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cat-fleas

Parasite Prevention in Cats

Fleas are one of the most frequently discussed topics at Fairmont Animal Hospital – pets and owners alike don’t like fleas and our job is to help you find the right prevention and flea control product for your cat or dog. Please call us directly and we will be happy to discuss fleas; their prevention and control in more depth and detail.

What are fleas?

Fleas are small external parasites (ectoparasites) that feed on the blood of our companion animals (any mammal of any species including humans can be potential hosts for fleas) . The life cycle of the flea consists of the adult, egg, larval and pupal life stages. The adult flea will shed eggs that fall off the fur and into the environment. If no flea control is undertaken, fleas will quickly infest the environment; a female flea can lay 30 to 50 eggs per day. If left unchecked the number of fleas can quickly grow and soon a flea infestation has occurred.

Do fleas harm cats?

Yes! Flea infestations can be very harmful and even fatal to our feline friends. Fleas, in general, do not usually make animals itchy. If a cat has an allergy to the flea saliva (Flea Allergy Dermatitis), it can cause intense itchiness to the point where animals can harm themselves in trying to get relief from the itch.

Heavy burdens of fleas can cause severe life-threatening anemia, especially in small kittens. Fleas can also transmit blood-borne parasites (such as Mycoplasma felis) which can also cause life-threatening anemia.

When cats that have flea infestations groom, they consume the flea, which can also cause tapeworm infections.

Why should I prevent fleas?

It is much easier to prevent fleas than get rid of an infestation in the house. If one pet gets infected, all animals in the house need to be on monthly flea treatment for at least three months to help control the infection in the environment. Adult fleas can lay as many as 40 eggs per day. The pupal stage is able to lay dormant in the environment for a few months and is resistant to freezing.

Flea control

Flea control has evolved over the last few years. There are many excellent topical treatments such as Revolution or Advantage that are applied once per month. Be cautious of flea control products from the pet store as they can contain chemicals that have the potential to be harmful to cats. Avoid any product containing permethrin as it is toxic and exposure can be possibly fatal to cats!

In addition to monthly flea treatment, it is recommended to wash the animals bedding and vacuum the carpet, floor boards, and drapes – don’t forget to throw away the bag when you are finished. Sometimes additional indoor sprays may be needed if the flea burden is high.

Please speak with your veterinarian to discuss the best options for your pets.

Parasites

Parasites come in a variety of types, but one common similarity they all have is the ability to cause disease in cats and kittens. Parasites can live on the skin (ectoparasites) as well as inside the body (endoparasites). Understanding the types of parasites than can affect your cat can help you with formulating a prevention and control plan that is designed with your cat in mind

What are some common types of feline endoparasites (internal)?

Here are a few of the common endoparasites that can infect cats (dogs too)

Hookworms

  • A common intestinal parasite that can affect both cats and dogs (kittens and puppies are especially vulnerable). This particular parasite can cause severe anemia and diarrhea in your pet.
  • Hookworms attach themselves to the intestinal wall and feed on your pet’s blood.
  • Has zoonotic properties (can be contracted by humans)

Giardia

  • A protozoa which can affect both cats and dogs.
  • Has zoonotic properties (can be contracted by humans)
  • The affected animal develops diarrhea which can be intermittent, acute (sudden and severe) or chronic (persisting for a long time).
  • Giardia prevents the proper absorption of nutrients and can damage the intestinal lining if left untreated.

Roundworms

  • The most common intestinal parasite that affects both dogs and cats.
  • Has zoonotic properties (can be contracted by humans)
  • A cat can acquire a roundworm infection in several ways by ingesting the eggs, host or larvae (which is passed through the mother to kittens via nursing)
  • Roundworm larvae enter the wall of the small intestine and migrate throughout the circulatory system. If they enter body tissue they can become encysted and can remain in the body tissue for months and years. *this is one reason we always ask for a fecal sample yearly – regardless of your cat’s lifestyle.
  • Roundworms can absorb nutrients, damage the intestinal lining and interfere with digestion.

