Caring For Our Pets is your online resource for information about parasites that can impact the health of your pet.
Learn about the most prevalent parasites that might find their way onto OR into your pet, potentially infest your home and maybe the rest of your family. Along with identifying these pests, their appearance and preferred habitats, you can be informed on the diseases, health impacts and general advice on preventing infestations and infections.
As always, consult your veterinarian for professional advice regarding the risk for your pets and precautions you should consider.
Fleas Of all the ectoparasites that affect cats, fleas are perhaps the most common in both outdoor and indoor-only cats. Fleas can transmit infectious agents, such as tapeworms and Mycoplasma haemofelis, a parasitic bacteria that infects red blood cells, causing anemia. Fleas are a major cause of skin irritation in cats, causing them to bite and scratch themselves, often causing significant damage to the skin in the process. Some cats may even be allergic to fleas, causing severe itching, scabbing and hair loss, even if there are only a few fleas. Most importantly, the adult fleas that you can see on a cat only represent 5% of the entire flea infestation. Unfortunately, the remaining 95% of the infestation can be found in the cat’s home, in the form of eggs, larvae, and pupae. Fleas will continue to re-infest a cat until all of the life stages are eliminated from the home environment. Your veterinarian can recommend a safe and effective product that will kill the fleas quickly, even before they have a chance to lay eggs, as well as protect your cat from a broad spectrum of other parasites. Make sure you also talk to your veterinarian about all of the other pets in your household (including exotic or pocket pets) as they may also need to be treated at the same time. Your veterinarian will make sure to recommend a treatment that is safe for all of your pets.
Ticks Ticks are found on cats too, but sometimes they are missed since cats tend to groom themselves more thoroughly, removing the ticks in the process. Even indoor only cats can be exposed to ticks, as ticks can be carried inside the home by hitching a ride on other pets or even on us! Ticks feed on the blood of their host animals, potentially causing skin irritation or infection. Ticks can also transmit serious diseases to cats, so if you remove any ticks, remember to take them with you when you visit the veterinarian for identification. Ticks are visible to the naked eye, so during the warmer months, it’s a good idea to check your cat regularly for these parasites. Run your hands over your cat’s fur to check for ticks, paying close attention to their ears, head, neck, belly, and feet.
MITES Cats and kittens can be the hosts to several species of mites, and we will talk about the top three.
Ear mites Ear mites are the most common type of mite found in cats. They are small parasites (called Otodectes cynotis) that can infest the ear canals and surrounding skin of cats, causing severe itching. Cats that are infected with ear mites will typically scratch at their ears excessively and shake their heads. These mites cannot be transmitted to people, but are contagious to other cats as well as dogs. Young cats are the most vulnerable to getting ear mites. Be sure you tell your veterinarian about other pets in the household, as they may need to be treated at the same time.
Notoedric mange Notoedres cati is often referred to as Feline scabies. While not common, infections usually affect the head and especially the ears; these infections are intensely itchy. Hair loss and sore skin are apparent signs of the disease. Later the fur can become covered with greyish scales and crusts. This is a treatable medical condition, but is highly contagious for other animals and humans. Mites can be collected from the skin and identified in the veterinarian’s office to confirm an infection.
Cheyletiella Commonly known as “walking dandruff”, they are tiny mites that look like flakes of white dandruff that move in the hair. They can also infect dogs and people. The mites generally cause moderate skin irritation. They can be prevented and treated with medication that would be recommended by your veterinarian. Make sure you call your veterinarian if your cat has any sort of itchy skin condition.
Lice Lice are small insects that feed by chewing on the skin of the cat. Left untreated, they can grow to be an infestation on the cat’s body. Cat lice are not as common as cat fleas. The lice cause itching and scratching, and can make pets crazy with all the crawling and biting. The good news is that lice seldom cause long-lasting problems and can be treated safely. Cat lice cannot be transmitted to humans and humans cannot transmit their lice to cats.
Intestinal worms Roundworms and hookworms are common internal parasites. These parasites live within the gastrointestinal tract of animals and can cause diarrhea, gas, anemia, poor coat quality, loss of body condition, etc. Roundworms are very common in kittens and are usually acquired from the mother, but can also be transmitted from eating mice and cockroaches. Even contact with potting soil can infect cats with roundworms. on outdoor and indoor cats. Deworming treatments are given multiple times as a kitten and will continue throughout the cat’s life. It is important to have your veterinarian perform fecal exams routinely, whether your cat goes outside or stays indoors. Tapeworms are another type of gastrointestinal parasite. Tapeworms can also cause diarrhea and weight loss/poor body condition. Cats can get tapeworms in two main ways. First, fleas can carry and spread tapeworms to the animals when the infected cat ingests fleas through grooming. Second, tapeworms can be carried and spread by rodents, or by eating raw meat. Cats that hunt and eat these animals can pick up tapeworms. Owners tend to discover tapeworms when they spot worm segments (“rice particles”) around their pet’s anus.
Heartworm Heartworm is a special type of worm that is different from intestinal worms because it invades the blood vessels surrounding the heart. Mosquitoes spread heartworm from animal to animal — the mosquito ingests heartworm larvae from the blood of an infected animal, and then deposits the larvae onto the skin during the mosquito’s feeding process. The heartworm larvae travel down through this bite wound created by the mosquito into the cat (or dog). . Heartworm disease in the cat is very different from the disease seen in the dog. Many cats react severely to heartworm larvae as they move through the body. If your cat develops a heartworm infection, it can cause severe respiratory disease and can be deadly. Cats living in endemic areas have the same level of risks as dogs, however; diagnosis is complex in cats. Prevention is key.
Toxoplasmosis Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in garden soil and raw meat. Cats can get toxoplasma infection by killing and eating prey infected by the parasite. For cats that are not already immune, the disease may cause mild diarrhea and a loss of appetite, but most commonly there are no obvious signs of infection. In rare situations, the infection can affect the lungs, liver and nervous system.. Humans can be at risk of toxoplasmosis by eating raw or undercooked meat, or being exposed to garden soil or sandboxes where infected cats may have defecated. Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems should also take proper hygienic precautions to protect themselves against exposure to the disease. To try to prevent exposure to toxoplasmosis, make sure that you thoroughly cook meat, clean vegetables from the garden, and handle soil or litter boxes with gloves, carefully washing your hands after.
The health information contained herein are provided for educational purposes only and are not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider. All decisions regarding patient care must be made with a healthcare provider, considering the unique characteristics of the patient.