Feline Roundworm Infections

vet with catThese intestinal parasites are often found in young puppies and kittens. They measure two to six inches in length and look like very thin pieces of spaghetti. Roundworm infections often cause kittens to appear pot-bellied or bloated, anemic, have diarrhea, weight loss and vomit. The kittens are often less lively and do not grow as well as uninfected kittens. Coughing is also an occasional symptom of roundworm infections.

Since the parasites can travel from the mother to the unborn, kittens are often born with roundworms. Young kittens can also become infected while nursing. (Roundworm larvae are passed in the mother’s milk.) Adult cats become infected by ingesting material contaminated by feces or by ingesting small rodents. (Rodents are carriers of roundworms.) After hatching in the cat’s intestine, roundworm larvae are carried by the bloodstream to the lungs. From the lungs, the larvae crawl up the windpipe and are swallowed. Once the larvae are in the intestine, they grow to adulthood. Coughing occurs when larvae are in the throat.

Accurate diagnosis of roundworms is important since they can cause serious problems. Kittens can die from severe roundworm infections. A one month old kitten should have his (or her) stool examined for roundworms. As a precautionary measure, many veterinarians routinely treat young kittens for roundworm infections.

At the time of kitten vaccinations, stool examinations should be performed. Adult cats should have a stool sample examined for worms at least twice a year (Spring and Fall). Anytime a cat has a digestive tract problem, a stool exam can detect or rule out the presence of internal parasites.

A stool examination performed at a veterinary hospital not only detects the presence or absence of adult worms, it also detects the presence of worm eggs. The feces are mixed with a special chemical solution, and after several minutes, the solution is examined under a microscope. If worm eggs are seen, the veterinarian, or a trained technician, can identify the specific worm. The appropriate medication is then dispensed in order to eliminate that particular worm.

When bringing a stool specimen to the veterinary hospital, it is best to transport it in a small ,clean glass jar. A fresh specimen is definitely best. An old specimen may no longer contain the parasite or the eggs.

Stool examinations are an inexpensive method of detecting internal parasite infections in cats. Early detection and accurate treatment prevents these parasites from causing intestinal disorders. Along with vaccinations and regular check-ups, stool exams are considered part of the routine pet care given to all cats.

Feline Leukemia Testing

Most veterinary hospitals are equipped for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) testing. The test is well worth the money and is used to diagnose FeLV-related illnesses, detect subclinical infections, and identify FeLV infections in multicat households (and catteries). It is highly advisable to test any cat or kitten before introducing him or her into a new home. Cats and kittens should also be tested for feline leukemia before vaccinations are given.

In order to test for feline leukemia, a small amount of blood is taken from the cat.

Testing for feline leukemia is safe and inexpensive. Due to the nature of the disease, all cats should be tested.

See related article on feline leukemia.

Feline Declaw Surgery

Pulling on objects with front claws (scratching) is an instinctive behavior common to all cats. Scratching is necessary in order to remove old dead nail fragments, allowing for the growth of new nail tissue. Cats also mark territory by scratching on objects.

Even though scratching is a normal behavior, it can be extremely destructive. Cats enjoy scratching on many objects. When these objects include such things as furniture, doors and window frames, significant damage can be done to many household items by the scratching behavior of your cat in a short amount of time.

Training your cat to use scratching posts and regularly trimming his or her nails can be helpful in minimizing damage to household items. With proper training, some cats can not only be trained to use a scratching post, but can also learn what items NOT to scratch. There are also nail caps that can be purchased which are fitted over the cat’s claws.

In some cases, the decision is made to surgically remove the cat’s claws. Onychectomy (declawing) is the term given to the surgery involved in permanent removal of the claws. Declawing is done under general anesthesia and a brief post-surgical stay in the veterinary hospital is often recommended to minimize complications. Post-operative medication is routinely used to ease discomfort. In order to promote healing, special non-irritating cat box filler should be used for a week or so in place of your cat’s regular kitty litter.

Ovariohysterectomy in Cats

Ovariohysterectomy is the medical term for spaying a female cat. Ovariohysterectomy is best performed on kittens and young cats. If necessary, the surgery can be performed at a very early age without any noticeable side effects. Though ovariohysterectomies can be performed at any age, the surgery is much less complicated and there are fewer risks when the animal is young.

Even though a spay is considered routine surgery, there is nothing routine about any abdominal surgery performed under general anesthesia. Ovariohysterectomies are major abdominal procedures, especially when performed on older cats that have had several heat cycles or have had kittens.

Having your female cat spayed is an obligation that comes with pet ownership. All humane organizations, animal shelters and veterinarians promote the concept of pet population control by having dogs and cats spayed and neutered. The cost of a cat spay is inexpensive, especially when one considers what is involved.

For more information, see the article “Decision To Have Your Male Cat Neutered And Your Female Cat Spayed.”

Cat Neuters and Spays: The Basics

Having your pet spayed (ovariohysterectomy) or neutered (castrated) is an inexpensive and realistic method of pet population control. The number of unwanted adult and young animals that are euthanized each year in the United States is astounding. Aside from the pet overpopulation problem, neutering a male animal and spaying a female helps prevent, and even eliminates, many medical problems.

