As a pet parent, you want to make sure your pet’s health is cared for.

Any cat owner knows that fleas can be a challenge, causing your animal discomfort and bringing them ‒ and you ‒ down. But there are many other parasites out there which your cat is susceptible to, and many of us don’t know enough about them. From hookworms to heartworms, these invisible bugs can have serious health implications for your pet, so it’s vital to know the symptoms to look out for and how to avoid infection.

Cats love to venture outdoors, disappearing for hours at a time and travelling great distances. This freedom is what they crave, but it also makes them more likely to come into contact with parasites lurking in vegetation. Most cats will become infected with at least one internal or external parasite in their lifetime, and some of these nasty ailments ‒ if left untreated ‒ could become fatal.

Here you can find information about the most common cat parasites, how to spot them, how to prevent them, and how to treat them most effectively. Being observant and acting fast can be the difference between a quick solution or an enormous veterinary bill ‒ or worse.

 

Ear mites in cats

The most common type of ear mite in cats is known as otodectes cynotis. These microscopic parasites feed on the oil and wax found in a cat’s ears, causing irritation and inflammation. If left untreated, ear mites can cause infections within the inner and outer ear canal. The excessive scratching and head shaking can also lead to aural hematomas (ruptured blood vessels within the ear) or can cause damage to your cat’s ear drum or ear canal. In extreme cases, the secondary conditions caused by ear mites can even lead to deafness, so it’s important to seek advice from your veterinarian as soon as possible if you suspect your cat may be infected with ear mites. What causes ear mites in cats? Ear mites are more common in cats which spend time outdoors. They are highly contagious, so can be easily passed on to other pets living in the household through physical contact or loose pet hair. Kittens are usually more at risk of becoming infected with ear mites, and they are common in places where animals live in close proximity, such as shelters and rescue centers. What are the symptoms of ear mites? The symptoms of ear mites include scratching, head shaking and inflammation. The scratching may lead to hair loss around the ears, and a black discharge which resembles coffee grounds will also appear in and around your cat’s ear. The ear may also produce a waxy discharge and strong odor. How are ear mites diagnosed? You should always obtain a proper diagnosis from your veterinarian if you suspect your cat has an ear infection. Buying medication over the counter and treating your cat for a bacterial or yeast infection instead of ear mites may cause their condition to worsen, and they could potentially develop more serious health problems as a result. To rule out other diseases or conditions, your veterinarian will normally conduct blood tests or skin scrapings. They can also look inside your cat’s ear canal using an otoscope to see if ear mites are present. In some cases, the cat’s ear will be too inflamed for the veterinarian to examine, and so they will prescribe appropriate medication and monitor your cat’s reaction to see whether the inflammation has been caused by the ear mite parasite. How to get rid of ear mites in cats The good news is that ear mites are easy to treat. Your veterinarian will first cleanse your cat’s ears thoroughly before administering a topical medication which will kill the parasite and their eggs. Ear mites are highly contagious, which means all other pets in the household will also need to be treated. You’ll also need to ensure all pet bedding is washed, and carpets, rugs and soft furnishings are vacuumed. Instead of a topical medication, your veterinarian may recommend treating the ear mites with an ear cleanser which contains parasiticides. However, both types of treatment will need to be used over a period of several weeks to ensure all the mites and their eggs are eliminated. If the ear mites have caused a severe ear infection to develop, your veterinarian may prescribe a course of antibiotics. However, aural hematomas often need to be corrected with surgery. Once your cat has completed their treatment for ear mites, your veterinarian will be able to confirm whether all the ear mites have been eradicated and if any infections or wounds have healed fully. How to prevent ear mites in cats Most spot-on flea treatments are also designed to kill ear mites, so staying on top of your parasite control is vital in terms of keeping ear mites at bay. It’s also important to protect your pet’s environment as well as your pet. Washing your cat’s bedding and regularly vacuuming carpets, rugs and upholstery, and treating these areas with flea sprays can also help prevent future outbreaks.

