Parasites in Cats
If you’ve ever brought up a new kitten or adopted an adult cat from a shelter or barn, you probably have encountered some kind of parasites. Parasites are small creatures that live off of your cat for their nourishment. Some parasites like fleas, ticks and mites are external, while others like worms are internal. Minor parasite infestations are very common and easily treated. Left untreated the parasites will continue to breed and multiply which can lead to a decline in health for your cat.
Ticks come in a variety of sizes and colors. Some can be as large as a pea and easily spotted while others are very small. If your cat goes outdoors it is a good idea to check them all over for ticks on a regular basis. Feel all over your cat’s body for any small bumps and take a good look to make sure your cat is tick free. If you do see a tick, remove it with tweezers or a tick removal tool. When ticks latch onto your cat’s skin they imbed their head into the cat’s flesh so you need to make sure you get the entire tick out and kill it. Ticks can attach themselves to humans too so if you live in an area with a lot of ticks be careful to check yourself as well!
Fleas are tiny brown bugs that can be very difficult to see on your cat. They move very quickly and can jump very far. If your notice your cat is especially itchy, the best way to check for fleas is to brush your cat on a light colored surface or piece of white paper. After the brushing spray water over the surface. If you cat has fleas the grooming will brush off “flea dirt” that will be visible on the white surface. “Flea dirt” is actually feces from the fleas and since fleas eat blood, the feces will leave little red stains when wet. Flea baths are the best way to get rid of fleas, but you will also need to do a thorough cleaning of your home and the cat’s bedding to get rid of any remaining eggs.
Ear mites are also very common in kittens or newly adopted cats. They are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but easily recognized if a cat has very dirty ears and the wax is a dark color. Your vet can diagnose ear mites by doing a swabbing and looking at the dark wax under a microscope. If you cat does have ear mites they are easily treated with a prescription ear drop from your vet. Cats can also get skin mites which cause itchy skin and can be diagnosed by a skin scraping from your vet.
Cats can get worms from sharing a living environment with infected animals, from raw meat and even from fleas. There is a wide variety of types of worms that can infect your cat including roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, and coccidia. Heartworm was always a condition thought to affect dogs, but cases of feline heartworm are becoming more common as well. The first symptoms of worms that you will notice is that your cat is very hungry, constantly eating and not appearing to put on any weight, except for in their distended belly. That’s because the worms are stealing the nutrients in your cat’s food! Cats with worms also get diarrhea and may scoot their irritated bum across the floor. If the worms grow into larva, they can be visible in your cat’s feces or in the fur around your cat’s rear end. When you bring your cat to the veterinarian they usually will ask you to bring in a fecal sample. The purpose of the fecal sample is to check it for worm eggs under the microscope. If your cat does have worms they are easily treated with some oral medication from your vet.
Regular veterinary exams will help protect your cat from serious parasite infection because your vet will be able to detect any problems before they get too large. Preventative topical medications are a good way to help prevent external parasites, but they are not 100% effective so still be sure to keep an eye out for fleas & ticks!