How to Control Parasites in Your Cat
Fleas, ticks, heartworms and intestinal worms – for their small size, these parasites pack a lot of misery for you and your pet. Besides driving your faithful companion crazy, they pose a hazard to animals and people.
Fortunately, you're not without the means to fight back. What follows are guidelines and recommendations to keep your household safe and happy.
Know the Enemy
The first thing is to know what you're up against:
- Intestinal Parasites.
Watching a flea-bitten pet scratch herself desperately is a heart-rending sight. Fleas are a common problem for cats, dogs and people, who can also be bitten. As if the bite wasn't bad enough, many cats are allergic to fleas; even a trivial infestation can lead to the skin disease dermatitis.
When a flea bites your cat, it injects a small amount of saliva into the skin to prevent blood coagulation. Some animals may have fleas without showing discomfort, but an unfortunate number of cats become sensitized to this saliva. In highly allergic animals, the bite of a single flea can cause severe itching and scratching. Fleas cause the most common skin disease of cats – Flea Allergy Dermatitis. Read about other concerns regarding fleas in The Dangers of Fleas in Cats.
Heartworms are not just a disease for dogs. Cats can also become infected. All it takes is one bite from a mosquito carrying a heartworm larva. In time, the larva develops into a full-fledged adult worm, finding a home in the arteries of the lungs. Without treatment, cats with heartworm disease will become lethargic, lose their appetite and begin to have difficulty breathing. Heart failure can also occur. For more information, see Feline Heartworm Disease.
The Battle Plan
- Preventing Intestinal Parasites.
- Fighting Fleas and Ticks.
Even minor flea bites can cause severe reactions in some pets. Though the itching component to flea-allergy can be treated with antihistamines or even corticosteriods (prescribed by your veterinarian), the best approach is to kill the flea and prevent its return. There are many products available to treat flea infestations. Some of the over-the-counter powders, sprays and collars (such as those from Hartz® or Sergeants®) contain pyrethrin, which is moderately effective.
You must be very careful to only use products designed and approved for cats. Several over-the-counter products for use in dogs are toxic, and potentially fatal, to cats.
The best flea products are prescription, such as Program® (lufenuron). If your cat already has fleas, then you need to kill them first with a product like Capstar® brand of nitenpyram, Frontline brand of fipronil or Advantage® brand of imidacloprid. These have residual effects that can also control ticks. A new product, Revolution®, is a topical treatment to prevent external parasites, heartworm and intestinal parasites. Other ideas can be found in Flea Control and Prevention.
In tough cases, you may have to wage all-out war to conquer fleas. This means a comprehensive flea control program, requiring treatment of the pet, the pet's bed, the yard and the house. A variety of sprays, dips, powders, foams and oral products may be recommended.
Ticks are very difficult to control, but a program of tick prevention and meticulously combing and grooming your cat can keep them at bay. See How To Remove and Prevent Ticks for more suggestions.
- Preventing Heartworm Disease.