Male cats are almost impossible to keep as pets unless they are neutered. When they reach sexual maturity (around seven to nine months of age—even earlier for some cats), their kitten lifestyle dramatically changes. A non-neutered adult male cat becomes extremely territorial. His life predominately consists of patrolling and defending his territory. Even though his immediate territory may consist of the building and grounds where he lives, he may also consider the female cat that lives two blocks away as his territory. He defends his territory against intrusion by other animals, particularly other cats.

There is nothing more ferocious than a fight between two non-neutered male cats. Some non-neutered male cats have even been known to attack Dobermans and German Shepherds that have entered their territory. Unless your male cat is neutered, you may be spending a good deal of time and money at the veterinary hospital, having him treated for injuries.

Male cats often spray urine. This behavior is instinctive and has nothing to do with litter box training. Non-neutered males spray urine in order to identify (“mark”) their territory.

These unacceptable behavior traits will probably never be seen if your kitten is neutered at an early age. If your adult cat is neutered, most of these problems will disappear.

A non-spayed adult female cat is a kitten machine. Female cats have their first estrous cycles around seven to nine months of age. During the springtime, some kittens can actually go into heat when they are five to seven months old.

Detection of estrous is usually quite easy. Most owners think that there is something wrong with their cat. The cat becomes extremely affectionate, wants to be caressed, and rolls about on her back. She is very vocal and meows incessantly. No vaginal bleeding occurs (some cats may have very limited bleeding, but this is very rare) like in dogs; however, non-neutered male cats are still attracted by their scent. Your neighbors will definitely comment about the nightly musical serenade performed by the large variety of male cats that patrol your house.

If your non-spayed female cat is bred, kittens will arrive in two months (that’s kittens, not kitten). The average litter size is six to eight kittens. More kittens will arrive again in a few more months as female cats have estrous cycles year round.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a contagious viral disease of cats. Young and old cats appear to be most susceptible; however, cats of all ages can become infected. The disease is worldwide and affects exotic cats (lions, cougars, bobcats, lynx, jaguars, and cheetahs) as well as domestic cats.

Cats infected with FIP transmit the virus through body fluids (respiratory and oral secretions) and feces. Infection occurs by inhalation or ingestion of the virus. Close contact between cats is very important for transmission of the disease. The disease can also be passed from the queen to her unborn kittens or to young kittens through the milk.

Cats living in crowded, unsanitary conditions are at risk of FIP infection. Animals infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are more susceptible to FIP than non-FeLV and non-FIV infected cats.

Clinical signs of the disease are variable and non-specific. Often, a fluctuating fever is an early symptom of FIP. Other noticeable symptoms include weight loss, fatigue, and lack of appetite. Later, swollen abdomen, jaundice, kidney and liver disorders and eye problems occur.

As the disease progresses, cats typically develop an “effusive” or “dry” form of FIP. The effusive form is characterized by an accumulation of thick yellow fluid in the body cavities. In the dry form, nodular masses are seen on the surface and inside certain organs: the spleen, liver, kidneys, eyes, brain and lungs.

A thorough physical examination by a veterinarian is recommended for any cat showing symptoms of FIP. X-rays and blood tests are necessary for diagnosing the disease.

A vaccine for FIP has been available since 1991. The effectiveness of the vaccine is controversial. Many hospitals do not recommend vaccinating against this disease.

Good animal husbandry practices are important for the prevention of FIP in multi-cat households.

Feline Leukemia

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is one of the major causes of illness and death in domestic cats. The virus is contagious and spreads primarily through intimate nose-to-nose contact with infected saliva. This very often occurs during cat fights, grooming, and mating. Contaminated urine, blood, and feces are also sources of infection. The virus can cross the placenta, infecting kittens while still in the mother’s uterus. Nursing kittens can become infected from contaminated milk if the queen is infected with the virus.

There are no symptoms that are specific for FeLV infection. Tumors, anemia (low red blood cell count), white blood cell and platelet disorders and numerous immune-mediated diseases are common conditions. The main effects of the virus are on the cat’s immune system making him or her extremely susceptible to any type of infection. Respiratory, oral and skin infections are common. Chronic digestive and urinary tract problems are also encountered. Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Hemobartonellosis, and Toxoplasmosis are often seen in cats that are FeLV positive.

Most veterinary hospitals are equipped for feline leukemia virus testing. The test is well worth the money and is used to diagnose FeLV-related illnesses, detect subclinical infections, and identify FeLV infections in multi-cat households (and catteries). It is highly advisable to test any cat or kitten before introducing him or her into a new home.

Due to the devastating consequences of this disease, vaccination is often recommended. It has been shown that vaccinating against feline leukemia reduces the risk of FeLV infection. Vaccinations are administered at eight to 10 weeks of age (or older) followed by a second dose two to four weeks later. Thereafter, booster vaccinations are given regularly. All available vaccines produce less than 100 percent protection against FeLV; therefore, other protective measures must be taken into consideration. The most important of these measures is to keep healthy, uninfected cats away from potentially infected cats. Potentially infected cats are stray cats, free roaming cats, and cats that are not vaccinated or tested for feline leukemia.

