Lungworm in Cats – Symptoms and Treatment

If your cat is suffering from coughing fits and lack of energy, lungworms might be the culprit. Find out more about symptoms and treatment.
Cat being petted
Cat being petted
Cat being petted

Lungworms in cats can pose a series of dangers for your little ball of fur. These parasites travel the distance, hopping from host to host looking for perfect places to burrow into and every once in a while an unlucky cat becomes a stop on their route. Although less common than intestinal worms, lungworms are not to be ignored. Here are a few useful things to know about lungworm in cats and how you can help your cat get back to a clean bill of health.

What is lungworm?

Lungworms are parasites infecting other organisms and use their nutrients to stay alive and produce eggs at the expense of their host. If you are more familiar with the classic lungworms in dogs, these are not known to affect cats. In fact, cats have a different type of lungworm to contend with. There are two types of lungworm in cats: the Aelurostrongylus abstrusus (feline lungworm) and Capillaria aerophilus (bronchial capillarid that affects cats and dogs) and they can both cause lung damage.

How do cats get lungworm?

The more your cat is a keen outdoor explorer, the higher chance there is for lungworms to get attached to your feline companion. The little parasites usually have to travel through an entire food chain before reaching your cat’s system.

Cats become infected with lungworm when they drink water or eat prey infected with the larval stage of the worm.

The larvae migrate out of the intestines via the bloodstream to the lungs, where they develop into adult worms and lay eggs in the host’s lungs within 40 days. The eggs are then coughed up by the cat or passed in faeces, which may then be eaten by birds, rodents and/or snails.

What are the symptoms for lungworm in cats?

Lungworm infections in cats can masquerade as other conditions so it is important to check with your vet if you notice your cat having coughing fits that just won’t go away or difficulty breathing. Other symptoms for lungworm in cats include lethargy and no interest in play. If your cat doesn’t seem to be their usual self, make sure you book an appointment with the vet.

Cat sitting by the window
Cat being examined by the vet

How is lungworm in cats diagnosed?

The vet will start by asking you about the symptoms you have noticed. To determine whether your cat has been infected by lungworms, they may then perform a series of tests which might include:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays to check the lungs’ condition
  • A bronchoscopy to check the cat’s airways
  • The cat’s faeces may also be tested for the presence of larvae

Should you worry if your cat gets lungworms?

Usually lungworm in cats is not a life-threatening condition. But if your cat’s immune system is not up to the task of putting up a good fight against this parasite, the infection can turn out to be more serious than normally expected. Lungworm in kittens can be particularly dangerous as well if your cat is a senior or there are pre-existing conditions likely to have weakened the cat’s immune system. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable kittens are also the most prone to lungworm infections. The most important thing to do is seek professional advice from your vet, and follow the treatment plan closely.

What is the treatment for lungworm in cats?

Once the infection is diagnosed, the vet will likely prescribe one of several different parasiticides such as Fenbendazole, Albendazole, Ivermectin, Praziquante and Levamisole. Usually, a 10-day course of Fenbendazole with three to four days of Ivermectin will clear the infection. In extreme cases when secondary infections, such as pneumonia, have started developing, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed too.

Once a course of treatment has been completed, an otherwise healthy cat should be back in tip-top condition in a matter of a couple of months.

Is there a way to prevent lungworm affecting cats?

There are a few things you can do to keep your cat off bounds to lungworm infections. Make sure the cat doesn’t miss any regular deworming medication that might create a window of opportunity for the lungworms to show up. You can also try these games to keep the cat well-stimulated and exercised even when she is indoors. This way you can lower the chances that your kitten will find an infected prey and use it as their fun little toy to play with.

When worming your cat, make sure you also apply flea and tick treatment. And take a look at our cat health hub for more advice on common symptoms and treatments.