As cat owners, there’s plenty we can do to protect our pets from troublesome pests. With the help of veterinary expert Brian Faulkner, we get the facts about fleas, mites, worms and ticks.
As well as making life extremely uncomfortable for your pet, cat parasites can, in some cases, lead to severe health problems. Although these pesky critters can affect cats all year round, they’re most prevalent in the spring and autumn. Read on for our guide to the most common types of parasitic infection – and find out how to tackle them.
The most common skin parasite in cats, adult fleas feed by sucking cats’ blood, leaving them uncomfortable, itchy and sore. Flea infestations can pose serious health risks such as anaemia, due to the amount of blood lost (this can be particularly serious in kittens). Some cats are allergic to flea saliva, which can lead to inflamed skin and hair loss from over-grooming, plus thickened, crusty skin or small scabs. Fleas can also transmit another cat parasite – tapeworms – if they’re ingested.
To find out whether your cat has fleas, place her on a white sheet of paper or kitchen towel and carefully comb her fur using a fine-toothed comb. If you see small brown specks, it’s likely to be fleas and their droppings.
There are many different types of products that will help to keep cat fleas at bay, including flea collars, shampoos, sprays, foams, powders and tablets. Ask your vet for advice about which products are safe and effective. And be sure to treat all pets, due to the fleas’ ability to reproduce and move around the home.
It is crucial to recognise that 95% of the flea lifecycle occurs within the environment, as opposed to on your pet. You will also need to control an infestation by spraying and thoroughly vacuuming your house – particularly in the areas where your cat spends most of its time. It’s always best to prevent fleas in the first place by using regular flea treatments.
Blood-sucking ticks usually live in grassy or wooded areas and will jump onto warm-blooded animals, such as cats, as they pass by. Attaching themselves using their mouths, these parasites bite into cats’ skin and gorge on their blood. They can cause a reaction on the skin, and even pass on nasty infections such as Lyme disease.
If your cat has one or more ticks lurking in their fur, they’ll feel like small lumps, which will get bigger the longer they’re left to feed. Ticks usually attach themselves to areas around the head, ears, neck and feet. You can get rid of these nasty critters using a special tick-removing tool, to prevent the head remaining embedded in your cat’s skin. Ask your vet for help with this if needs be – and for products that can prevent ticks in the first place.
Our cats can be affected by many kinds of parasitic worms, but the three most common are roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. All of these can live inside a cat’s gut, so you are unlikely to see them. Signs to look for in your cat include weight loss, diarrhoea, a dull coat, irritation or excessive grooming around her bottom, and digested blood in her droppings.
The most common worm, they live inside a cat’s intestine and feed on digested food. They also pass through a mother’s milk to her kittens.
These tiny parasites feed on a cat’s blood, and can be transferred through contaminated water or soil, or the faeces of other infected animals.
Tapeworms use intermediate hosts, including fleas and rodents. They absorb pre-digested food inside the bowel and then pass small segments of tapeworm in an infected cat’s droppings.
Some worm-related diseases can be passed on to humans, too, so using a regular preventative treatment on your cat is your best option for keeping your family and pets safe. Speak to your vet about protecting your cat against worms, starting when she’s a kitten. Different products need to be used at different frequencies, with many requiring a monthly frequency. But it is recommended that adult cats receive treatment for roundworms and tapeworms at least every three months.
Ear mites are just visible to the naked eye. They are highly contagious and cause a range of skin conditions, including irritation of the ear canal, resulting in large amounts of earwax.
If your cat starts shaking her head more than normal or scratching her ears with her paws, she may have ear mites. Her ears may look red and inflamed, and you might notice a lot of dark wax. Dark flecks could be a sign of mite droppings.
Ask your vet about suitable treatments – they may recommend drops and spot-on products to resolve the problem as well as ongoing preventative measures. It is important that other pets are treated at the same time, as they can pass mites on to each other, even if the signs aren’t always visible.
Can indoor cats get parasites?
Indoor cats aren’t immune to parasites, although they’re at less risk of picking them up. Other pets and people can carry them inside, so be sure to use preventative treatments on indoor cats, also.
Download our handy guide to common pests for an overview of how to spot them, as well as prevention tips.