If you own a cat, they are highly likely to acquire parasites, especially gastrointestinal ones. Almost 45% of cats get attacked by gastrointestinal parasites. When they attack the cat, you will notice symptoms such as vomiting, coughing, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, just to mention a few. If your cat exhibits such symptoms, it may be hard for you to know which parasite is attacking the cat. That is because some symptoms are shared. To have a rough idea of what parasite may be attacking your cat, we will identify some of the cat parasites to watch out for. Once you learn about cat parasites, you will be able to take swift measures to treat your cat. Here are ten cat parasites to watch out for.
Cats usually get heartworms after getting bit by infected mosquitoes. Interestingly, heartworms cannot thrive in a cat’s system for too long since cats are not natural hosts. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, they only last for two years in the cat’s system. That means some of them end up dying before they are fully grown. Since the cat’s system is unfriendly to heartworms, it will usually have about two of them.
Not all cats exhibit symptoms of heartworms. That is because some cats are lucky enough to eject them out of their system before they do any serious damage. However, a cat not exhibiting any symptoms can also be bad since it may suddenly die, and you will be left wondering what killed it. On the other hand, cats attacked by heartworms will experience weight loss, decreased activity and appetite, and vomiting. You can use topical or oral products for cats to get rid of heartworms. These products are administered monthly, and they require the veterinarian’s approval. For enhanced protection, you can get products that concurrently eliminate other parasites like roundworms and ticks.
9. Toxoplasma Gondii
This parasite causes an infection called toxoplasmosis in cats. Cats usually get this parasite after eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals. Additionally, the parasite can enter a cat’s system through exposure to feces from another cat containing the parasite. Once the parasite is eliminated from the cat’s system, it becomes infective after 1-5 days. This parasite is resilient since it can reside in grass, litter boxes, or water for several months.
Like the previous parasite, some cats may not exhibit any symptoms of toxoplasmosis. It is because some cats’ immune systems can keep toxoplasmas from causing diseases. Other cats will display symptoms, but they are usually mild. These symptoms include jaundice, fever, diarrhea, ear twitching, seizures, and balance issues. One way of eliminating toxoplasmas is by giving the cat an antibiotic called clindamycin. Also, your veterinarian may prescribe oral steroids or steroid creams. These medications should eliminate the symptoms immediately. If you realize that the symptoms are still showing after the medication, the cat may be suffering from a different illness.
Female hookworms usually pass hundreds of eggs in the cat’s stool. Later, larvae hatch from the eggs, and they are microscopic. According to CDC, the larvae are usually 250-300 µm long and 15-20 µm wide. The larvae can stay alive in the soil for weeks or months. Cats inadvertently swallow larvae, usually by grooming themselves. Once ingested, the hookworms attach to the lining of the intestinal wall and feed on the cat’s blood. However, not all of them make it into the intestinal wall. Some of them get eliminated when the cat coughs.
Some of the symptoms of hookworm attacks include a poor hair coat, anemia, skin irritation, weight loss, and the presence of digested blood in the stool. These symptoms are more lethal in kittens, and they may die if you do not act fast. Before you administer any medication to the kittens, it becomes necessary to do a blood transfusion first. To eradicate hookworms, your veterinarian will prescribe some deworming medications. The medications will either kill the worms or expel them out of the cat. Since hookworms feed on blood, your veterinarian may administer nutritional and iron supplements.
Cats become infected with this parasite after swallowing oocysts (immature coccidia) found in feces. This parasite travels into the cat’s intestinal lining cells and matures after two weeks. If a cat with coccidia has kittens, the kittens are likely to get infected immediately through the cat’s feces. Kittens get infected quickly due to their curiosity. This parasite is more lethal to kittens because their immune system is still developing. Kittens usually exhibit symptoms after three days of ingesting the parasite.
Many cats tend to eliminate this parasite quickly, so they will not show any signs of illness. Cats that exhibit symptoms after coccidia attacks usually have underlying symptoms. Some of the clinical symptoms of coccidia in kittens and debilitated adult cats include dehydration, watery diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and abdominal distress. In order to eliminate the parasite, you must give it a sulfa-class antibiotic. The drug is normally administered for 5-20 days. Cats tend to readily take this medication since it tends to have a pleasant taste. If the sulfa drug is ineffective, you may combine it with another drug called amprolium. Besides the drugs, your cat may need further treatment if it is still experiencing dehydration and diarrhea.
6. Ear Mites
Ear mites are common in cats and are highly contagious; fortunately, they cannot affect humans. The beauty of ear mites is that they are not life-threatening, though they irritate the cat’s ear. These parasites are minute and complete their life cycle in the ear. They usually reside in the ear canal, where they feed on ear wax and skin oils. Ear mites lay eggs in the ear and can hatch after three weeks. These parasites usually enter cats through contact with an affected cat.
It is quite easy to identify ear mite symptoms in cats. Here are the common signs of ear mites: constant scratching of the ear, head shaking, and ear discharge. Although ear mites reside primarily in the ear, they may make their way to other parts of the body. So besides scratching the ear, your cat may keep scratching its body. There are several options for treating ear mites. You could opt for over-the-counter drugs, but they may be ineffective. Instead, you should see a specialist who will give you a one-time medication that you can apply to the ear monthly. Another medication you can consider is injectable ivermectin.
