Many parasites have the ability to infect cats, with kittens being the most susceptible. Intestinal parasites include the common roundworms and hookworms, but kittens may also be infected with coccidia and giardia. Intestinal parasites can cause weight loss, diarrhea, blood loss and vomiting, although many infected cats may seem healthy with only intermittent gastrointestinal signs. External parasites include fleas, ear and skin mites, lice and ticks. Although rare in cats, the dog Heartworm, transmitted through mosquitoes, can sometimes also cause infections.
Roundworms have a particularly stubborn lifecycle in cats. The microscopic eggs hatch following ingestion, and the larvae burrow through the intestinal wall and travel through body tissues for a period of time. Eventually, these tiny parasites emerge back into the intestines, grow into adult spaghetti-like worms and breed, releasing thousands of eggs back into the environment. Dewormers only work in the gut, so we continue to administer them every two weeks until the kitten is three months of age, then once a month until the kitten is six months of age, as the larvae emerge back into the intestine.
Roundworms can be acquired from infected soil, or from eating infected birds. Tapeworms can be transmitted by ingesting infected fleas or rodents.
Fleas can be a problem at any time of the year if your kitten meets another animal with fleas. Adult fleas spend their entire life cycle on the animal, but will lay 20 to 30 eggs a day following a blood meal. The eggs fall off the cat and lodge in cracks and crevices, around baseboards and outdoors. Within several weeks, if the conditions are right, the eggs will hatch into larvae, transform into pupae and eventually emerge as young adults looking for a warm pet to call their own. Fleas can cause intense itching, skin diseases and can even transmit diseases. In our region, most flea problems peak in late summer and fall as the number of eggs builds up in the environment.
Currently, we can prevent many intestinal parasites and fleas with safe and effective medications. Having a stool sample checked, particularly for all kittens and outdoor cats, allows us to identify parasites before they become a problem.
Some parasites can also infect people, especially children and those with lowered immune systems. For a great resource on parasites, pets and pet ownership, see the Worms and Germs Blog.
Contact Cedarview Animal Hospital so that we can recommend a parasite-control program for your cat that matches your pet’s lifestyle and circumstances.