This is a fairly common question we get asked here at Sunset, especially after we diagnose a cat with worms. This simple answer is yes, there are some parasites of cats that people can get from their cat. This is why it is very important to regularly check your cat for parasites during their wellness visits or if they are showing symptoms of parasitism. Below are some of the most common parasites that can be passed from cats to humans.
Hookworms are short worms around 1-2 inches long that live in the small intestine. They are called hookworms because they have hook-shaped teeth that they used to anchor into the intestinal wall and feed on blood. Cats usually don’t have any symptoms with mild infections, but severe infections can cause severe anemia and malnutrition. The hookworms lay eggs in the feces and cats can be infected through oral ingestion or the larval worms can enter through the skin. Puppies can get them from their mother through her milk. Humans most commonly get cutaneous larva migrans which is where then larval worms penetrate the skin and cause an itchy rash.
Roundworms are a long, spaghetti noodle-like worm that also live in the small intestinal and are passed between cats the same way as hookworms. Again, they usually do not cause any symptoms in cats unless there is a heavy worm burden. In humans, roundworms can cause visceral larval migrans or ocular larval migrans, both of which can have serious consequences. Since people are not the definitive host for roundworms, the larval worms wonder around the inside of the body and can cause damage to internal organs. Ocular larval migrans occurs when the worms get inside the eye and can lead to blindness. Unfortunately, this is one of the leading causes of blindness in children.
Echinococcus Multilocularis Tapeworms
The lifecycle of this tapeworm is a little bit more complicated than the life cycle of roundworms and hookworms. So, an infected cat passes eggs in their feces which then gets picked up by an intermediate host, which is usually a small rodent. Then a cat comes along and eats the intermediate host and becomes infected. Again, cats rarely have symptoms but can display some itchiness under their tail by licking/chewing or scooting on their bottoms. Humans can accidently become intermediate hosts by ingesting infective eggs. These can then hatch, and the larval worms can form cysts, sometimes quite large cysts, in internal organs such as the liver, lungs, brain, or spinal cord. As you can imagine this can cause some serious complications.
This parasite is not a worm but a protozoal organism and goes by the nickname “beaver fever” as it can be spread by beavers. Cats can get it by drinking from contaminated water sources like streams, ponds, and rivers. It causes mild to severe diarrhea in cats. People can become infected by drinking from contaminated water sources but also, if your cat is infected, by accidently handling feces while cleaning the litterbox or yard or sometimes accidently touching your cat under the tail. People get similar symptoms of severe diarrhea and abdominal cramping.
A Few Tips
- Have your cat tested regularly for the presence of parasites and treated by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend testing if your cat is showing symptoms of parasitism as well.
- Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands after cleaning the litterbox or yard and always before eating or drinking. Keep outdoor sandboxes and play areas covered if possible to prevent roaming cats from using them as a toilet.
- Most monthly feline heartworm preventives can also help prevent intestinal parasites as well.
- If you are at all concerned that you may have symptoms of parasitism, schedule an appointment with your human physician. Early treatment can help prevent serious complications.