There are a lot of things pet parents need to know about, and that includes the parasites your cat can get. While a cat parasite might be a minor medical issue in many cases, those parasites can do more damage if they’re left untreated. Over time, parasites in cats can make them more susceptible to infections, and certain parasites are even transmittable to humans.
As a cat parent, it’s your job to know the cat parasite basics, from the types of parasites that can infect cats to the effects they have. If you think your cat has a parasite, you should take them to the vet for a diagnosis so you can determine the best treatment option. There are also steps you can take to keep your home clean and prevent the spread of parasites.
If you want to learn more about cat parasites, the symptoms they cause, and how to get rid of them, check out the rest of this guide to get the full cat parasite scoop.
Types of Parasites
One of the biggest things to remember when it comes to parasites in cats is that there are several types of parasites that can infect cats. These different types of parasites cause very different symptoms, and different parasites may require different treatment. You can learn more about the four types of parasites that affect cats below, including ectoparasites, gastrointestinal parasites, heartworm, and toxoplasmosis.
Ectoparasites are parasites that live on the outside of their host, unlike worms and gastrointestinal parasites that make a home inside your cat’s body. Some of the ectoparasites that cats can get include fleas, ticks, lice, and mites.
Fleas are the most common parasites on cats, and preventing fleas is a constant battle for cat parents. Cats can get fleas from other animals or from the grass outside, or you can bring fleas home if you visit a friend with pets. These fleas can then establish an infestation in your home, which can take months to get rid of. You can prevent this by keeping your home and your cat clean and using flea control products.
Ticks are another ectoparasite you might spot on your cat, but they’re not as common as fleas. That being said, both fleas and ticks are more common in cats who spend a lot of time outdoors, so you should talk to your vet about flea and tick prevention if your cat spends a lot of time outside.
While ectoparasites live outside of their host, they can lead to other types of internal parasitic and bacterial infections. Many ectoparasites can carry diseases that may affect both cats and people, and your cat can get tapeworm from ingesting fleas. Flea infestations can even lead to other medical conditions such as anemia, particularly in kittens.
Fortunately, bed bugs don’t typically choose animals as hosts, so bed bugs aren’t a common problem. However, bed bugs may feed on pets if you have a very bad infestation, in which case you should call an exterminator right away.
Preventing and checking for ectoparasites such as fleas and ticks is a vital part of keeping your cat healthy.
2. Gastrointestinal Parasites
While some cat parasites live on the outside of your cat, others prefer to make a home inside their host. There are several gastrointestinal parasites that can infect cats, with some of the most common being roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and flukes.
Roundworms are common in cats, and the most common type of roundworm can also infect people. Roundworm infections commonly occur as a result of ingesting eggs that were passed in the feces of another animal, or by eating mice and other small animals that may have roundworms. Roundworms can be treated with numerous medications, and some heartworm prevention programs may also help to control roundworms.
Tapeworms are another common cat parasite that’s found in the intestines. The type of tapeworm that cats get is typically transmitted by eating fleas that are carrying tapeworms. It can also come from mice and rats, but that’s less common. Flea control is a crucial part of tapeworm prevention, and tapeworm infections require treatment with medication.
Hookworms are parasites that can lead to gastrointestinal disease in cats. While most cats don’t show any signs of a hookworm infection, anemia can occur as a result of blood loss and feces may change in consistency and appearance. Other symptoms can include loss of appetite, weight loss, and weakness, but these symptoms are more common in long-term infections.
Flukes are parasites that affect different parts of cats depending on the type of fluke. There are intestinal flukes, liver flukes, and pancreatic flukes. Fortunately, fluke infections in cats are uncommon in the United States.
Heartworm is a parasite that can be passed to your cat when they’re bitten by an infected mosquito. This is a particularly big concern for pet parents because there’s not much you can do to keep mosquitoes out of your home. Even cats who spend 100% of their time inside may be infected with heartworm as a result of a mosquito bite.
One of the biggest issues with heartworm disease is that there’s no good treatment if a cat is infected with heartworms that grow to reach its adult stage. Heartworm disease can be fatal in cats if the worms grow into adults, and even cats whose worms don’t develop into adults may experience heartworm-associated respiratory distress (HARD).
Heartworm prevention is one of the most important things you can do as a cat parent. You should talk to your vet about cat heartworm prevention, which typically involves giving your cat preventive heartworm medication.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease that occurs as a result of a very common parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite is often transferred to cats through infected rodents, although many cats and people don’t show any symptoms of toxoplasmosis.
People can also become infected with toxoplasmosis by getting it from their cat or by eating infected food, including unwashed fruits and vegetables, contaminated water, and undercooked lamb and pork. Toxoplasmosis is most commonly transferred from cats to humans through direct contact with feces, such as when you clean your cat’s litterbox.
Humans often don’t show any signs of toxoplasmosis, although some people may experience flu-like symptoms as a result of the infection. That being said, toxoplasmosis may lead to serious complications in people who have compromised immune systems, so doing what you can to prevent toxoplasmosis is important.
Cat Parasites: Frequently Asked Questions
What parasite can you get from cats?
While there are several cat parasites that don’t infect humans, humans may be affected by certain parasites including roundworms, hookworms, fleas, ticks, and toxoplasmosis. Because some cat parasites can be transmitted to humans, it’s important to practice good hygiene as a pet parent. This includes regularly bathing and brushing your cat, as well as taking care when you clean out their litterbox. You should clean your cat’s litterbox and change their litter regularly, and you should make sure you’re washing your hands each time you’re done cleaning it.
What does the cat parasite do to humans?
Different types of cat parasites have different effects on people. For example, people with toxoplasmosis typically don’t show any signs of illness, but some may experience minor flu-like symptoms. Flea infestations may lead to rashes and red, itchy skin in people, while tick bites can cause Lyme disease and other infections if left untreated. Roundworms and other gastrointestinal parasites can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. If you’re experiencing any symptoms that suggest you might have been infected with a cat parasite, you should visit a doctor to figure out what’s going on.
What are the symptoms of parasites in cats?
The symptoms of cat parasites depend on the parasite your cat has been infected with; the symptoms of gastrointestinal parasites are very different from the symptoms of ectoparasites. The symptoms your cat is experiencing can help give you a clue about what type of parasite they might be infected with. Redness, itching, and skin irritation are typically caused by ectoparasites, while vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal symptoms are more often caused by parasitic worms. It’s important to note that you can’t make a diagnosis based purely on the symptoms your cat is experiencing; if you think your cat has a parasite, you should take them to the vet for testing immediately.
How do I know if my cat has toxoplasmosis?
One of the problems with toxoplasmosis in cats is that they may not show any signs of being ill. Only a small number of cats show any symptoms when they have toxoplasmosis, and you might not notice any symptoms if you get toxoplasmosis from your cat.
If your cat does show symptoms of toxoplasmosis, you can expect them to experience symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, difficulty breathing, and yellow skin (jaundice). If you notice several of these symptoms in your cat, you should schedule an appointment with your vet to get a potential toxoplasmosis diagnosis.
There are a handful of parasites that are common in cats, from ectoparasites and heartworm to gastrointestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. If you think your cat has a parasite, getting an early diagnosis is key. Many parasites can be treated with medication, but they’re easy to treat if you start early.
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