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6 Common Parasites in Cats

There are a number of parasitic infections that can affect your cat. Here’s what you need to know about parasites in cats and what you can do to prevent and treat infections they may have.

Cheyletiella

Also known as walking dandruff, these parasitic mites infect all breeds of cats. They cause the formation of scales similar to dandruff as well as itchiness, inflammation, redness, and crusty patches. When present in large numbers, you may even be able to see the small white mites moving over the surface of the skin (hence the name walking dandruff.)

If not treated properly, cheyletiella can migrate inside the cat’s body through the nasal passages. A variety of anti-parasitic formulations can be used to treat these mites, including selenium sulphide shampoo, pyrethrin dip, and lime sulphur dip. A natural remedy is sprinkling an herbal cleansing supplement in your feline’s food.

Coccidia

Coccidia are single celled microscopic cat parasites that infect the intestines. These parasites in cats are known to cause digestive disorders such as watery diarrhea and bloody stools and can even be life-threatening to young or sickly cats. Cats can pick up this parasite by consuming infected mice or licking contaminated feces or dirt from their fur. This common parasite in cats is particularly prevalent in kittens that reside in groups such as in shelters and kennels. Currently, there is no medication that can kill coccidia. Once the organism stops replicating, the immune system can catch up and kill off the harmful organisms.

Heartworm – Is this a Cat Parasite?

Heartworms are considered a large organism that lives in the heart of cats. These long, spaghetti-like worms can reach a length of anywhere from six to ten inches in length. Heartworms are transmitted to cats and other animals through bites from infected mosquitoes. This common parasite in cats typically lives in the right side of the heart and lung, and can cause significant health problems and even death.

Possible signs of a heartworm infection in cats include coughing and difficulty breathing, similar to feline asthma. Vomiting is another potential symptom. It is also possible for a cat to suddenly pass away from a heartworm infection after presenting no other noticeable symptoms. Treatment for cat heartworms can be a somewhat risky procedure as a sudden blockage in the heart or lungs could severely harm the animal. The cat is kept quiet and still for several days while the parasites are killed slowly. Then the remaining eggs and microfilariae are destroyed to prevent re-infection.

Roundworm

A cat can become infected with this parasite by consuming contaminated eggs (through grooming,) or by ingesting a prey animal that is infected. A roundworm cat parasite can cause diarrhea and vomiting leading to weight loss. Roundworm parasites are long and white, similar to spaghetti, and an animal may even vomit one up on occasion. But despite this obvious proof, it is difficult to know if your cat or kitten has become infected with roundworms, therefore many veterinarians and pet owners are in favor of regular cat parasite deworming, especially if the cat hunts prey animals. Kittens are frequently assumed to be infected and are often automatically dewormed.

There are numerous over the counter and prescription deworming products available, including, Drontal and Drontal Plus (contains febantel,) Strongid, Nemex, and HeartguardPlus (pyrantel pamoate is the active ingredient,) Piperazine, Panacur (Fenbendazole) and Revolution (Selamectin.) These medications work by anesthetizing the parasites so that they release their grip on the intestines and pass into the stool. Therefore, don’t be alarmed if you see them, even if they are still alive. Also, it may be necessary to perform several subsequent deworming routines in order to remove migrating parasites that may have escaped initial removal attempts.

Tapeworms

The most common tapeworm that affects cats is called Dipylidium canium. This large parasite can reach up to eight inches in length. It is an intestinal parasite that attaches to the intestinal wall with hook-like suckers. Cats can become infected with tapeworms by licking and swallowing a contaminated flea. As the flea is digested, the parasite attaches itself to the intestinal lining.

A tapeworm infection can cause nausea and vomiting. A severe tapeworm infection can cause anemia and weight loss. Occasionally, a segment from the tapeworm will break away and pass into the cat’s stool or cling to her anal area. These parts may look like small segments of rice. Tapeworm infection can be treated by oral or injected medication, which cause the parasite to dissolve within the intestines. Flea control is also very important in preventing re-infection.

Whipworm

Adult whipworms are hair-like in appearance. They burrow into the wall of the cat’s large intestine and lay their eggs. In small numbers, whipworms may not cause any noticeable symptoms of infection. But in cases of severe infection, whipworms can cause appetite loss and diarrhea. The whipworm egg is highly resilient, making this cat parasite difficult to eradicate.

Article written by: Dr. Edward Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM

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