Aside from making life extremely uncomfortable, parasites can cause severe health problems for your cat. Scratching and biting to relieve the itching can result in infection, while some pests also transmit serious diseases. Here is a guide to the most common parasitic infestations and how to manage them.
The tiny, brown-black adult flea feeds from your pet by sucking its blood. Many cats are highly allergic to flea saliva, suffering intense itching, skin inflammation and small scabs on the skin.
Fleas are usually easy to spot. If you’re not sure whether your cat has them, try grooming him or her with a fine-toothed comb over a moist, white kitchen towel. If the droppings turn into reddish-brown dots, your cat is likely to have fleas.
Your vet can advise you on a safe and effective treatment. You will also need to spray and vacuum your house thoroughly to prevent fleas coming back, especially areas where your cat plays and sleeps.
Prevention is much easier than dealing with an established infestation, so make sure all cats and dogs in the household are regularly dosed with a good-quality flea treatment.
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that attach themselves to your cat’s skin – especially while roaming in long grass or woodland. It’s important to remove ticks promptly as they can pass on unwanted disease and may cause a reaction when they attach.
Removing ticks safely is harder than it sounds and is best done with a tick-removing tool as otherwise the head can remain embedded in your cat’s skin. Your vet can help you with this and recommend an appropriate preventative product.
Types of worms include:
- Roundworms – very common, particularly among kittens as they can be transferred via the mother cat’s milk.
- Hookworms – a type of roundworm, these are small intestinal worms transferred via contaminated water or soil and can be dangerous to young animals.
- Tapeworms – tapeworm eggs are passed on to your cat via fleas and vermin they have eaten.
These all live in the gut and can cause irritation and diarrhoea.
You won’t normally see an adult worm, although a tapeworm segment is sometimes spotted wriggling around a cat’s bottom.
Worm-related disease can pose a risk to humans, particularly to children if they become infected through contaminated soil, so prompt treatment is important. Weight loss, dry and coarse fur and worms in the poo are all indications that a cat is infected but often cats don’t show outward signs of worms (which is why a regular preventative treatment is best).
From about six weeks old, cats require monthly worming to prevent against roundworms (including hookworms). From six months, they need treatment for roundworms and tapeworms every three months.
Ear mites are spread by direct contact with another cat or via infected bedding.
Mites irritate the inside of a cat’s ear, so if your cat flicks his or her ears frequently, or has a lot of ear wax, they may well be suffering from ear mites.
If you’re concerned, then take your cat to see the vet as he or she can treat and control mite infestations.