Sometimes your cat will appear to be uncomfortable, or itchy. They may be scratching themselves or trying to shake something loose. You may be wondering what is going on... is it an allergy? Are they ill? Is something going on with them mentally or emotionally? All this is possible. But it’s also possible your cat has parasites.
Now, that sounds terrible, but it’s not as scary as one might imagine. Thankfully, most parasites are pretty easy to treat — once you know what you are dealing with! That's why we delved into the most common types of parasites in cats, their symptoms, and how to treat them.
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To identify whether your cat has fleas, external parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. “A flea comb can be run through the hair and the flea or flea dirt can be trapped in the teeth of the comb,” says Dr. Joel Navratik, CEO of MRVL Pets. A trick is to remove the debris from the comb and place it on a white paper towel. “Obviously fleas should be moving and visible to the naked eye,” says Navratik.
If you do not find them but find some black dirt then you can place a tiny drop of water on it and rub it gently. “If the black spot turns a bit red or rusty then it is flea dirt or droppings and you have a flea problem,” says Navratik. One flea can lay 80 eggs a day.
Ticks, which are tiny, blood-sucking parasites, are relatively uncommon in cats because they are fastidious groomers, says Navratik. And since ticks are slow moving and attach they usually groom them off without difficulty.
Ear mites, or external parasites that live on the skin of your cat (usually in the ear canal), generally cause the cat to scratch the head, ears, or neck. “You may see scabs or baldness around the ears and the ear wax is usually a dark brown dried waxy material,” explains Navratik. You cannot see the mites without magnification.
Ringworm, despite sounding like a writhing parasite, is actually a fungal infection and not a worm at all. “It usually causes bald spots most commonly on the ears, feet or tail but can be anywhere on the body,” says Navratik.
The only way to definitely tell if your cat has ringworm is to do a fungal culture at your veterinarian. “This test typically takes one to three weeks to get results,” says Navratik.
Ringworm is also contagious to people. “If you notice a red ringlike rash that is itchy on your skin and your cat has some bad spots, it might be ringworm,” warns Navratik. Some cats are asymptomatic carriers and actually have no lesions at all.
Cheyletiella, known as walking dandruff, typically looks like a cat with really bad dandruff. Your cat will usually be a bit itchy. “It is actually a mite that is walking along the coat and sometimes you can see it move,” explains Navratik. Most of the time it will have to be identified under the microscope.
“There are multiple good flea products available on the market including Frontline Plus, Advantage II, Bravecto, Revolution and Capstar,” says Navratik.
“There is a new once monthly topical product, Revolution Plus, that will actually kill and control fleas, ticks, ear mites and Cheyletialla,” says Navratik. In addition, this product also controls heartworms and intestinal parasites in cats as well. “Right now this is the most comprehensive and safe product out there,” says Navratik.
Ringworm will need to be treated with an antifungal therapy that your veterinarian will prescribe. “This may be oral and/or topical and you may also need to thoroughly clean the house to remove all spores that are attached to any hair that has been shed by the affected cat,” says Navratik.
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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. As is the case with any type of parasite infestation, it is important to clean all areas your cat stays in, including pillows and bedding.
Whatever type of parasite your cat may have, try not to panic! Talk to a vet and your cat will be their normal selves soon!