Parasite Prevention for Cats

Posted May 29, 2018 @ 12:42pm | by Beth Bruns, DVM

Summer has arrived in all its glory…but so have the parasites! While most cat owners know that outdoor cats are at risk of parasitic infections, many do not realize that indoor cats can also benefit from parasite control. 

There are many safe, highly-effective parasite prevention products on the market. The two main rules to remember when using a product on your cat is: 

  1. NEVER use a product containing permethrin. This ingredient is highly toxic and may cause muscle tremors, seizures, and even death in cats.
  2. NEVER apply a product labeled for dogs to your cat. Your cat will either have too high a dose of the active ingredient or more often, it will contain some kind of permethrin. 

If you have dogs and cats in the same household, ask your family veterinarian about the safest preventative options for a multi-pet household. 

So, what parasites do cat owners need to be concerned about? Here are the main three:


Ectoparasites
Ectoparasites live on the outside of their host. Fleas and ticks are the most common and concerning ectoparasites! Besides the discomfort from itching and scratching, fleas and ticks can cause many other serious problems:

  • Fleas can pass on disease to your cat such as Mycoplasma haemofelis. This is a parasite carried by fleas that can cause life-threatening anemia.
  • Ticks, most famous in Minnesota for carrying Lyme disease, may hitch a ride indoors on your cat, detach, and then feed on a person, thereby transmitting disease. 

Flea and tick infestations are generally easy to recognize because the parasite is visible. However, fleas in very low numbers may be very hard to find, or you may only notice “flea dirt.” Like normal dirt, flea dirt can look like black pepper sprinkled on your pet’s skin. Since fleas feed on blood, they pass dried blood as fecal material – or flea dirt. Flea dirt can be differentiated from normal dirt by placing it on a damp paper towel. Since it is dried blood, flea dirt will turn the towel red. Nymphal stages of ticks can also be very difficult to spot as they can be as small as the head of a pin. 

Treatment: Flea and tick preventatives range from powders to collars, sprays or topical drops, and even oral medications. We encourage you to discuss the multiple options with your family veterinarian to determine which product would be best for your pet. 


Heartworm Disease
When many think of heartworm disease, they think it’s only a serious problem in dogs. Although it’s certainly more common in dogs, heartworm disease can also affect cats. Testing for heartworm disease in cats is much more difficult. If a cat becomes infested, a single adult worm can lead to sudden death in your pet.

Symptoms of heartworm disease in cats include: rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, coughing (sometimes coughing up blood), lethargy, weight loss, or exercise intolerance. The majority of the time, there are no clinical signs. Diagnosis is made via a combination of physical exam findings, x-rays, bloodwork, and sometimes an echocardiogram. 

Treatment: There is no safe treatment for infected cats. Veterinarians can only provide supportive care in an effort to treat the symptoms. For these reasons, we strongly recommend that ALL cats, whether indoor or outdoor, be protected against heartworm disease. There are several options for heartworm prevention, some even prevent or treat other parasitic infections at the same time. Talk to your family veterinarian to find out which option is best for your cat. 


Intestinal Worms
When many people think of parasites, they conjure up thoughts of intestinal worms. Parasites such as roundworms, whipworms, or hookworms may cause gastrointestinal symptoms in cats such as reluctance to eat, vomiting, or diarrhea. The concerning part though is that some of the intestinal parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms, are zoonotic. This means that people can become infected through ingestion of fecal contamination. These worms can then wreak havoc in the human body. 

Treatment: Intestinal parasites are generally easy to detect through a fecal flotation test that your veterinarian can perform. They are also very easy to treat with one of the many “deworming” products available. The good news is that many of these products are combined with preventatives for heartworm as well as fleas and ticks. 

Establishing a good parasite control program is just as important for indoor cats as it is for outdoor cats. Please discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your family veterinarian to help keep your cherished cat, as well as your family, safe from parasites!  
 

 
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