Parasites – they’re the “ick” factor of pet ownership that no one really likes to think about! A parasite is defined as an animal that lives on or inside another living animal, and although cats are smaller than dogs, many of our feline friends can still become infected with some serious health-harming pests, especially if they happen to enjoy the outdoors.
Here’s a quick guide to keeping your feline friend healthy and parasite-free.
Cats can become infected with several different types of gastrointestinal parasites, including roundworms, hookworms, stomach worms, tapeworms and smaller, single-celled organisms such as Giardia or Coccidia, which infect the cells of the intestinal wall. These parasites can cause:
These symptoms can range from mild to extremely serious, even causing death in some cases; very young, immune-compromised, or very senior cats tend to be more affected. Our feline friends can come into contact with these parasites in a few different ways; they may ingest microscopic eggs by eating grass that other cats have pooped on, or they may become infected by eating another animal, called an intermediate host. (Fleas and rabbits, for example, can transmit tapeworms to cats when eaten) Roundworms may also be transmitted from a mother cat to her unborn kittens, causing some cats to be born with an existing parasite infection already.
It’s also important to note that some of these parasites (like roundworm and hookworm) can be passed to people, particularly children, which is why it’s important to prevent or quickly treat your kitty’s parasite infections. It’s usually recommended that kittens under one year of age are de-wormed several times, with routine stool checks and additional de-worming as necessary when they’re adults.
If the word “flea” makes you feel itchy, you’re not the only one. Surprisingly, although there are over 2,000 species of flea, it’s the cat flea, (Ctenocephalides felis) that tends to make the most trouble for both our feline and canine friends (and any other family member unlucky enough to be bitten). Some cats also have a severe reaction to flea saliva (called flea allergy dermatitis) that causes intense itching, hair loss, skin crusting, sores and scabs. Your indoor cat isn’t off the hook, either – fleas can easily travel into your house on other pets (like the dog) or hitchhike from one home to another on clothes, bags, or toys.
How do you tell if your cat has fleas? Besides the obvious itching, you may notice a peppery, blackish substance on your cat’s back or at the base of their tail. This is flea dirt (flea excrement), and, when wetted, will turn a rusty red color.
A monthly flea treatment is usually the best way to prevent or manage a flea infestation, along with treating your home to kill any flea eggs and larvae. Since some types of topical parasite prevention can be harmful to cats, however, it’s always best to check with your vet about which products are safest for kitty.
What some cat owners may not know is that although it’s less common in cats than dogs, heartworm transmission can start with a single mosquito bite, and even a small heartworm infection can be deadly for our cats. Larvae passes from the mosquito into the bloodstream of your cat, and over time, develops into adult worms, living and reproducing in the arteries around their heart and lungs. Infected cats may eventually develop heart failure, sometimes without showing any major symptoms beforehand. Unfortunately, there’s no safe heartworm treatment for cats at this point, but you can help to prevent heartworm disease for your furry friend by using a monthly oral or topical treatment, especially if they enjoy the great outdoors.
It’s true that the mention of many of these creatures might make us shudder in disgust, but parasite control is a major part of your cat’s healthcare. With simple stool checks, regular grooming and frequent prevention against these pests, you can help your cat companion to stay healthy and parasite free.