Parasites are free-loaders. They can be merely a nuisance, but all too often, they are harmful. Whether inside your cat (worms) or on their skin, they affect your cat’s health, and some can affect the people they live with: you! Roundworms can cause blindness, and bacteria carried by fleas can make people very sick. So let’s protect everyone by providing parasite prevention year-round.
Time to bust a myth: indoor cats also need to be treated and protected, not just cats who go outside. But how can indoor cats get parasites? Flies, mosquitos, and rodents carrying parasites can get inside our homes, regardless of where we live. Indoor cats may occasionally be on a roof deck, patio or catio; they may go on vacation with us to the cabin/cottage; and they may live with (or be visited by) other animals who go outside and bring these pesky pests (e.g. ticks) indoors. Does your cat like to hunt bugs in the house? Those bugs may be harbouring parasites. Do you go hiking? You may be unaware that a tick has hitched a ride on your clothing. Or maybe you stepped in something nasty that had parasite eggs in it. Ew!
Kittens are especially at risk because they could have contracted worms through nursing or from their mom’s environment. Fleas can cause life-threatening blood loss in a kitten; intestinal parasites can cause dreadful damage to internal organs as well as preventing healthy growth. Some immature forms of parasites aren’t detected through routine fecal testing and may evade treatment. Because this age group is so vulnerable, it is extremely important to treat against roundworms at 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks of age, and thereafter once a month until the kitten is 6 months old. While nursing, their moms should also be treated to prevent reinfection. And let’s make sure they are also treated against tapeworms.
But what about adults? After 6 months of age, all cats (indoors or out) need to be protected from internal and external parasites seasonally or year-round, depending on risk factors and climate. Fecal examinations may miss some types of parasites, so experts* recommend deworming 2-4 times a year.
Fleas, lice, and mites cause itching and irritation of the skin (or ears). Like ticks, they bite your cat and feed on her blood. In addition to scratching and chewing her skin, your cat can also develop an allergy to fleas causing raw sores.
Fleas are a real problem. They carry tapeworms as well as the bacteria that causes cat-scratch disease in people – you do not want to get this. Even if you never see fleas or flea dirt on your cat, she could still have fleas. Cats are meticulous groomers and swallow the evidence. Once inside, fleas release tapeworms that can freeload on the groceries you have provided for your cat. Worse yet, they can cause vomiting or even an obstruction. Cats can get a different kind of tapeworm from hunting (and eating) mice or rats. You may find the tapeworm segments (these look like grains of white rice) on your cat’s hind end, but kitty may have groomed these away too.
Cats are less susceptible to the diseases dogs and people get from ticks, but are not immune to them. Prevention is best. Be careful though, as some products for dogs to prevent ticks (or in the case of fleas, those containing permethrin) are highly toxic to cats. Ask your veterinarian! Another good resource for permethrin toxicity is https://icatcare.org/permethrin.
Cats are equally at risk to exposure to heartworms as dogs. However, while dogs succumb to heart disease, cats can develop lung disease. Again, going outside is not necessary to be at risk. Diagnosis of heartworm infection is difficult in cats, so let’s just prevent it if you live in a region with heartworm or if your cat travels to these areas.
*The Companion Animal Parasite Council is an excellent and reliable source of information if you want to learn more: cacpvet.org.
This article was sponsored by Bayer Inc. Animal Health and written by Cat Healthy feline specialist Dr. Margie Scherk DVM, Dip ABVP (Feline Practice)