The Parasites That Plague Our Cats
There seem to be a lot of questions and misconceptions about parasites and cats. I’d like to take this opportunity to point out what these parasites can do to your cat and why you should worry about them.
Cats and Fleas
Fleas are one of the most common parasites we find on cats. Here’s what you need to know about them.
- Fleas survive on a blood diet. Because these parasites ingest your cat’s blood, anemia is a potential complication.
- Some cats develop an allergy to the bite of the flea. Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is one of the most common allergies diagnosed in cats. Because the allergy is a reaction to a substance in the flea’s saliva, it takes only one flea bite to cause an allergic reaction. FAD results in itchiness, hair loss, skin sores, irritated skin, and discomfort for your cat.
- Fleas can also carry diseases. Some of these diseases can be quite dangerous for your cat, but others are actually more dangerous for you and your family.
- Fleas also carry parasites, such as tapeworms, that can be easily passed to any flea-infested cat.
- Indoor cats are not safe from fleas. Fleas can find their way indoors quite easily. They often hitchhike on people coming into your home or on other pets that do go outdoors.
- Fleas can survive and can resurface during the winter under the right circumstances, even in cold climates.
- Once your cat is infested with fleas, getting rid of the infestation is difficult. Fleas live only a portion of their life on your pet. Their eggs and larvae develop in your pet’s environment, which in most cases is your home. Once an infestation is established, the environment will need to be treated as well as the pet and it may take months to completely eradicate the infestation. Prevention is much easier and safer for your cat.
- All pets in the household must receive adequate flea protection to effectively control fleas.
Cats and Ticks
Ticks are less frequently seen on cats but are still seen on a regular basis, particularly for those cats that spend time outdoors.
- Ticks are most likely to attach to the area around the face, head, ears, and neck.
- Ticks attach to your cat’s skin via their mouthparts and feed on your cat’s blood while attached. They do not, however, embed their bodies under your cat’s skin.
- Ticks do not jump, fly, or run. They tend to be slow moving but will position themselves in grass and on vegetation where they can latch on to passing hosts. Once on the host, they will crawl to an area where they can feed.
- While ticks tend to more of a problem for cats that spend time outdoors, it is not impossible for a tick to hitch-hike indoors on a person or another pet, only to find and feed on your cat. There is also one particular species of tick that can establish a stable population indoors and infest your home, posing a threat to people and pets alike.
- Ticks can survive and can resurface during the winter under the right circumstances, even in cold climates.
- Ticks can carry diseases that may be passed on to your cat. One of the most serious of these diseases is cytauxzoonsosis, a disease that is often fatal for an infected cat.
- Using a product that repels and/or kills ticks is preferable, particularly if your cat is at risk.
- Checking your cat for ticks on a regular basis, and removing any ticks found as soon as possible, is also a good idea.
Cats and Heartworms
At one point in time, we believed that only dogs could be infected with heartworms and that cats were immune. We now know that is far from true.
- Your cat can become infected with heartworms through the bite of a mosquito.
- Even indoor cats can become infected with heartworms.
- While dogs infected with heartworms often harbor large numbers of heartworms, cat typically have only a few. This does not make the parasite less dangerous for your cat but does make diagnosis of heartworm disease more challenging.
- In cats, heartworm disease tends to manifest as a respiratory disease. It often mimics feline asthma.
- Sudden death is one of the recognized symptoms of feline heartworm disease. Death may occur so suddenly that there is no chance to do anything medically to stabilize or save the affected cat.
- There is no safe or effective cure for cats infected with heartworms. The medication used to treat dogs for heartworms (Immiticide) is not safe for cats.
- Cats with heartworm disease are usually treated symptomatically.
- Heartworms can be prevented. There are numerous medications that are both safe and effective in protecting your cat from heartworms.
Heartworm preventive medication should be considered as part of a comprehensive preventive health care plan for all cats, as should flea and tick control. Your veterinarian is your best source of information regarding which parasite products are best suited to your cat.
Dr. Lorie Huston