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Ask A Vet: How Can I Deworm Feral Cats?

Photo via Kristine Paulus on Flickr.com

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. They've enlisted their Co-President, Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, to answer your questions every week. Got a question for Dr. Scarlett? Ask away in the comments!

Q: I take care of two feral outdoor cats. I want to give them tapeworm meds because they probably have worms, but my vet won't sell me the tapeworm meds unless he sees the cat! Is there anything I can buy over the counter that I can slip into the feral cats' food to treat them?
 
A: If your cats (or dogs) have what looks like pieces of rice stuck on the hair around their bum then Viola! They have tapeworms.  And if they have tapeworms they must have been exposed to fleas. All in all, tapeworms are the nicest worms to have—well nicer than the blood sucking hook and round worms. Over time, tapeworm infestations will lead to weight loss which is why some people have turned to them to help shed a few pounds–yuck—and not without risk.

Ok, now back to your cats. Here’s the good news on the tapeworms: you can buy a tapeworm (doesn’t work for rounds and hookworms) dewormer called Praziquantal over the counter and circumvent a visit to the vet. The bad news is that it’s just as (or more) important to keep the flea count down on your ferals and there’s no easy way to do it. I have witnessed full grown cats die from severe anemia from heavy, chronic flea infestations. At this time, the best longer-acting flea preventatives are topical (there is a safe, long-acting, effective oral medication for dogs but only a short acting product for cats) and I don’t know how you could apply topical products on truly feral cats without confinement and/or sedation. So, go ahead and deworm them but if you noticed weight or hair loss you may need to trap and take them in for a good check up—under sedation of course!
 
Thanks so much for keeping an eye on these ferals.  We, and many shelters have a TNR program (Trap-Neuter-Release) wherein we rely on the community and amazingly dedicated volunteers to identify feral colonies, let us know about them and spay and neuter the bunch.  TNR is a critical component to reducing the number of homeless cats and keeping new generations of kittens out of shelters. Bravo to you and everyone who has a hand in TNR. Learn more about our Community Cats program and how you can get involved.

While we can’t answer all of the questions here, please feel free to ask us during our Friday Twitter Ask the Vet Chat. Follow us at @SFPSCA. If your animal’s problem is of an immediate nature, please call your vet or you can reach the SF SPCA at 415-554-3030 to make an appointment.