants can harbor immature hookworms and roundworms without any evidence of eggs shed in the stool. Kittens should receive medications for these parasites at 3, 6, and 9 weeks of age, regardless of whether eggs are detected in their stool.
More treatments might be necessary for those kittens found to be actually harboring worms. Stool examinations on such a pet should be performed by a veterinarian at 6, 9, and 12 weeks of age to ensure that it is indeed free of these parasites and is not shedding eggs into the environment.
Frequent stool checks such as these will also assist in the detection of two other common intestinal parasites: tapeworms and coccidia. The latter parasite can especially cause severe gastroenteritis and sometimes even neurological problems in kittens if left undetected and untreated.
Most heartworm preventives available for cats also contain medication to protect against common feline intestinal parasites. As a result, if your pet is taking such medication (and it should be!), it does not need to be routinely dewormed.
However, your pet’s stools should still be examined for parasite eggs at least once a year, just to be safe. Stool exams should also be conducted on any ill animal, regardless of clinical signs. Even when the worms do not directly cause the illness, their mere presence and effect on the host’s immune system can exacerbate any disease, regardless of cause.
Aside from routine stool checks, good environmental sanitation is another way to lessen the impact of intestinal parasites. Many parasite eggs that are shed into the environment via feces take days of sitting in the sunlight or in other favorable environmental conditions before becoming infective to other pets.
As a result, keeping all fecal matter (either your pet’s or that of an unwelcome visitor) cleaned up out of your pet’s environment (or litterbox) on a daily basis is a very effective way of protecting your pet (and yourself) from these worms.