Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pesky Pet Parasites

by Adam Jablonski

The warmer months of the year are often the times we notice our feline friends being bothered by parasites. There may be more scratching and itching than usual, or you may notice something odd in a cat’s feces when scooping litter. A few of the most common parasites to cats are fleas, tapeworms, mites, and ticks. Each of these parasites can be easily identified and effectively treated.

Fleas are wingless bugs, one to three millimeters long and reddish brown in color, but can also be black. Signs that a cat has a case of fleas include scratching, bald and crusty skin patches, and very small black and white bits in the fur that look like dust, but in fact are flea excretions and eggs. Although they can spread diseases, fleas are mostly a nuisance to a cat until treated. Yet it is important not to leave fleas unaddressed; if left alone, they can cause anemia, skin irritations and infestation by other parasites. A case of fleas on kittens should be addressed immediately as they are especially vulnerable to anemia. 

Excreted tapeworm sections.
Tapeworms look like small grains of white rice. Evidence of a tapeworm infestation can be found in the fur around a cat's anus, in her feces, or in bedding. The most common tapeworm is carried and spread by fleas, so flea treatments can serve a double function of preventing tapeworm infestation.

Dirty ears could be a mite infestation.

Ear mites are another parasite found in cats (and dogs, but to a lesser degree) that if left untreated can lead to infection or even aural hematoma, a rupturing of blood vessels in the ear caused by extreme scratching and head shaking. Signs of an ear mite infection can include excessive scratching of the ears and head shaking, a dark colored waxy secretion, and debris inside the ear that looks like fine coffee grounds.

No wonder ticks are tough to spot!
Unlike fleas, ticks are not bugs. Rather, they are arachnids, like spiders. Ticks spread diseases (most notably Lyme disease) and are only the size of a pinhead before biting a cat. After the bite, ticks swell in size because of the blood they have just ingested. Ticks don’t jump like fleas; instead, they live in tall bush and grass areas and are spread through direct contact.

To remove a tick from a cat, clean the area with rubbing alcohol and very carefully pluck the tick off with tweezers. Take care to remove the entire tick, including the head, as leaving parts embedded in the skin can cause infection. In order to prevent the live tick from coming after the cat again, it should be disposed of by dropping it in a jar of alcohol or flushing down the toilet. Do not try to crush a tick with your fingers; they are difficult to kill this way and submersion in alcohol or flushing provide greater surety that the job has been done.

Topical flea treatment application.
Infestation by any of these parasites can usually be prevented and treated by topical and oral medications. Topical solutions are applied to the back of a cat’s neck, between the shoulder blades, where it cannot be wiped away during grooming. Medications in pill or tablet form can be given alone or with food. 

Some products are developed for individual parasites, such as Capstar for fleas, whereas a product like Advantage Multi treats a host of parasites at once. While these medications are effective, it is very important to choose one that is safe and appropriate for the individual cat. For example, the smallest dose of medicine may still be too much for very young kittens and an alternative or temporary treatment must be used. Also, never use medicines labeled for dogs on cats! These products are formulated especially for dogs and can be dangerous and toxic to felines. That’s why Alley Cat Rescue highly recommends consulting your veterinarian when choosing a parasite treatment, as it is important to know the product is safe and to select the proper dosage. There are many reports of over-the-counter brands causing illness and death in cats, and your vet will be able to recommend the safest product.

Alternative flea treatment for kittens
Stop trying to drink the soap Oliver!
Topical and oral medications are not appropriate for very young or small (under two pounds) kittens. In this case a bath in diluted Dawn dish soap can be used. A rinse-and-repeat method is recommended to get as many of the adult fleas and eggs as possible. For cats who do not take to a bath, use a flea comb to brush out fleas, and rinse the comb in Dawn soap to kill them. Keep in mind this treatment does not prevent reinfestation, and may not rid a kitten of fleas, but it is an effective temporary solution until the kitten is developed enough for medication.

Cat Scratching - Alley Cat Rescue
Flea - By Robert Hooke ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tapeworm - By KDS444 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Mite - By Uwe Gille (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Tick - By AndrĂ© Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons 
Treatments - Alley Cat Rescue

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