Roundworms are pretty large since they are about 3-6 inches long. Unlike most intestinal parasites, they do not attach to the wall of the intestines. Instead, they swim within the intestines. Roundworms are common in pets, so your cat is likely to become infected with them at some point in their life. Cats get roundworms by swallowing eggs that contain roundworm larvae. Usually, these eggs are from the feces of infected cats or tissues from accidental hosts. Roundworms tend to be lethal to kittens, but not cats.
Kittens affected by roundworms will show symptoms like a pot-bellied appearance, poor growth, abdominal discomfort, dull hair coat, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, if the kitten has few roundworms, it will not exhibit any clinical symptoms. Roundworms are eliminated through the administration of deworming medication. They will then be expelled out of the body into the stool but will be dead. Treatment is usually done at 2-3 week intervals.
Tapeworms are long, flat, white worms. In order to attach itself to the walls of the intestine, it has hook-like mouths. These worms feed on nutrients that pass through the cat. The most common way cats get tapeworms is through infected fleas. Cats usually consume the infected fleas accidentally during grooming. Another way cats get tapeworms is by eating infected, small rodents like mice and squirrels.
Common symptoms of infection are a cat vomiting up live tapeworms or the presence of proglottids (tapeworm segments) crawling on feces. Other symptoms include weight loss and the cat dragging its anus across the floor. To treat tapeworms, the veterinarian will administer deworming drugs in the form of oral medications or injections. In case the drugs trigger vomiting or diarrhea in the cat, rush it for medical care.
3. Lung Flukes
These parasites are oval and reddish-brown and reside in cysts in the cat’s lungs. In rare instances, the lung flukes may migrate to the cat’s brain. Cats become infected with lung flukes after eating raw crayfish or crabs that contain the parasites. They enter the lungs through the diaphragm and soon begin feeding and laying eggs. The immediate symptoms that occur are incessant coughing and breathing difficulties. A cat with too many lung flukes will experience other symptoms like coughing up bloody mucus, lethargy, pneumonia, and pneumothorax. On the other hand, the cat will not exhibit symptoms if the lung flukes are few. There is yet to be a product specifically for eliminating lung flukes. Your veterinarian will instead prescribe certain anti-parasitic drugs like fenbendazole or praziquantel.
Hairworms infest the cat’s bladder and urinary tract and cause a condition called capillariasis. When they lay eggs in the bladder, they get expelled in urine. These eggs get ingested when another cat walks through the soil containing them. They unintentionally eat the eggs by licking their paws. Other hairworm species have complicated life cycles. For instance, some hairworms lay eggs which must first be consumed by earthworms. When the cat eats the earthworm, it ingests the eggs. If the hairworms are few, they will not trigger any worrying symptoms in cats. Cats severely infected with hairworms will exhibit symptoms similar to a urinary tract infection. Some of the symptoms the cat will experience include frequent urination, blood in the urine, diarrhea, vomiting, swollen bladder, bladder discoloration, painful urination, and fever.
Capillariasis is not life-threatening, so your cat may not even require treatment. However, that applies to cats with few hairworms. For cats with many hairworms, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-parasitic drugs, which can be administered orally or through injections. Depending on the severity of the cat’s condition, the cat may require multiple treatments. Also, the cat may be given analgesics. These drugs are used when the cat experiences some pain. Depending on the level of pain, the specialist will provide the appropriate dosage.
Giardia is a simple one-celled parasite that causes an intestinal infection called Giardiasis. This parasite primarily affects kittens or cats with compromised immune systems. A cat becomes infected with giardia after eating or sniffing the cysts from the contaminated ground or drinking contaminated water. When the cyst gets inside the cat’s intestine, it transforms into a “trophozoite.” As a trophozoite, it will be able to attach itself to the intestinal wall to feed. Trophozoites reproduce by dividing or transforming into cystic forms. Later, the cats expel them out in the stool.
Since they attach themselves to the intestinal wall, the cat experiences foul-smelling diarrhea. Besides the stool being pungent, it may be fatty, soft, or watery. Additionally, the stool will contain a greenish tinge and blood. If the parasites multiply, the cat will experience other symptoms like vomiting and weight loss. To eliminate giardia, the veterinarian will prescribe metronidazole and fenbendazole. These drugs are usually bitter, which explains why they are manufactured in coated tablet form. For the drug to be effective, you will still have to break it to expose the bitter contents. Since some cats may refuse the drugs, you can get those that have been prepared in flavored formulas.
We have established that cats may be affected by parasites and fail to show symptoms. As a result, you may erroneously conclude it is healthy. To prevent any attacks from parasites, you should have your cat screened once a year. You can do this by taking a stool sample from your cat to the veterinarian. The specialist will check whether the stool contains parasitic eggs. Also, you could ensure that your cat stays indoors at all times. When the cat is outside, it is highly likely to interact with infected stools from other animals. A cat will only stay indoors if your house is spacious or has a litter tray.
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