Parasites are important concerns of pet cats because there will always be the possibility that they can become infected. Harboring parasites can affect their health and comfort in a variety of ways--from simple irritation to life-threatening issues if appropriate medical intervention is not given immediately. Some parasites are capable of carrying and transmitting diseases to people.
Generally, cats that are confined indoors have fewer parasites compared to cats that spend time outdoors. Regardless of whether you have an outdoor or indoor cat, regular deworming is very important. Parasites are ubiquitous and they can easily multiply and infest not only your pets but your house and immediate surroundings as well.
Types Of Parasites In Cats
Parasites in cats are grouped into 2 major categories -- internal and external parasites.
Heartworms are parasites that are transmitted by mosquitoes. Infection occurs when infected mosquitoes deposit infected heartworm larvae as they feed on the blood of cats. Although cats are not at greater risk for heartworm infection compared to dogs, heartworm disease in cats is generally severe and life-threatening when symptoms are manifested.
Signs of heartworm disease in cats
- Difficulty breathing
- Falling over
The 2 most common roundworms that affect cats are Toxascaris leonina and Toxocara cati. Higher rates of infestation occur in kittens. Roundworms can grow to a length of 3-5 inches as adults. They live on the intestines of cats and thrive by eating food that has been consumed by their host. When adult female roundworms lay eggs, these are eliminated with the cat’s feces. During heavy infestations, you may find white worms in cat poop which are actually adult roundworms.
Signs of roundworms in cats
- Kittens may suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or constipation.
- A heavy parasite load can lead to severe anemia which is potentially life-threatening.
- Stomach rupture may occur in extreme cases.
How do cats get roundworms?
- Ingesting parasite eggs from the environment.
- Eating rodents with roundworm larvae in their tissues. Rodents are important transport hosts of Toxocara cati.
- Kittens can get infective larvae of Toxoara cati that pass through the milk of an infected queen. Toxascaris leonina cannot cross the placenta or be eliminated in the queen’s milk.
Hookworm species that affect cats are Ancylostoma and Uncinaria. They are so-called because they have hooks in their mouth that they use to anchor themselves to the lining of the intestines where they feed on the blood of their host. In severe cases, cats can die from severe anemia.
How do cats get hookworms?
The common route of infection of adult cats is by active penetration of the hookworm larvae through the skin. Ingestion is also an important avenue of acquiring the parasite.
Symptoms of hookworms in cats
- Weight loss
- Black, tarry feces caused by the presence of digested blood
These parasites are so-called because their flat bodies look like a tape or ribbon. A tapeworm’s body is composed of several segments that are filled with eggs. Once the eggs inside a segment mature, the segment detaches from the worm’s body and are shed off with the feces. These are the worms in cats that look like rice. The mature eggs become important sources of infection.
Tapeworms don’t cause significant disease in cats. These parasites are acquired when cats ingest infected fleas while grooming or by eating rodents that are harboring tapeworms. Fleas and rodents are important intermediate hosts. They get tapeworm by ingestion of tapeworm eggs that are present in the environment. Adult tapeworms in cats feed on the nutrients that are eaten by the host by embedding their head into the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
Can I get worms from my cat?
Toxocara sp. can infect people and can cause serious damage to various organs of the body including the eyes when larvae migrate through the body tissues. Although rare, these can have serious implications in young children.
The larvae of Ancylostoma can penetrate the skin of people who have close contact with soil that is contaminated with parasite eggs. The migration of larvae through the skin tissues causes a condition called “cutaneous larval migrans”. Affected people suffer from itching and skin irritation. There may also be track-like lesions that appear like long lines on the person’s skin.
Some species of feline tapeworms can cause disease in humans when eggs are ingested.
Tips For Control Of Internal Parasites In Cats
The cornerstone of an effective parasite control program for cats is regular heartworm preventatives and worming medications coupled with appropriate flea and/or tick products. Medications should be given regularly to ensure optimum protection of pet cats not only during certain seasons but throughout the year. Here are other tips to help keep your furball healthy and free from parasites:
- Your cat’s annual health and wellness checks are important opportunities for pets to undergo a thorough examination by a veterinarian. Avoid skipping or postponing your pet’s annual checks just because he appears active and healthy. These visits are an important way to spot early signs of disease so they can be nipped in the bud before serious complications set in and they become more complicated to treat.
- Your cat should undergo periodic stool examination and heartworm tests. Ask your veterinarian about these tests.
- Avoid feeding raw meat to your pet.
- Make sure your pet has easy access to fresh clean water.
- Deworm kittens regularly. The first dose is given when they’re 2 weeks old and repeated every 2 weeks until they are 8 weeks old. Monthly deworming is then given until the kittens are 6 months old.
- Queens should be dewormed before breeding to reduce the chance of kittens getting infected.
- Nursing mother cats (queens) should be dewormed too because they can pass off parasite larvae to their offspring through their milk.
- Proper litter box maintenance and observing good hygiene and sanitation.
- Regular flea prevention to reduce the risk of tapeworm infection.
- Controlling the rodent population because they are important intermediate and/or transport hosts of parasites.
- Observe control measures for mosquitoes as they are important carriers of heartworms.
External Parasites In Cats
The most common parasites that affect cats are fleas and ticks. Their eggs can be deposited in every nook and cranny in your home and can survive for several months until such time that favorable conditions occur for their continued development until they can infect pets. You should consult with your veterinarian about the best way to protect your pet from fleas and ticks.
These pesky parasites cause intense itching especially in cats that are prone to flea allergies. They also feed on the blood of cats. In heavy infestations, cats can develop anemia which can be life-threatening, especially in kittens. Fleas are also important carriers of tapeworm eggs and bacterial pathogens that can eventually give rise to other health problems.
Cat ticks thrive by sucking the blood of their hosts. When cats venture in woodlands and grassy areas, ticks can attach to their hair coat as they pass through the grasses.
How do indoor cats get parasites? Outdoor cats can bring ticks indoors which can infect other cats. If your cat is allowed outdoors, you should check him for ticks regularly. If you don’t know how to remove a tick properly, you should ask your veterinarian to show you how. You should be careful when removing a tick to avoid squeezing the body or leaving its head stuck under the cat’s skin. There are also tweezers that can be used for the purpose.
Pet owners need to work closely with veterinarians in making a parasite preventive program that will give your feline pets adequate protection from internal and external parasites. Protecting your pets will also be a proactive way of protecting your family from illnesses that can be transmitted by parasites.