Can an indoor cat get worms?

My two-year-old indoor cat just went to the vet for her shots. She never goes outside. My vet recommended treating her for worms. I doubt...

My two-year-old indoor cat just went to the vet for her shots. She never goes outside. My vet recommended treating her for worms. I doubt that she has worms. How could a cat who never goes outside get worms? And isn’t there some sort of test that can be done rather than give her medicine?

Rosslyn, Virginia

Believe it or not, deworming indoor animals is becoming a common practice. And, there are some pretty sound reasons to do it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now emphasizes the need to remove intestinal worms from pets on a regular basis. The reason for this is that some worms, under the right circumstances, can spread to people. The goal of the CDC, is to prevent illness in people, so they want to keep pets free of worms.

It is true that indoor-only cats have lower rates of intestinal parasites than those that roam outside. However, it is still possible for them to get worms. The reason for this is that pets contract worms either through consumption of prey animals or through exposure to contaminated feces. And this can still happen, even when living inside exclusively.

If a rodent makes its way into the house and is consumed by your cat, she could contract intestinal parasites. As well, feces contaminated with worm eggs can be spread by houseflies, cockroaches, and fleas. Even in the most spotlessly clean house, occasional insects and pests make their way in. This puts your cat at risk.

So, how likely is it that your cat will contract worms this way? I don’t know. To be honest, it’s probably not terribly likely. But it absolutely is possible. And because some worms can cause extremely serious illness in people, it’s better to play it safe and follow your vet’s advice.

The good news is that most modern medicines used to remove worms are phenomenally safe, and have extremely low rates of side effects. If you are worried, talk to your vet about the safety of the product she prescribes.

There are tests for worms. They involve specially preparing your pet’s feces and examining it under a microscope for worm eggs. However, depending on the type of preparation performed, worms may be missed in a significant number of tests. Because of this, and because of the relative safety of modern deworming products, most vets now recommend a combination of deworming and testing, rather than strictly testing.

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