Feline Viral Respiratory Disease

Most infectious upper respiratory diseases of cats are due to two highly contagious viruses: feline herpesvirus (also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis – FVR) and feline calicivirus (FCV). Both viruses cause similar clinical symptoms in cats, thus they are grouped together as one disease group, the feline respiratory viruses. A third organism also causes upper respiratory infections and is called feline Chlamydia.

All three germs cause various symptoms associated with upper respiratory problems. The symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, coughing and conjunctivitis. Often, several of these germs are found in a cat or kitten suffering from an upper respiratory infection. Kittens, unvaccinated cats, and cats in multicat households are at greatest risk.

Cats and kittens are infected by contaminated material as well as from other cats. The disease is occasionally fatal for kittens, however most cats recover. The respiratory disease organisms are extremely contagious, and cats that recover from the disease are often the principal carriers. Without showing any clinical symptoms, these cats can remain carriers for months and even years. Some cats never fully recover from the disease and show symptoms throughout the rest of their lives. Once several cats becomes infected, the disease is almost impossible to eliminate from multicat households.

Symptoms and problems associated with the individual diseases:

  • FVR – sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, salivation, and corneal ulcers.
  • FCV – oral ulcers, sneezing, conjunctivitis.
  • Chlamydiosis – predominately conjunctivitis and eye problems, mild sneezing, nasal discharge.

Vaccination against respiratory viruses is strongly recommended. Usually the respiratory vaccine and Feline Distemper vaccine are administered at the same time. A series of two or three vaccinations are administered to a young kitten. These vaccinations are given at 2-3 week intervals beginning when the kitten is 6-9 weeks old. Regular booster vaccinations are recommended.

The Feline Respiratory Viruses are extremely contagious and special considerations must be taken into account. Close contact between cats is not essential for spreading the disease. Food bowls, water bowls, bedding, and play toys are possible sources of infection. If a cat infected with the respiratory disease organisms is picked up and held, the germs can easily be transmitted to another cat via the person’s clothing. It is strongly advisable to wash hands thoroughly (with a good disinfectant soap) after touching a cat that may be a carrier of this disease.

When introducing a new cat into a multicat household, special precautions must be taken. Resident cats should be up-to-date with their vaccines. The incoming cat should receive a vaccine and be quarantined for 3 weeks. The effect of the vaccine and quarantine is twofold: (1) Protect the incoming cat from viruses in the multicat household, and (2) Protect the resident cats from the new cat that may be infected or in the state of disease incubation.

Feline Distemper

Feline distemper (feline panleukopenia virus, or FPV) is a severe, highly contagious viral disease of cats. It occurs most frequently in kittens, where the mortality rate is high. Protection from vaccines is very effective; therefore, the disease is not commonly seen in domesticated cats.

FPV can infect all members of the feline group as well as raccoons, mink, and coatimundi.

This species of parvovirus is not the same one that infects dogs. Dogs cannot infect cats, and cats cannot infect dogs.

Symptoms of the disease develop two to five days after exposure to the virus. Clinical features include severe vomiting and diarrhea (diarrhea may be watery, mucoid, or bloody), depression, high fever, and dehydration. Often cats develop a secondary respiratory infection due to a lowering of the immune system.

The virus is shed in all body excretions (especially feces) up to two weeks after the disease is encountered. The virus is very resistant and can survive in the environment for more than a year. A pregnant queen that contracts the disease may abort her litter or give birth to dead kittens. Kittens infected at the end of pregnancy, or during the first two weeks after birth, may end up with a brain defect.

Vaccination is highly effective for prevention of feline panleukopenia. All kittens should be vaccinated and adult cats should be given regular booster vaccines. The vaccination series begins at six to nine weeks of age and vaccinations are repeated every two to four weeks until the kitten is 12-14 weeks old. An adult cat should receive regular booster vaccines.

Whipworms (Trichuriasis)

Whipworms are small thread-like parasites that embed deep within the lining of the colon (large intestine) and cecum. Trichuris vulpis, the canine whipworm, is a common parasite and is a major cause of diarrhea in the dog. The feline whipworms, Trichuris campanula and Trichuris serrata, are uncommon and usually do not produce any clinical symptoms.

Whipworms infect dogs of all ages. Clinical symptoms often depend upon the number of parasites embedded in the colon and cecum. Symptoms can range from slight diarrhea to massive rectal bleeding. In most dogs, a mucoid-like diarrhea is generally observed.

The diagnosis of whipworm infection is made by observing the characteristic parasite eggs under a microscopic. This test is routinely performed at most veterinary hospitals. A small stool sample is necessary in order to run the test.

Medication is available for the treatment of whipworm infection. Very often, pets need multiple treatments in order to eliminate the parasite. Your veterinarian can discuss the method of treatment that is best suited for your pet.

Whipworm is extremely difficult to eliminate from infected soil. Dogs that have access to these areas often reinfect continuously. A specific treatment protocol is usually required for these dogs.