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How to treat a kitten with worms

How to treat a kitten with worms: A grey kitten peaking from under a blanket, looking sad and ill
(Image credit: Getty)

Knowing how to treat a kitten with worms is essential information for many kitten owners. A large number of kittens are either born with intestinal worms, or acquire them from their mother while nursing. Even if you feed your kitten the best kitten food and follow these top six kitten feeding tips and Top six kitten care tips, intestinal parasites can still occur and contribute to diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and other gastrointestinal signs. Treating intestinal worms is an essential component of keeping your kitten happy and healthy. 

How can you tell if a kitten has worms?

Signs of intestinal worms can vary, depending on which type of worm is present and the severity of the infection. Some kittens with intestinal worms appear completely fine, with no signs of intestinal parasites, with the parasites discovered on a routine fecal parasite examination. In other cases, intestinal worms can cause significant illness. 

When intestinal worms cause clinical signs in an affected kitten, common signs include: 

  • Diarrhea (may range from soft stools to watery or liquid diarrhea)
  • Vomiting 
  • Poor weight gain
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Dull coat 
  • Visible worms in the feces or vomit
  • Visible rice-like worm segments around the rectum

In many cases, there is considerable overlap between the signs caused by intestinal worms and those caused by other illnesses. If your kitten shows signs of vomiting or diarrhea, don’t assume that it’s simply due to intestinal worms. Instead, you should take your kitten to a veterinarian for evaluation. In addition to a thorough physical examination, your veterinarian will perform a fecal parasite examination. In this test, a sample of your kitten’s stool will be collected, processed, and examined under a microscope. A member of the veterinary team will look for eggs that indicate the presence of intestinal worms, as well as other organisms that may live in your kitten’s digestive tract. 

If your cat is showing signs of gastrointestinal disease and your veterinarian does not find intestinal worms to explain your kitten’s signs of illness, they may test for other medical conditions. Learn more at our articles titled Why is my cat losing weight? and Is my cat sick?

How do you get rid of worms in kittens?

Once your veterinarian determines what types of intestinal worms are affecting your kitten, he or she will prescribe an appropriate dewormer. There are multiple species of intestinal worms  that affect kittens and each responds to different dewormers, so it’s important to have a definitive diagnosis before deworming your kitten. 

Depending on the dewormer that your veterinarian prescribes, you may receive a pill, a liquid medication, or granules that you will mix with your kitten’s food. Most dewormers require repeated dosing to eliminate intestinal parasites. You will likely administer the dewormer once daily for one to five days, then repeat the treatment again in two to three weeks. Repeated treatment ensures that all life stages of the intestinal worms are addressed with deworming. 

A tabby kitten taking medicine from a syringe

(Image credit: Getty)

How to treat roundworms in kittens

Kittens are often born with roundworms, or become infected early in life. Most adult cats have at least a small number of encysted roundworm larvae within their tissues. Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy activate these larvae and stimulate them to travel to the placenta or the mammary glands. Therefore, kittens may be infected with roundworms before birth or while nursing. When you take in a stray kitten, there is a relatively high likelihood that the kitten has roundworms. 

Roundworms are typically treated with pyrantel. Pyrantel is administered as an oral liquid medication, given as a single dose that is repeated every two to three weeks until the parasites have been cleared. Pyrantel is available over-the-counter and can be purchased from pet supply stores or online pharmacies. However, it’s best to obtain a dewormer directly from your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can determine which intestinal parasites are affecting your kitten and ensure that your kitten receives the right dewormer, at the right dose, on the right timeline.

In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe fenbendazole for your kitten’s roundworms due to its broader spectrum of activity. This dewormer is available only through a veterinarian. Fenbendazole may be administered as a liquid medication or as a powder that you add to your kitten’s food. Fenbendazole is often given for several days in a row, then repeated in three weeks. 

How to treat tapeworms in kittens

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that are spread by fleas. Cats that have fleas often ingest live fleas during grooming, and these fleas may contain tapeworm eggs. Once inside the cat’s body, these tapeworm eggs mature and develop into adult worms that live within the cat’s intestine. Most owners become aware of their cat’s tapeworm infection when they notice small worm segments, which look like grains of rice, around their cat’s rectum. 

Tapeworms are treated with praziquantel, a drug that specifically targets tapeworms. This drug is only available from veterinarians. (Over-the-counter dewormers will not treat tapeworms.) In order to prevent recurrence of tapeworms, it’s important to ensure that your cat is on the best flea treatment for cats, all year round. 

When can you treat kittens for worms?

Each feline dewormer has a different minimum age requirement. Pyrantel and fenbendazole can both be used in kittens as young as two weeks of age. Praziquantel (used to treat tapeworms) is not typically administered until kittens reach at least six weeks of age. 

Summary

Your veterinarian is the best possible resource when seeking information on how to treat a kitten with worms. Your veterinarian will perform a fecal parasite examination to determine which intestinal parasites are affecting your kitten, then prescribe an appropriate treatment to eliminate your kitten’s parasite infection. Intestinal worm treatments are highly effective, so following your veterinarian’s recommendations will ensure that your kitten becomes parasite-free as quickly as possible. 

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.