Although your lap-warmer may seem pawfectly healthy, cat parasites are very common and are definitely cause for concern. These unwanted visitors cause a range of problems for your feline and pose a risk to you as well.
#1: Parasites Cause Failure to Thrive
Parasites are all take and no give. Intestinal worms (endoparasites) are slow-burning infections, harvesting their needs from the cat's gut contents. This causes failure to thrive, also known as 'ill thrift.' Signs of this include:
- A dry, lusterless coat
- Pot belly
- Poor appetite
- Starry ribs, backbone, or pelvis
- Poor growth in kittens
- Bloody diarrhea
Is your cat at risk? Yes! Intestinal worms are acquired:
- In the womb
- In the mother's milk
- From ingesting the eggs or larvae in the environment
- By eating infected raw meat or prey
- Swallowing fleas when grooming
In fact, most kittens acquire a heavy burden of worm eggs from their mother. These encyst in the body and hatch out over the cat's lifetime. However, controlling endoparasite infections couldn't be easier. Your vet offers a range of safe and highly effective products that kill adult worms. Routine worming of indoor cats should be three to four times a year, or more frequently depending on your cat's risk factors.
#2: Some Parasites Are Life Threatening
Numbers count! A heavy infection of any parasite will cause serious complications. For example, the humble roundworm in large numbers can cause a life-threatening bowel obstruction. While bloodsucking fleas can drain a kitten of blood and make them dangerously anemic. This is one reason why routine anti-parasite treatments are important, to keep parasite numbers under control.
Also, some parasites are deadly in themselves. Heartworm does occur in cats but is less common than in dogs. The American Heartworm Society explains cats are not the heartworms' natural host but become 'accidentally' infected. And to complicate matters, the nature of infection in cats makes detection and diagnosis difficult. Worse still, the treatments available for dogs are not safe for cats, making prevention the best policy.
Signs of heartworm in cats include:
- An asthma-like cough
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Sudden death (Sadly, this can be the only sign.)
Current advice is to use a heartworm preventive from kittenhood onward. Speak to your vet about which products are safe at what age.
#3: You Can Get Bit
There's sometimes extra 'ewwww!' about parasites you can see, and some parasites aren't fussy about who they bite. To them, cats or humans make equally tasty prey. Pet Education lists those bugs that like to live on (rather than in) the cat:
- Cheyletiella or 'Walking dandruff'
- Ear mites
What these all have in common is they make the cat itchy. Also, their bites often induce an allergic reaction which creates new problems, such as over-grooming and secondary skin infections. Some bugs can also transmit diseases to the cat, such as fleas that carry tapeworm eggs or the Hemabartonella blood parasite.
What's worse is these guys aren't fussy about who they bite. While fleas can't live off human blood, they will try a taster session to double check. No one wants those itchy red lumps that just have to be scratched. The answer here is to look to the parasites life cycle and keep the home clean so eggs and larvae have nowhere to hide. Also, groom the cat regularly and apply anti-parasite treatments as per the instructions on the packaging.
#4: You Can Get Sick
Many internal parasites are no respecter of species. Some cat parasites have generous personalities and like to share themselves around. This is especially true of single-cell gut parasites such as coccidia and giardia. As VCA Hospitals explain, cats pick up the infection by eating raw meat, vermin or infected feces. Unfortunately, there is a risk of people becoming infected, especially if their cat has diarrhea.
Those cats at greatest risk are those on a raw diet, hunters, or cats kept in unsanitary conditions. A fit, healthy cat may not show signs of infection, while the young, elderly, or sick may develop rancid diarrhea.
Treatment is with fenbendazole or a sulpha antibiotic, with hygiene being of crucial importance. Clear away cat feces promptly and always wash your hands after handling the cat. This is because oocysts can cling to an infected cat's coat and transfer to the owner during petting.
#5: They Can Reach Epidemic Proportions
Like 'em or loathe 'em, parasites are highly successful survivors. Their life cycles make them accomplished at finding their target host where they breed in unbelievable numbers. This is why cat owners should worry about parasites and use regular preventatives. Not convinced?
A great example is the flea. The University of Kentucky tells us a single adult female can lay 50 eggs a day. That single flea may bite the pet up to 400 times in one day, and live for 100 hundred days. That's 40,000 bites right there! To make matters worse, each egg laid matures to an adult in just two to four weeks. Then each pair of fleas can lay 50 eggs a day. In favorable conditions, this leads to mind boggling numbers of fleas in less than one month. Who's scratching now? Other examples include:
Ear mites: VCA Hospitals explain how a cat ear mite develops from egg to adult in three weeks. Then each adult produces eggs continually during its two-week life. Bear in mind these mites are highly contagious to other cats, so things soon get out of control.
- Cheyletiella: The itchy skin parasite known as 'walking dandruff' is on the rise. DVM 360 report how some clinics now see more cases of cheyletiella than they do fleas. The cheyletiella life cycle is complete in just three weeks. In the right circumstances (which hopefully is not your home), cheyletiella can go from first exposure to full infestation in just five weeks.
The message is clear. Regular preventatives can nip an itchy epidemic in the bud!
Prevention Goes a Long Way
There is good cause to be concerned about cat parasites. However, it's also important to keep things in proportion. To keep you and your pet parasite free make sure you regularly give your cat preventive treatments for worms and parasites. Also, don't allow your cat to hunt outside. If you empty litter trays promptly and always wash your hands after petting your cat, you can enjoy your feline companion without worrying about icky parasites.