They’re everywhere and it’s up to you to stop them.
Your feline friend unknowingly depends on you to protect his health and comfort level from the vast number of parasitic creatures that prey on cats. In fact, parasite control represents one of the most important preventative health measures you can undertake as a cat owner to help maintain your meowing companion’s well-being.
Mites, 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 feline crazy with itching and other symptoms, they pose a hazard to both pets and people, as some parasites are transmissible to humans as well.
Fortunately, you’re not without the means to fight back. When you know what you’re up against, the proper approach to parasite control and prevention can work wonders, eliminating unwanted hosts from seeking refuge within your feline’s warm, furry coat. Here’s your guide to parasite control for your cat.
Ear Mites in Cats
If you observe your cat shaking his head and scratching his ears excessively, or if there’s an abnormal odor emanating from his ears, he may be suffering from ear mites. Ear mites are the most common mite to infest cats – almost 90 percent of all cats become infested – and they are very contagious, usually spreading to all felines within the household.
Ear mites are tiny crab-like parasites that live in the ear canal and head of cats, and sometimes their bodies. Symptoms of feline ear mites include:
- Irritation, head-shaking, and scratching
- Increased earwax
- Thick, black crusty ear discharge
- Skin lesions on or around the ears
Your veterinarian may begin treatment by cleaning out your cat’s ears before applying medication. Additionally, your vet may prescribe medication for use at home. You can help prevent ear mites by drying your cat’s ears after bathing, checking his ears for foreign matter, and promptly visiting your veterinarian at the first sign of trouble.
Flea Control and Prevention
The flea is a common problem for cats as well as their owners. Like all parasites, fleas pose a health-hazard to your feline and can make him miserable. As if flea bites aren’t bad enough, some cats are “flea allergic” and develop severe itching because they’re hypersensitive to the antigens in flea saliva.
Fleas are typically seasonal within northern climates and year-round within southern climates. Indicators your cat might be affected include visible signs of fleas, an excessive propensity to itch or chew the skin, evidence of flea “dirt” (black pepper type discharge on the skin), and the presence of skin lesions.
The itching component to a flea allergy can be treated with antihistamines or even steroids prescribed by your veterinarian, but the best approach is to kill the fleas and prevent their return. Preventative strategies include:
- Minimize roaming in places like parks and fields where exposure and infection are possible.
- Monitor all pets in your household for evidence of fleas on a regular basis.
- Utilize topical or ingestible flea control products that prevent development of this parasite.
How to Remove and Prevent Ticks
Control and prevention of ticks is extremely important in reducing the risk of disease associated with these parasites. As such, you should remove ticks from your feline as soon as possible. The best recommendation to remove a tick involves using tweezers or a commercially available tick removal device to pull the tick off your cat. Wear gloves to help prevent the transmission of diseases.
Tick avoidance requires staying away from environments that harbor these parasites, meaning extra care should be taken in woodlands and areas with tall grass. When traveling, be aware that certain areas of the country have a much higher incidence of ticks.
Ticks can be eliminated by applying topical tick-killing medications to affected felines. Tick collars or products applied topically may act to prevent attachment of new ticks and to promote detachment of existing ticks. There are many products on the market used to control ticks – consult your veterinarian for suggestions.
Intestinal Parasites in Cats
Parasitic diseases range from trivial to fatal. Intestinal parasites can cause severe disease in immature kittens, sick or debilitated pets, or in pets with a suppressed immune system. It should be emphasized that some parasites – especially roundworms and hookworms – can also affect people, especially children. For that reason, it’s essential to prevent intestinal parasites in our pets and to treat any resultant infection.
To minimize your outdoor cat’s risk, clean up your yard weekly and minimize roaming in places like parks where exposure and infection are possible. Many health care specialists also recommend submitting a fecal sample for all adult cats at least annually. Treatments for intestinal parasites may include one or more of the following options:
- Routine deworming in kittens
- A yearly fecal check and treatment by your veterinarian
- Fluid therapy, blood transfusion, or iron supplementation
Heartworm Disease in Cats
Heartworm disease is a serious and fatal disease of the heart and lungs caused by a parasite that’s transmitted by mosquitoes. Historically, heartworm disease in cats has been given less consideration than in dogs because the feline incidence is so much lower compared to canines and the diagnosis is more difficult.
Treatment of heartworm disease in cats can be complicated, consisting of either adulticide treatment (killing the worms in the heart and lungs) or conservative treatment (intermittent corticosteroid therapy). However, preventative medicine represents the best course of action. There are several common drugs used to prevent heartworm disease in cats, and it’s worthwhile to consult your veterinarian to determine which one is best for your feline.
Resources for Feline Parasite Control
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