Tapeworms

  • This parasite is a flatworm that has a sucker type head and it attaches itself to the intestinal wall.
  • This parasite can only be transmitted by an intermediate host (therefore you cannot catch tapeworms from your cat and your cat cannot become infected by being around another cat that has tapeworm)
  • The most common intermediate hosts that cats encounter are fleas and rodents.
  • Cats groom constantly so if fleas are present they are more likely to swallow or ingest one.
  • Cats who hunt are also at a higher risk for tapeworm infection
  • Tapeworm segments are passed and look like small grains of rice, they can be found usually around the anal area or on bedding.

Can I catch pinworms from my cat or dog?

The simple answer is NO – *Dogs and cats do not get pinworms*. They do not act as a source of infection for people, simply put your child cannot get pinworms from the family pet.

Pinworms are a common parasite that affects humans especially children – infection occurs by ingesting (swallowing) infective pinworm eggs that are present on fingers, under fingernails, bedding, clothing and other contaminated objects.

What other types of parasites can my cat get (Ectoparasites)?

There are a number of ectoparasites (external) cats can be exposed to such as fleas, ticks, mites, lice and Cuterebra to name a few.

Fleas

Fleas can be found on any animal- including wildlife and our pets. They are the most common external parasite in our pets, and can cause skin problems, as well as transfer diseases. The adults live on the animal affected and use their blood for nutrition. Eggs laid in the hair coat fall off into the environment, and progress into the larva and pupae stages, and develop into more adult fleas.

Ear Mites

  • Are extremely contagious and can pass from pet to pet in a household
  • Humans are not affected by ear mite transmission
  • Cats with ear mites will often scratch their ears and shake their heads – the ear canals will bleed and blood will be noted.
  • You may notice debris in the ears which looks like coffee grounds.
  • Treatment will be initiated once a thorough examination and ear swabs have been performed.

Lice

  • Are a species specific parasite – you cannot get lice from your cat and your cat cannot get lice from another person in the household.
  • Can cause itchiness, scratching, hair loss and poor hair coat.

Cuterebra

  • Is a large bee-like fly that lays its eggs generally in soil or around rocky areas.
  • A cat can ingest or inhale the larvae, which then migrate to areas just underneath the skin.
  • Cats with a Cuterebra generally develop a small swelling usually in the late summer or early fall.
  • Once the area is clipped and examined a small telltale hole indicates the presence of the Cuterebra larvae.
  • Removal is generally done using a local anaesthetic or under a mild sedation – it is important to remove the larvae without crushing it as a localized reaction can occur.
  • Once removed the area is flushed and cleaned thoroughly.

Ticks

  • Cats can also come in contact with ticks – especially if they are in tall grassy areas. Ticks are not as common in cats as they are in dogs, due to the fact that they groom themselves constantly. Ticks although not as common can be present on cats and steps must be taken to properly remove them.
  • Ticks can be more difficult to detect, as they can be as small as the size of a pinhead. Often the first thing detected is a lump on the skin where the tick is embedded (the tick body), which is a blue/purple, brown, black or grey colour (with legs!). The area around the tick attachment may be red and irritated.

What is Zoonosis?

Zoonosis, also called zoonotic disease refers to diseases that can be passed from animals, whether wild or domesticated, to humans. These include bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.

Common parasites, bacteria, and viruses that can transmit zoonotic diseases are:

  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • Campylobacter
  • Giardia
  • Leptospirosis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Rabies
  • Salmonella

All humans can be potentially at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease. However people with compromised immune systems, the very young or elderly, pregnant women and individuals with chronic medical conditions have a higher risk factor.

How do I protect myself and my family?

  • Keep your pet up-to-date on vaccines and have a yearly health examination to catch any concerns early.
  • Feed your pet a quality diet
  • Avoid raw or undercooked meat (due to the high risk of salmonella and toxoplasmosis)
  • Practice good hygiene – implement a hand washing routine after handling your pet or other animals.
  • Clean up pet waste quickly and avoid direct contact with feces and pet waste.
  • Use appropriate parasite control as recommended by your veterinarian (this can be for both external and internal parasites)
  • If bitten or scratched by a dog or cat – clean the wound quickly and thoroughly and call your physician.

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