Fleas | Ticks |
Lice | Mites | Ringworm |
Maggots | Bronchitis |
Worms | Roundworms |
Tapeworms | Toxoplasmosis
You must check your cat or kitten
regularly to make sure that the fur and skin is kept free from parasites. A
parasite is an animal or plant that takes food and protection from a host
animal or plant. It survives by living of its host (such as your cat), which causes loss of
condition and sometime death. In some cases, such as ringworm, the parasite
can be passed on to humans.
There are readily
available preparations to get rid of parasites. Ask your vet for advice,
follow the instructions carefully, and stick to a strict cleaning programme
and the parasites should not be a problems.
A cat with fleas may scratch obsessively,
especially around the neck, and groom heavily at the base of the spine.
Using the tips of the fingers, groom the cat behind the ears, the neck,
spine and base of the tail. If this reveals dark, chocolate brown grit, put
these on a damp tissue. If red leaches from them, they are flea droppings,
which are mainly made from dried blood.
Scabby patches of skin
may be found on your cat in severe infestations, with the scabs breaking off to reveal
sore looking skin, with weeping. This will clear up when the fleas have
Fleas move very fast
through the cats fur and are hard to catch if you see them. A cat can be attacked
by the cats fleas, dog fleas and human fleas. They lay eggs in the cats fur;
many will drop out and hatch into larvae in cracks in the floorboards or in
the carpet. The larvae develop into fleas that will feed from any host that
walks by. A flea can live with periods of feeding and resting, for up to two
years, but normally its six months.
There are many
anti-parasitic treatments available, including powders, shampoos and sprays,
that you can get from the pet store, supermarket or your vet. If the
infestation is heavy, then both the cat and the environment will need to be
treated, you can get long-lasting sprays for this. For the cat, the most
effective method is an insecticide applied to the cats neck. This spot of
application gives the cat protection for one month.
Modern parasiticides are
very safe and some are suitable for young kittens. Your vet can advise you on
which products are suitable for your cat.
Ticks are blood suckers and live
permanently on the cat. Normally found in rural areas, but the hedgehog tick
is common in urban areas. The tick burrows its head into the cats
skin and gorges itself on blood. It can sometimes reach the size of a
haricot bean, then drop off to no further damage to the cat. However, it
could move on to other animals in the home. Removal requires precision, to
avoid the head parts remaining buried in the cats skin. The cat may be irritated
by the tick and knock it off, leaving the head behind. This is usually
followed by chronic infection followed by an abscess. A vet can use
substances to relax the tick's hold before removing it. The whole tick is
carefully removed with tweezers or a tick-remover.
Tick bites can be
responsible for a bacterial disease called Lyme disease. This occurs in the
United Kingdom, but is more widespread in the United States. Symptoms
include reluctance to jump followed by acute and recurring lameness, a
raised temperature, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes especially around the
head and limbs. Testing your cats blood will confirm this and the treatment is
antibiotics. Lyme disease should not occur if tick are prevented, most flea
treatments can do this.
It is uncommon for cats to get lice, but
if the cat is old and in poor condition then it may happen. There are 3
types of louse that are known to occur on cats, one is blood-sucking and the
other two bite. The signs are scratching, dry skin and an unusual increase
of scurf or dandruff. Lice can be seen easily by the eye, and flea
treatments will work on these.
Four groups of mites affect the cats ears
and skin. The harvest mite appears in the autumn. The cat is affected by the
larvae which settle in the areas where the fur is thin, such as between the
toes, on the belly, in the groin and around the lips and nose.
The orange larvae are
just about visible to the naked eye. They set up irritation which the cat
attacks with teeth and claws, which creates more irritation. The sores that
develop are round, damp and surrounded by scabby skin. Mites are contagious
and treated with insecticidal treatments.
The ear mite is commonly
transmitted from cat to cat. Irritation is sometimes severe; the cat shakes
its head, holds the ears flat and scratches furiously. This can lead to
secondary infection from self-inflicted trauma. Evidence of ear mites is a
dark brown tarry substance in the ears. Ask your vet to carry out the
treatment, as the ears are very delicate. The owner can the cleanse the ear
Cheyletiella mites cause
a condition known as "walking dandruff" and are less common. They seem to
cause little irritation to the cat, although they may scratch more than
usual. Excessive is the usual sign. The mite normally lives on the wild
rabbit and can also effect people. Treatment is with parasiticides.
One rare form of mange is
caused by a burrowing mite. It's usually found around the head starting at
the base of the ear. There is severe irritation, hair loss and general lack
of condition. Blood poisoning can occur in severe cases. Antibiotic
treatment is necessary of any secondary infections while the skin damage is
treated with parasiticides.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus, and can also affect
humans. The name comes from the shape of the lesions seem on the skin in
humans, which are circular, red, scaly and very itchy. In the cat,
particularly the Persian, they are seen as pimples and scurf on the skin. At
worst, moist, pink sores spread outwards. The parasite lives on the hair and
causes the hair to break off. Ringworm can affect animals that are not in
top condition and can be a big problem in longhaired cats.
