Our feline friends typically enjoy a cushy life indoors, and are less likely to develop parasitic infections spurred by their hunting habits. However, many internal and external parasites can be carried inside, and these pests can cause disease or infection in your cat. Read on to understand how parasites can take hold of your cat, and how you can protect your furry pal from disease.
What are common parasitic diseases in cats?
Parasites that commonly affect cats are typically divided into two categories—internal and external. The most common internal parasites in cats include:
- Roundworms — Roundworms can cause a pot-bellied appearance, diarrhea, dull hair coat, and a failure to gain weight or weight loss. You may also see the worms—they look like spaghetti—in your cat’s stool or vomit, more commonly in kittens.
- Tapeworms — Cats rarely show tapeworm infection signs. Instead, pet owners may see rice-grain-like tapeworm segments in their cat’s feces, or stuck to their tail fur.
- Hookworms — Hookworms attach to intestinal walls and feed off your cat’s blood, causing anemia, bloody stool, diarrhea, and weight loss.
- Lungworms — Different lungworm species affect specific lung and respiratory tract areas, and can lead to coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and nasal discharge.
- Heartworms — Although heartworms prefer dogs as their hosts more than cats, they can still cause your cat serious, potentially fatal, disease. Signs may appear similar to asthma, but can also include difficulty walking, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and sudden death.
Roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms reside in the intestinal tract, sourcing their nutrients by leaching from your cat’s intestinal walls. Lungworms and heartworms affect their namesake organs, although heartworms can also be found in the large blood vessels surrounding the heart and lungs.
External parasites you may find on your cat include:
- Fleas — Adult fleas live on your cat’s skin, feeding on their blood and laying eggs that drop off into the environment. A flea infestation can take months to fully eradicate, and may cause a severe allergic reaction in your cat.
- Ticks — Ticks attach to your cat’s skin to feed and can transmit numerous diseases that can cause serious illness.
- Mange and ear mites — Mites live on your cat’s skin or in their ears, causing intense itching. Mites can be contagious to people and other pets.
- Lice — Lice are generally species-specific, live in your cat’s fur, and cause itching.
How do cats get parasites?
Cats are somewhat protected from parasites because most live solely indoors, but owners and dogs can inadvertently expose and transmit internal and external parasites to cats through:
- Exposure to contaminated feces
- Outside time including balconies, front steps, patios
- Ingesting fleas, rodents, snails, frogs, birds, and cockroaches
- Mosquito bites
- Drinking contaminated water
- Contact with another infected pet
- Walking through tall grass, weeds, or brush
Tracking in contaminated feces on your shoes, failing to repair a window screen hole, and forgetting your dog’s flea preventive can all allow your cat to become infected with parasites.
How are parasites diagnosed in cats?
Parasitic infections in cats are typically diagnosed by examining their blood, feces, or urine, and a physical examination of the cat. Your cat’s exposure history and their clinical signs will guide our veterinarian toward the appropriate diagnostic test, which may be:
- A heartworm test — We can determine if your cat has a heartworm infection from a few blood drops.
- A tick-borne illness test — Tick-borne illnesses are generally detected through a blood test.
- A fecal flotation — We analyze a fecal flotation, which allows parasitic eggs to float to the top of a diluted fecal sample, for intestinal parasites.
- A tracheal or lung wash — We flush sterile fluid into your cat’s trachea and lungs, suction the fluid back out, and then examine the fluid for lungworms and other pathogens.
- A skin scraping — We use a dull blade to scrape off skin cells and fur that we then examine for mange mites.
- An ear cytology — An ear swab provides a debris sample that we can check under the microscope for ear mites.
- Flea combing — A special comb can pick up live fleas and flea dirt (i.e., flea excrement).
Fortunately, many parasitic diseases can be treated with the appropriate medication. However, prevention is the best medicine—oral chews and topical applications can protect your feline friend from a wide range of parasites, both internal and external, and should be used year-round for maximum efficacy.
Many parasitic diseases are zoonotic, meaning you can contract them from your cat, so you must protect you, your cat, and your entire family. Contact Just Cats Clinic to discuss the best parasite preventive options.