Ticks and your cat

If you own a cat, chances are that your pet will have ticks at some point in his or her life. These tiny, spider-like bugs feed on the blood of cats and other mammals. Not only do they make your cat uncomfortable, but they can also carry nasty illnesses that they can pass onto your cat, or you. On spotting a tick on your pet, the natural instinct is to try to remove it immediately. But it is crucial to remove ticks correctly. Removing a tick incorrectly could leave part of the parasite’s mouthparts in your pet, creating a risk of infection.   So how can you prevent ticks from biting your cat? And what can you do to remove them safely if your feline already has them? Let’s take a look.  How does my cat get ticks?  Ticks are small, spider-like, egg-shaped insects with large bodies and small heads with complex biting mouthparts. Like fleas and other parasites, they feed on the blood of animals, but unlike fleas, they latch on to the flesh and staying there for as long as they can. A range of varieties of tick affect cats, many of them relatively harmless. However, unlike fleas, some forms of tick are responsible for spreading a range of life-threatening diseases among humans and animals, making it essential to eliminate them from your cat, and your home.  The most common routes by which ticks could find their way onto your cat are:  Wildlife: Not being the social creatures that dogs are, and in fact highly territorial, cats are unlikely to pick up ticks from other cats. However, cats love to chase, pray on and toy with small wildlife such as mice and squirrels, which may be carrying the parasites.   People: If you like to spend time outside ‒ hiking in the hills or playing field sports, for example ‒ then you could be the source of your cat’s ticks. Humans can easily carry ticks into the home on clothing or in hair, allowing them to get to your pet. Equally, other pet owners who visit your home might bring unwanted visitors with them.   Vegetation: As a cat owner, you know that our feline friends love to explore. But their adventures can take them through long grass, fields and backyards where ticks are prevalent. This is a common way for your pet to end up bitten by ticks.   What are the symptoms of ticks?  Ticks most commonly feed on cats between the toes, behind the ears, under the legs and around the head and tail, so keep an eye on their behavior and look out for signs of itching and discomfort. Ticks have large white, black or brown bodies, so you should be able to see it attached to your pet’s skin if you inspect the area closely.  How to remove a tick from a cat  Removing ticks is not a simple job. Unlike fleas, the complex mouthparts of ticks are purpose-designed to resist removal, so taking a tick out by force risks leaving part of the critter in your cat’s skin. The body of a tick is also soft, and squeezing could put infected blood back into your animal’s system, leading to illness.   Removing ticks is quick and painless if you know how to do it. With rubber gloves on to avoid being bitten yourself, use a specially designed tick removal hook that you should be able to get from your veterinarian or local pet store. The hook has a narrow slot which needs to be slid under the tick at skin level making sure it’s not tangled in the fur and is securely around the tick’s mouthparts. Then rotate the hook several times to gently easy the mouth parts out of the skin. Bending or twisting could break off the body from the mouthparts, which will then stay lodged in the skin. Place the tick in rubbing alcohol or strong spirit to ensure it is dead, then inspect your dog’s skin closely to check for any remnants. Finish by cleaning the bite with an antiseptic wipe or spray. Petting your cat during the process to keep her calm will make the job easier for you. If another person can help keep your cat still while you work, all the better. If you are at all unsure if you can do this yourself take your cat to your veterinarian who will remove it for you.   How to prevent ticks in cats   The golden rule of tick prevention is to protect your pet’s environment as well as your pet. There is little point clearing your cat of ticks if the house or garden are still a risk.   After finding ticks, with your pet clear of the little biters, clean the house thoroughly. Vacuum all carpets and soft furniture, put the dust bag in a plastic bag and throw it in the trash outside. Just a small infestation can quickly spread as the ticks’ breed.   The same goes for the yard. You might not associate gardening with pest control, but with long grass and wild shrubbery are particularly attractive to ticks so keeping the yard tidy and trimmed short can make a big difference to the risk your cat faces when playing outside.   Consider using tick collars and other preventative products for your cat. These collars and sprays contain odorous chemicals that ticks find unpleasant, deterring them from biting. Combined flea and tick collars are also available for double protection.   Tick paralysis - a silent killer   Typically, the risk posed by ticks to your pet is limited to some discomfort and a possible infection from any previous hosts. But the females of some tick varieties ‒ including the American Dog Tick, Rock Mountain Wood Tick and Deer Tick ‒ secrete a neurotoxin upon biting which leads to tick paralysis. This paralysis begins in the lower extremities and spreads upwards through the body, and can pose a risk to life if it affects your cat’s diaphragm, restricting breathing. If you find a tick on your cat and suspect that paralysis may have taken effect, take your cat to a vet straight away. There are also lots of tickborne diseases which can affect humans, so it’s important to regularly keep on top of pest control in your home and ensure you dispose of any ticks you find on your dog carefully. You can find out more about tickborne disease of the United States here.

