Since February is known as the month of love, it seems really quite fitting that it’s also “National Cat Health Month”; a whole 28 days to show our feelings for the felines in our lives! One of the best ways to let our cats and kittens know that we care this Valentine’s Season is to make sure we’re doing all we can to keep them healthy, and this includes protecting them against pesky parasites. No one wants to think of their cat having to deal with an infestation of worms or fleas, but thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to help keep these pests at bay. Read on to find out is your cat at risk from parasites and what you can do to help protect them.
Fleas are small, wingless insects that set up home on your cat’s skin and coat. They treat your cat like a mobile all-you-can-eat buffet, biting them multiple times a day to feed on their blood. As you’d expect, these pests can cause your feline friend a lot of irritation, but it doesn’t end there.
One flea may be tiny, but the cumulative effect of a flea infestation can result in significant blood loss, especially in small kittens , where it’s estimated that 220 fleas can drink 10% of a kitten’s entire blood volume in just one day!1 If the infestation isn’t treated quickly, the resulting anemia can cause kittens to become seriously unwell.
Fleas can spread diseases when they bite, and some cats are even allergic to flea bites (in fact, they are allergic to flea saliva, which gets injected into your cat when the flea feeds- delightful, isn’t it?!). This means that just a couple of flea bites can lead to intense itching, and the poor cats that suffer from this condition are likely to have patches of fur loss, a bumpy rash, and areas of sore, inflamed skin.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, fleas can also pass a tapeworm infestation onto your cat… more about this horrible creature below!
If your cat has fleas, unpleasant though the thought is, you will also have flea eggs, larvae and pupae scattered around your home, and this can make dealing with an established flea infestation really tricky. Thankfully, prevention is better than cure, and by using a regular flea preventative on your cat, you can help avoid these tiny terrors from taking over your home in the first place, and protect your fur-ball from becoming infested.
While we’re on the subject of creepy crawlies that bite your cat, there’s another less-than-pleasant critter we need to look out for- the tick. Ticks are blood-sucking arachnids that lie in wait for pets (and people!) in areas such as woodland and long grass, or even your garden (especially if you have lots of visiting wildlife).
Unlike fleas, that feed little and often, ticks embed their mouth-parts firmly into your pet’s skin and remain locked in place for many days while feeding on blood, before eventually dropping off once they’ve had their fill. They grow to many times their normal size while feeding and you might spot them as grey-coloured bumps attached to your cat’s skin (they can be mistaken for skin lumps at first, but their small waving legs give them away!).
Ticks become more active when the weather starts to get warmer – the delightfully named “tick season” is between March and October, with peak activity in Spring and Autumn, but it’s possible to spot them at any time of year. Certain areas of the country are known to be tick ‘hot spots’, so regular tick protection for cats in these areas is really important.
Ticks are more than just an annoyance- they can also transmit diseases when they feed. Lyme Disease is one example, and although our feline friends seem relatively unaffected, the condition can be extremely serious in both dogs and people if left untreated.
As if having crawling critters on their skin wasn’t bad enough, there’s another, more hidden, threat to our four-legged friends. Roundworms and tapeworms live inside the guts of infected cats, where they steal their food and cause a whole host of problems.
Roundworms (the commonest of which is called Toxocara) resemble strands of spaghetti, and cats become infected if they accidentally swallow roundworm eggs when out and about, or through hunting (e.g. eating a rodent that has, itself, eaten a worm egg). Kittens are infected when they suckle their mum’s milk- so they really don’t stand much of a chance of escaping this pest.
Roundworms can create problems for cats of any age, but they are especially an issue in kittens, where they can cause a pot belly, poor coat, vomiting and diarrhea, and general failure to thrive. These worms can grow up to 10cm long inside your cat2, and when you consider that there are often more than one of the squirmy creatures in there, it’s a no-brainer that they can make our feline friends feel less than their best.
If all that wasn’t enough to put you off spaghetti for tea, then the next bit should do it! People can accidentally swallow roundworm eggs too, and if this happens, the larval stage of the parasite can migrate through our bodies. This has the potential to cause serious disease, including, in rare cases, blindness. Thankfully regularly worming out pets is an easy way to help protect not just them, but our two-legged family members as well.
Tapeworms are the other main culprit when it comes to intestinal worms that target our moggies. The commonest type, Dipylidium caninum, infects cats that eat infected fleas, (something that happens more often than you might hope…it’s been shown that cats can swallow up to half of the flea population living on their coat when grooming themselves!3)
If your cat is infected with this creature, you might have the misfortune of spotting the infestation, in the form of small white segments crawling around your cat’s back end, or in their poo. These little wriggling units are segments of worm that have broken away from the adult parasite living in your cat. The segments contain tapeworm eggs, so each squirming parcel has the potential to produce hundreds of new tapeworm infections, eurgh!
You’d be forgiven for thinking that if your feline friend doesn’t venture into the great outdoors, they should be safe from these critters, but unfortunately parasites have ways of reaching even the most sheltered of cats. Fleas can hitch a ride into your home on your clothing, and since fleas can carry tapeworm infections, your cat can find themselves with two parasites on board without ever having set a paw outside.
Wild rodents, like mice, are unwelcome visitors to many homes; and cats that are good at catching them might pick up a few unwanted guests of their own, as eating small rodents can lead to round and tapeworm infestations in our four-legged friends.
Thankfully, helping to protect your cat against these creepy crawlies is easy to do, and regular parasite treatment throughout the year will help keep them as healthy and happy as they can be. Fipnil is an easy to apply spot-on that kills both fleas and ticks, and can be used monthly, all year round, to help keep your cat protected. Prazitel tablets for cats kill both roundworms and tapeworms, and can be used in kittens from 6 weeks old.
So now you know what your cat is up against, show them some love this Valentine’s season by making sure they’re protected against parasites throughout the year; and let them embrace life’s adventures, free from the burden of pesky parasites!