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Internal and external parasites can be more than just an annoyance for you and your pet. In certain instances, they can lead to serious illness and even death. Prevention, once again, plays an important role where parasites are concerned.

Intestinal worms:  Among the most common problems a cat may face, intestinal parasites are particularly prevalent in kittens. Adult cats may be infected also. Common parasites include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and several protozoa. Signs may include diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, a distended or bloated abdomen, poor hair coat, anemia, and even death. It is estimated that up to 85% of all kittens have intestinal worms. Transmission is from eating off contaminated ground, eating wildlife or uncooked meat, or migration through the skin from infected soil. Your veterinarian can identify parasite eggs in your cat’s feces. A fresh stool sample 12-24 hours old (litter within the sample is ok) should be provided to check for these parasites. Many over-the-counter medications are less effective and even dangerous to your cat, so your veterinarian should prescribe an appropriate medication.

External parasites:  Common to dogs and cats are a number of external parasites which are not only bothersome to you and your pet, but can transmit sometimes fatal disease.

Fleas: These brown insects live on the surface of your pet’s skin and feed on blood. They excrete dried- blood feces often identified on your pet as “flea dirt”.

Here are some facts about fleas: Since they feed on blood from your cat, severe flea infestation can cause anemia which can reach life threatening severity especially in kittens. Each flea lays approximately 50 eggs per day which fall off wherever your pet goes.  A flea infestation by 50-100 fleas is not uncommon.  That can mean up to 5000 eggs per day are falling off your cat! Fleas can transmit other diseases, including blood parasites and tapeworms. Flea bites can lead to a severe flea allergy, causing your cat to have severe skin disease. Fleas are now easily treated or prevented with a once per month topical medication. Many over-the counter products are NOT as effective.

Ticks: These blood sucking arthropods attach themselves to your cat’s skin, usually around the head and neck where they cannot be groomed off, and engorge themselves with blood which is used to nourish their eggs. They are found typically in wooded or grassy areas from spring to mid-summer. They may carry a number of infectious blood-borne diseases. A tick should be removed by pulling it out near the attachment point on the skin. Using tweezers is advised. Never burn or squeeze a tick while attached to your cat’s skin. A very effective topical once-per-month prevention is available from your veterinarian to prevent both flea and tick parasitism.

Mites:  These parasites are found on the skin or in the ears of both dogs and cats. Several types of mites may be found. Infestation of the skin is called mange and may cause mild or intense itching, hair loss, and skin lesions. Your veterinarian will advise you on the proper treatment depending upon the type of mite found. Ear mites are very common in kittens or outdoor cats and are relatively easy to treat.

Heartworm disease: Yes, cats can acquire heartworm disease also (which is usually considered a dog parasite) and the infection can be severe, even fatal. Heartworm is a parasite whose larva is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito and then matures in the heart to cause heart or lung disease. Symptoms in the cat include coughing or labored breathing, vomiting, or acute death. Incidence of heartworm in the cat is thought to be very low, particularly in SW Michigan. However, many cats are clinically normal making detection difficult. Testing in cats involves a blood test which is sent to an outside laboratory for those suspect cats. Testing does not have to be done prior to starting prevention in the cat. Prevention is available in the form of a once per month topical medication which prevents fleas, ticks, mites, intestinal, worms and heartworms. It can be applied during the summer “mosquito months”, or year round.