Fleas and your cat

Fleas are surely the best known of pet-dwelling parasites, known for making your furry friend itchy and uncomfortable. If you own a cat, chances are your pet has picked up the critters at some point in its life. But how much do you really know about fleas and how best to prevent them? Let’s take a closer look at these microscopic menaces.   How does my cat get fleas?   Fleas are small brown or black jumping insects. They are parasitic, meaning that they feed on the nutrients ‒ namely, blood ‒ of other creatures. Different fleas have adapted to favour different animals for their meals. Not surprisingly, the most common type of flea found on cats is the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis, but rabbit, rat and even human fleas will settle for a cat if they can’t find their preferred mammal to munch on.   The most common routes by which fleas could find their way onto your cat are: Other animals: While the social nature of dogs means that they often pick up fleas from their own species, cats are more at risk from their predatory instincts. Wildlife such as hedgehogs and mice are irresistible playthings to our cats, and they can carry fleas that transfer on contact.   People: You, your friends and your family may unwittingly carry fleas into the home, which then settle and await to make contact with your pet. For example, fleas from another cat might be carried on the pet parent’s clothes when they come to visit.   Adventure: Cats love to explore, often disappearing from the home for hours at a time and covering great distances. This drive to explore is the surest way for your cat to pick up fleas, as she brushes through long grass, bushes and hedgerows.   What are the symptoms of fleas?  Keep an eye on your cat’s behaviour. Fleas bites can vary from mildly irritating to very painful, so if your cat is frequently scratching, shaking their head or grooming their coat excessively, then they may have picked up fleas. If you inspect your cat’s fur close to the skin (a flea comb can help) you may be able to see them. They tend to congregate around the armpits and groin, base of the tail and around the ears – areas where it is most difficult for the cat to dislodge them and it is warm and moist.    How to treat cat fleas  As fleas reproduce quickly, it may not be long before your cat is covered in the critters, so it’s important to treat the infestation as quickly as possible.  Cat fleas can normally be quickly and efficiently removed using a fine-toothed flea comb. When combing, always comb from close to the skin, at the base of the fur and prepare a bowl of hot water and dish soap. Dunk the used comb and clean out any fleas you’ve removed into the mixture to kill them.. This prevents the fleas escaping and spreading once again.  There is also a wide range of specially-designed treatments on the market which can be highly effective in eliminating fleas on cats. These range from exterminating spot-on treatments and flea sprays, to more preventative options such as flea collars that contain repellent scents. But always check with your veterinarian to find out what’s best for your cat. How to prevent cat fleas  The golden rule of flea prevention is to protect your pet’s environment as well as your pet. There is little point clearing your cat of fleas if the house or garden are still infested. The good news is there are several easy steps you can take to help minimize the chances of your cat picking up fleas:   Spray your home and yard: As well as spot-on treatments and flea collars for your pet, there are also carpet and upholstery sprays you can use to kill the eggs and larvae that will be in your home. Remember to spray all your carpets and rugs, behind the cushions, down the back of the couch and along the edges of your fitted carpets as fleas will hide in dark spaces. To be completely effective you need to repeat the treatment 3 or 4 weeks after the first treatment.  Clean your home regularly: If you have found fleas in the home, thoroughly vacuum-clean all carpets, rugs and soft furnishings and throw away the dust bag once you finish to make sure every trace is gone. Sweep or vacuum and mop hard floors, and remember to clean under furniture too. Remember, fleas breed quickly, so even a small infestation left untreated could undo all your hard work.  Wash your cat’s bedding: Fleas love to be where your cat is, so wash all your cat’s bedding and their toys in hot water to kill any eggs, larvae and adult fleas that might be lurking there.   Invest in some flea traps: If fleas occur frequently, consider leaving some flea traps around the home. You can purchase little sticky pads which attract the bugs so they become stuck and eventually die, or a bowl of hot soapy water placed under a bright light overnight can also act as an effective flea trap. But remember, traps can help to eliminate the adult population, but won’t tackle the larvae and eggs in your home, so it’s still important to clean.   Keep the yard tidy: Most of us don’t associate gardening with pest control, but the backyard of your home is an ideal breeding ground for fleas. Use a yard spray to clear your outside space of fleas so you don’t carry them back into the house on your shoes and your cat doesn’t get re-infested.