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Cats are curious creatures and enjoy using their noses to sniff out anything of interest. They enjoy the noise or even the taste of a tiny bug—but this can sometimes get them into trouble. Bugs often seek out and find cats to facilitate their life cycle. Some can harm cats by causing irritated, itchy skin, and a few can be fatal to cats because they are poisonous or transmit infectious disease.
It’s important to know what certain types of bug bites look like—not only to treat them effectively, but also to prevent them.
Fleas are tiny, black, wingless insects that feed on the blood of animals, especially cats. Often, you see the fleas themselves or specks of flea feces before you notice any flea bites on your cat’s body.
Flea bites appear commonly around a cat’s neck, down their back, and around the base of the tail. They usually appear as single raised red or pink spots, or in clusters. Flea bites can also have a faint red ring around the bite. These bites can quickly scab, especially in cats that are allergic to fleas. Flea bites are often less severe in cats that are not allergic but they are still itchy and irritating. Fleas are common on outdoor cats but can also be found on indoor cats.
Having your cat on a consistent flea prevention regimen is the best way to avoid flea bites and their diseases. Year-round flea prevention is recommended for all cats in your home, whether they go outdoors or not. Flea bites can also be treated with anti-itch creams and a soothing bath with medicated shampoo. Check your cats routinely for fleas to catch any before they can cause too much pain to your cat. Ask your veterinarian to determine which treatment and prevention protocol would be best for your lifestyle.
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that are not technically insects (they are arachnids—closely related to spiders and mites). Ticks can be “hard” or “soft” and range in color from reddish brown to black, and even a greenish-color tick can be found on cats. Hard ticks have a firm outer shell and can be swollen and full of a blood meal or flat like a seed when they are unfed.
Ticks can be found on a cat in four different life stages (egg, larva, nymph, and adult) although only the older ticks can be seen with the naked eye. Cats often get ticks from grass or shrubs, but ticks can also crawl into the home or be brought in by dogs and humans.
You may notice the tick itself on your cat appears like a small round bump on the skin. After a tick bites, it takes a blood meal from your cat and then falls off. They leave behind a little, circular wound where the head was embedded into the cat. Ticks can attach anywhere on a cat’s body but are often found on the face, neck, ears, feet, and legs, where there is less fur to burrow through to get to the skin.
After you have removed the tick from your cat’s skin, clean the area with antibacterial soap and water. You can also use an antiseptic cream to help with the residual tick bite on the skin. Year-round tick prevention is recommended for all cats in your home, whether they go outdoors or not. Most tick preventions are also flea preventions. Speak with your veterinarian about which treatment and prevention would be best for your cat’s lifestyle.
Mange is caused by microscopic mites that invade the skin and hair follicles in cats. Mites are also a common cause of ear infections in cats. They cause local irritation, itchiness, hair loss, and inflammation. Depending on which type of mite infection your cat has, it may or may not be contagious to other cats, pets, or people. Ear mites, walking dandruff (Cheyletiella), Demodex, and sarcoptic mange are all highly contagious, while chiggers and fur mites are not highly contagious among cats and other animals.
Most mites cannot be seen with the naked eye; however, ear mites can sometimes be visible as white moving specks against a dark background. Depending on the species of mite affecting the cat, the ears, head, neck, abdomen, foot pads or entire body of the cat can be affected. When skin mites are diagnosed on your cat, skin infections are typically the first symptom noticed. Mite infections in cats can cause a dull/unkempt hair coat, red bumps, scabs, scaly or crusty skin, hair loss, and an intense itch is also present.
Unlike other parasites that spend half of their life cycle in the environment, mites spend their entire lives on their host. Mites are usually transmitted to cats by direct contact with an infected cat. Mother cats will pass mites to their newborns during nursing. Some mites can be both treated and prevented with traditional flea/tick preventatives such as Bravecto and Revolution. Ear mites are treated with FDA-approved eardrops.
Mosquitoes are tiny flying insects that bite their prey and feed on blood. They are most prevalent in areas with standing water such as bodies of water, marshes, and swamps, but they only need a very small amount of standing water to reproduce.
Mosquitoes can transmit very serious conditions to cats, the most concerning being heartworm disease. When bitten, cats will develop skin lesions that are usually red raised bumps, scales, or even ulcers. They can even develop crusted, ulcerated skin lesions from mosquito bites around the nose or tips of the ears. Commonly recognized by itching of the skin, mosquito bites in cats can cause localized swelling, hair loss, and a change in skin color. For those cats that get significant skin lesions from mosquito bites, steroid and/or antihistamine medications might be prescribed by your veterinarian.
Mosquitoes can strike anytime your cat is outdoors, even if they are in a home with open windows or lounging in a screened patio. While there are some flea/tick preventions that also protect against mosquitoes, it’s best to also use a pet-safe mosquito repellent in areas where mosquitoes are known to bite.
Like mosquitoes, the sting of a bee, hornet, or wasp tends to be contained to the point of entry into the skin and can occur anywhere on the body. However, the sting from these insects causes significant pain that can lead to a yowl from your cat, limping or lameness, itching, or other signs. In addition, mosquito venom can lead to swelling, redness, hives, and more general signs like vomiting, diarrhea, stumbling, and collapse in some sensitive cats.
While most cats aren't overly sensitive to the venom found in bee or wasp stings, if your cat falls into the minority that are allergic, a sting bite could make them seriously ill or go into shock. In most cases, a cat will experience a localized reaction, which results in mild swelling and tenderness at the site of the sting. Most often in cats this occurs on the face (typically near the nose) or on a paw, thanks to the cat's tendency to bat their prey around. It’s important to check to see if the stinger is still in the wound and remove it with a tweezer. Wasps, unlike bees, keep their stingers intact, which makes it possible for them to sting multiple times, increasing the danger to your cat.
Because it's impossible to know for certain whether your cat might experience an allergic reaction, call a veterinarian as soon as you're aware of the sting. Treatment for bee stings varies from a cold compress and topical steroid creams to live-saving measures such as IV fluids and oxygen supplementation.
Ant bites also cause localized pain and swelling, but typically do not have significant whole-body effects on cats. Ants can crawl on a cat at the contact point between a body part and the ground, so standing cats get bitten on their feet and lounging cats can be bitten anywhere on the body having contact with the floor. Ant bites are often red, raised bumps with or without a small white pocket of pus in the center.
In addition to the skin lesion, itching, limping, or lameness are the most common signs associated with ant bites on cats. Use caution when you have your cat outside, on a patio, or inside a home where ants might live. Using a steroid or antihistamine cream might be prescribed, based on your cat’s symptoms. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on what remedies are best to use for ant bites on your cat.
How to Keep Cats Safe from Common Bug Bites
Bug bites in cats can be prevented with different repellents, but keep in mind that cats are very sensitive to certain chemicals. Avoid the use of pesticides in your home. It is extremely important that you speak to your veterinarian before using any bug bite treatments, preventions, or products in your home or on your cat. Making sure your cat and all other pets are safe is the best way to avoid most bites and stings. If possible, limit your cat’s time outdoors, especially during times when bugs are most prevalent. If your cat does spend time outdoors, always thoroughly inspect their fur and skin for any bugs, bug bites, or stings. Make sure that your yard and home are routinely treated with pet-safe products to help decrease the incidence of bug bites.
Featured Image:iStock.com/Iva Vagnerova
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