Vet 101: Why indoor cats need stool sample tests

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It’s one of the most common questions my staff and I are asked at annual exams for indoor cats. In fact, it’s such a common question, the NYS Veterinary Medical Society recently addressed the issue in its monthly newsletter to veterinarians.

Intestinal parasites are very common in young cats – up to 85% of kittens may be infected. Roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, tapeworm, and giardia are the most widespread in the U.S. The roundworm (Toxocara cati) is most prevalent, so we’ll focus on this one today.

Roundworm can be transmitted to cats by several routes including: 

  • Passage through the mother’s milk or placenta to kittens (called “vertical” transmission),
  • Ingestion of eggs from an infected host (including mice, rats and some species of flies and roaches),
  • and contact with eggs in the environment (including flower beds, playground sandboxes and commercial potting soil). 
  • Once the eggs have entered the cat, T. cati larvae can choose three different paths:
  • migration through the trachea (windpipe) to the small intestine (where they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss),
  • migration through the blood vessels to muscle tissue (where they can remain in a dormant state for years and cause health problems later in life),
  • migration through other organs where they can cause a whole host of problems (e.g. the lungs, where they can trigger asthma).
So, now that we know how this parasite can get into our cats, let’s revisit the question: Why indoor cats need stool sample tests every year.

  • If your indoor cat chases or kills mice, rats, or flies, he’s potentially exposed to roundworms
  • If you have indoor plants with potting soil, she’s potentially exposed
  • If you took your child to the playground today and walked through the sandbox, or if you were puttering in the garden, you may have brought home some eggs on your shoes
  • If your cat has roundworm eggs embedded in muscle tissue from a previous infection (or even from kittenhood!), they may hatch later in life or under periods of stress (like other illness, pregnancy, a new baby in the house, or a change in environment) and cause a variety of problems

In addition to causing health issues in our cats, roundworms can also be potentially transmissible to humans. Children, and immunocompromised people (especially cancer patients and AIDS patients) are most at risk, and households with these folks should absolutely have their cats checked at least annually for intestinal parasites.

Roundworms are most commonly detected by a microscopic examination of the cat’s feces (called a “fecal”) by your veterinarian’s office or commercial laboratory. But remember: if the parasites are hiding in muscle tissue or another organ, they may not be shedding into the stool at the time it is checked, which is another reason to check a stool sample at least annually.
Various highly effective medications now exist for the treatment and prevention of roundworms, which can be prescribed by your veterinarian. Keeping the environment clean will also help in prevention.
Now, the next time you see “fecal exam” on your indoor kitty’s annual or semi-annual reminder card from the vet, you’ll smile and proudly walk into the vet’s office carrying a nice fresh sample for screening!


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21 thoughts on “Vet 101: Why indoor cats need stool sample tests”

  1. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Genuinely rarely should i encounter a weblog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you may have hit the nail about the head. Your idea is outstanding; the problem is an element that insufficient persons are speaking intelligently about. I am delighted we came across this during my look for something with this.

  2. Wow! We had no idea! We are indoor cats and we got fleas from the dog next door. They either came in on our mom’s pants or they came through the walls (its a town house, and we found out that is possible). The two indoor cats who live on the other side of he dog also got fleas at the same time we did. So we find it believable that indoor cats can get worms.

  3. Great report. What’s funny is that when I went to get my checkup this year, they were surprised, nay Shocked, that we brought a stool sample. It was a new vet and they didn’t tell us to bring one.

  4. Wow, learn something new everyday. I knew certain things stayed in the earth to be passed on, the names escape me right now, We’ll have to be careful of the grass around our apartment, many strays around. Can’t open our windows, someone catches a bug.
    We need to move I think

  5. Great information. Bugs come inside the house very easily and indoor kitties can get infected. Especially my Goro, he always chase down flies that come inside, so sample test is a must!

  6. More incredibly good information that I didn’t know. If my kitten was dewormed as an infant and didn’t go outside, I figured she was safe. I never suspected there were so many ways that she could still get words. Thanks! Janet

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