Diagnosis is by the use
of a special filtered light when about 65% of cases will fluoresce.
Laboratory tests are more reliable but takes longer. To get rid of ringworm
is a long process. The animals are treated with fungicides, in the form of
baths, applications and tablets. The environment has to be cleansed to
remove all spores. If your cat gets ringworm, you must take professional
advice, and if necessary, the local environmental health department
consulted. Good progress is being made with a vaccine, but at the moment
they only exist to cut down treatment time.
Flies can be attracted to animals by the presence of discharge from
wounds, or diarrhoea and lay their eggs in the fur. This is common in poor
condition cats, such as those in feral colonies. The maggots burrow into the
skin and form tunnels which can be of considerable length. Toxins produced
to aid burrowing are absorbed by the cat and cause toxaemia (blood
poisoning). If you find maggot infestation on your cat, clean it thoroughly
and contact the vet.
Infectious bronchitis is sometimes caused
by a parasitic bacterium that lodges in the respiratory tract of animals.
The parasite does not normally cause disease, but certain strains to cause
bronchitis. In a dog, this may appear as kennel cough. A cat may cough and
sneeze, with or without running nose and eyes. Normally the disease is self
limiting, but is can be persistent in very young or elderly cats. The
organism is sensitive to several antibiotics.
The cat is affected by two types of
internal, parasitic worm - roundworms and tapeworms. Worm treatments are
available. Expertise has shown that these may be difficult to give with
total accuracy. Routine worming treatments are best obtained from your vet.
Worming preparations which give multiple protection to the cat are now
available as tablets or injections. Regular treatments will keep your cat
worm-free. These are often supplied at the same time as the annual booster
vaccination, but may need to be given every 6 months.
Roundworms include ascarids, hookworms
and lungworms. Infestations are difficult to spot unless it is very severe.
If you suspect an infestation you will probably need to take a faecal sample
to your vet for identification. Ascarids and hookworms live in the small
intestine. Ascarids are free-floating and feed on food in the process of
digestion, the hookworms attach themselves to the lining of the intestine
and suck blood. Symptoms differ slightly. In severe ascarid infestation, the
cat will have diarrhoea, the coat will be lank and the cat will look
uncomfortable. Often the belly is enlarged.
The main symptom of
hookworm is anaemia, which is most obvious on the nose leather and gums. The
gums appear pale, almost white. There is a general lack of energy and the
cat may become very thin.
The intermediate host of
the lungworm is the slug or snail, which can be eaten by cats. However, its
more likely that they will first be eaten by birds or rodents and the
infective larvae reach the cat through eating them. But infestation is rare.
After a complicated journey through the cat's intestine and lymph nodes, the
larvae become adult worms, which may enter the lungs via the bloodstream. As
a result, respiratory symptoms occur, similar to bronchitis or pneumonia.
Tapeworm diagnosis is easy. Segments of
the worm containing eggs are shed and attach themselves to the fur around
the anus. They look like grains of rice. Tapeworms need intermediate hosts
and the flea fulfils this role in relation to the most common tapeworm to
affect the cat. Flea larvae eat the secreted segments that contain eggs. The
infective stage of the tapeworm s reached as the adult flea preys on the
cat. If the cat swallows a flea, the process is complete. The infective
stage of the second most common tapeworm develops in the liver of small
rodents. The infected liver and other intestinal parts will almost certainly
be consumed by a cat, if it catches one of these animals.
The way to prevent
tapeworm infection is to eradicate fleas, and discourage your cat from
hunting. Both may be impossible targets, but tapeworms continue to be a
problem, their presence does not seem to affect cats much beyond diarrhoea.
Toxoplasmosis is caused by organisms
called coccidia. They can infect humans, although symptoms of illness are
rarely felt. However, if a pregnant woman is infected, the foetus may be
affected, resulting in spontaneous abortion or brain damage to the baby. The
disease may not affect the cat in any recognizable form, although it may
cause chest infections in young cats. In older cats there may be loss of
condition, digestive disorders and anaemia.
The immature egg of the
parasite is passed in the cat's faeces, so potential contact with any faecal
matter when changing and cleaning litter trays must be countered by a rigid
routine of hygiene. Oocysts passed by the cat with toxoplasmosis take at
least 24 hours to become infective, so litter trays must be cleaned as soon
as possible after use and rubber gloves worn.
Small children should be
kept away from litter trays at all times. You should also regularly clear
away the faeces of any neighbourhood cats that visit your garden and use it
as a toileting area.