Have you ever noticed your cat constantly scratching themselves or trying to shake something loose? You may be wondering if it's an allergy, illness, and or perhaps something going on mentally or emotionally. While all this is possible, it's also possible that your cat has parasites.
The word "parasite" can sound scary, but thankfully, most parasites are pretty easy to treat once you know what you're dealing with.
Read on to learn about the most common types of parasites in cats, their symptoms, and how to best treat them.
Common cat parasites include:
Fleas can sometimes be hard to detect on our pets, especially with cats. Even if you have checked your cat’s fur and haven’t found any, they can be hiding in their dense coat. Fleas are also quick to flee from an area that you’re checking, and when you do see a flea, there are most likely many others.
In addition to causing your cat to be very itchy, fleas also carry Bartonella which can lead to severe illness and be transmitted to humans. Cat scratch fever is the common name given to people that have been infected by Bartonella.
Some cats are very allergic to fleas and can develop flea allergy dermatitis. A flea infestation can cause serious anemia and lead to death if not treated. And lastly, ingesting a flea by grooming themselves or other pets causes tapeworms.
Ticks, which are tiny, blood-sucking parasites, are relatively uncommon in cats because felines are fastidious groomers. And since ticks are slow moving and have a delay in attachment, cats usually groom them off without difficulty. If you live in an area with a high prevalence of ticks, it's best to use monthly tick prevention.
Ear mites are external parasites that live on the skin of your cat (usually in the ear canal) and generally cause the cat to scratch the head, ears, or neck. You may notice a dark, tarry discharge in the cat’s ears. If you believe your cat has ear mites, it's best to have a veterinarian swab the ears and check for any mites under a microscope. Scratching the ears and seeing dark discharge could be an ear infection and not ear mites, so it's best to check before treating with any over-the-counter products.
Ringworm, despite sounding like a parasite that grows under the skin, is actually a fungal infection and not a worm at all. The most common areas to find the fungal infection on cats are on the ears, feet, and tail, but it can be located anywhere on their body.
The fungus causes lesions on the body with hair loss and may cause your cat to be very itchy. Some cats can be carriers of ringworm and not show any signs of infection.
Ringworm is also contagious to people. The only way to definitively diagnose ringworm is by your veterinarian using a special light and culturing hair plucked from suspicious lesions.
Cheyletiella, known as walking dandruff, typically looks like a cat with really bad dandruff. Your cat will usually be a bit itchy and it can be misdiagnosed as an allergy or dry skin if not verified by a veterinarian.
Like with most parasites, prevention is key. There are many different types of flea, tick and parasite preventions on the market today. Oral products and some topical products can only be purchased with a prescription. Other topical products that only prevent fleas and ticks are available, but are less effective in treating and controlling infection. Reach out to your veterinarian or a Pawp Professional to determine which product is best for your cat.
Ringworm will need to be treated with an anti-fungal therapy that your veterinarian will prescribe. Topical and oral products are available to treat the infection, and the product that will be best for your cat depends on their age and the depth of infection.
In addition to giving your cat anti-fungal therapy, you should clean your home well with products that will kill fungal infections to prevent reinfection and any possibility of human contact to the fungus.
Many parasite and mite preventatives can be useful in both preventing and treating Cheyletiella in cats. These preventatives can be applied either orally or directly onto the skin. With any type of parasite infestation, it's important to clean all areas your cat hangs out in, including pillows and bedding.
Whatever type of parasite your cat may have, try not to panic. Talk to a veterinarian or the team of experts at Pawp and we can point you in the right direction.
Reviewed and fact-checked by
Mika, RVT at Pawp