By Dr. Becker
Purveyors of pet pest prevention products would have you believe the average housecat is crawling with fleas, ticks, mites, intestinal parasites, and other assorted creepy-crawlies. But the truth is that if your feline family member never goes outdoors, there’s not much chance she’ll run into any bugs at all.
Now, it should go without saying that if you also have dogs that run in and out all day, or you’re in the habit of bringing home strange cats and giving them access to your kitty, it can change the equation. In that case, your indoor cat is certainly at higher risk for acquiring pests and parasites.
Another situation in which your housecat can be exposed to bugs is if she goes on walks with you, or if you’ve provided her with one of those very cool outdoor enclosures to enjoy in nice weather.
In case your cat IS potentially exposed to parasites, here are some relatively common ones to watch out for. And you’ll notice the recommendations I offer for preventing pests typically do NOT include using chemicals on or in your cat. I don’t like chemical preventives for any pet, but kitties in particular can quickly succumb if given the wrong drug or the wrong dose, so I suggest you avoid them for your kitty.
Fleas can be a special concern if you have a very young kitten, because an infestation can lead to anemia and other problems much more quickly than in a healthy adult cat. Fleas can also transmit other parasites like tapeworms, and infectious diseases like bartonellosis.
If you suspect your cat has fleas, a flea comb is the safest and best method for removing them. Comb your cat at least daily on a white or light colored towel so you can see what comes off him. Then drop the combings into a bowl of soapy water and flush it down the toilet. And even when you’re no longer seeing fleas or flea residue on your cat, it’s a good idea to continue to comb him each day until you’re sure his environment is completely flea free.
You’ll also want to try bathing your cat if you’re fighting a flea infestation. Fleas don’t like clean animals, and water will drown any of the remaining critters on your pet’s body.
For much more information on fighting a flea infestation: These Natural Flea-Busters Help Your Pet Enjoy Summer More.
As we all know, ticks are particularly nasty little buggers that attach themselves to the skin of animals (including humans) to feast on blood. Ticks can transmit a number of bacterial and viral agents to your cat that can result in serious diseases, including tularemia and hemobartonellosis.
During tick season, if your cat goes outdoors, you should brush her coat regularly – at least daily if she’s outside every day – and search for ticks attached to her body. If you discover a tick, remove it with tweezers or a specially designed tick removal tool. Grasp the tick under the body and close to the head where it’s stuck to your pet’s skin. Apply steady pressure to pull it out, taking care to remove the entire thing. The safest way to dispose of ticks is by dropping them into a bottle of alcohol and tightly sealing it before disposing of it. I also recommend wearing gloves to prevent touching the tick, and washing your hands afterwards.
For more tips on preventing a tick-borne infection: Do You Make This Tick-Inviting Mistake?
Giardiasis is much more common in dogs than cats, but if your kitty spends time outside and comes in contact with the poop of an infected animal or contaminated water, it’s a possibility.
Often giardiasis causes no symptoms, but when it does, the signs are GI-related, including diarrhea and vomiting. In my experience, the giardia parasite is the root cause of many cases of chronic GI inflammation in pets. Several of my patients who are referred for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) were giardia-positive as puppies or kittens. I also see many referrals for chronic GI issues like persistent diarrhea or malabsorption who test positive for giardia.
To prevent a giardia infection in your cat, take a few precautions. Don’t house your pet in close quarters with other potentially infected animals. Clean up your cat’s poop outdoors, and don’t allow him access to areas whether other animals relieve themselves. Don’t allow your cat to drink from outdoor water sources.
For more information: Giardia: Could Your Pet Be Harboring This Miserable Little Parasite?
Roundworms are unfortunately one of the most common intestinal parasites in cats. Your kitty can acquire a roundworm infestation by ingesting infected poop. The infection can also be passed from a pregnant cat to her babies across the placenta, causing the kittens to be born with the infection.
Roundworms are large, averaging about 3-6 inches in length, and are shaped like spaghetti. They move freely within the intestine and can lay 100,000 eggs in a single day, creating a full-blown infestation in your cat before you know they’re there.
Roundworms typically don’t cause significant symptoms in heathy cats, but in large numbers they can cause life-threatening problems in kittens and debilitated older cats. A heavy infestation can even cause blockage of the intestine.
If you suspect your pet has been exposed, you should collect a stool sample and drop it by your veterinarian’s office for analysis. Usually a deworming medication is the only treatment needed.
Ear mites are microscopic parasites that infest the ears of pets. Cats are much more commonly affected than dogs -- especially kittens and outdoor cats. The infestation is spread when an animal with ear mites comes in direct contact with your cat.
Otodectes cynotis, the most common type of ear mite seen in companion animals, is a tiny, eight-legged parasite that lives out the majority of its three-week life cycle inside your cat’s ear canals, feeding on wax and oils. These mites cause itching, irritation, inflammation, and infection. In fact, they account for about half of all feline ear infections. A telltale sign of an ear mite infection is a dark discharge from the ears that looks like coffee grounds.
Ear mite infestations are highly contagious, so if you have a multi-pet household, you’ll need to treat all your furry family members simultaneously, even if only one is symptomatic. Otherwise, it’s likely they’ll pass the problem around. Also be sure to clean all pet bedding thoroughly.
For more information: Could Ear Mites Be the Reason for Your Pet's Itchy Ears?