July 10th marks National Kitten Day, and if there’s a more adorable-sounding day in the whole calendar then we’re yet to hear it! It’s natural you’ll want to do all you can to keep your small new arrival safe, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that before your kitten starts venturing outside, they are unlikely to come up against anything that poses too much of a threat. Unfortunately, pesky parasites have their sights on our small furballs right from the get-go, and fleas and worms can make small vulnerable kittens quite unwell. Dive in to our creepy crawly guide to find out what your kitten may encounter, and more importantly, the simple steps you can take to help keep them protected from these unwelcome pests.
Watching a baby animal suckling milk from their mum is a heart-warming sight, and has numerous benefits for kittens in their early days. Rather unpleasantly, though, as well as all the good stuff, mum can pass roundworm larvae onto her kittens through her milk, too, which explains how kittens can wind up with a roundworm (or several) living inside them when they’re only a few weeks old. Infected kittens may have a pot belly, vomiting and diarrhoea and a dull coat, and generally not be growing and thriving as you’d expect. When kittens are infected with high numbers of these wriggling creatures, the worms can even cause a blockage in their guts, which can be life-threatening.
And that’s not all; this worm can also cause disease in people, including blindness. Although rare, it makes worming our pets all that more important, to protect not just them, but ourselves and our families, too.
Kittens can pick up pesky fleas from their mum or litter mates, and can continue to meet these creatures when they start to explore outside. Once fleas have hopped onto your kitten, they’re in no hurry to leave; they live in your small one’s fur and bite them many times a day to feed on their blood. A flea infestation isn’t just annoying, kittens can end up losing a significant amount of blood as a result of this incessant feeding, enough to cause anaemia. (And in case you’re wondering – some bright spark has worked out that 220 fleas can consume 10% of a kitten’s entire blood volume in just one day!1). You may even find that your kitten is allergic to flea saliva; which means they only need to be bitten a few times to trigger a very sore skin complaint, which will lead to intense itching.
Another issue with fleas, as if we needed one, is that they can carry the larval stage of the common tapeworm Dipylidium caninum. If your kitten swallows a flea when grooming, they can wind up with one of these creatures living inside them; and these worms are not for the faint hearted! If you thought worms wriggling inside your pet was bad enough, this one takes it to the next level! The adult worm’s body is made up of segments, which break away from the worm and pass out in your cat’s poo. The truly revolting thing about these segments, is that they are actually mobile, which means you might see then crawling in your kitten’s fur around their bottom, or in their poo. We warned you it was grim!
If your kitten is adventuring in areas of woodland or grass (or even just your garden if you have visiting wildlife!), then they’re at risk of meeting these eight-legged creatures. Ticks hide among vegetation, and adopt a behaviour called “questing”, where they cling on to a plant, and wave their front legs out (a little like hailing a taxi!). If your kitten happens to brush past a questing tick, the creature will take a leap of faith, and hope for a soft landing on your kitten’s fur. Your small furball will be none the wiser, as the tick makes its way to the surface of the skin, where it pierces a hole and begins to feed. Ticks stay put for as long as it takes to fill up on your kitten’s blood- this can take a few days or even a week or more. If kittens find themselves with a lot of these creatures attached at once, they risk becoming anaemic from the resulting blood loss.
Cats may have become domesticated over the years (well, some of them might disagree!), but their natural instinct to hunt runs deep! Just watch your kitten playing and you’ll see them honing their technique: crouching low to the ground, stalking their imaginary prey, and pouncing at just the right moment! Hunting may be perfectly natural, but it does carry some risks (not to mention that getting whiskery presents brought to your door is not the most pleasant thing!). If cats eat the small creatures they catch, they can contract both roundworms and tapeworms, and they can also become infected with a protozoal parasite called Toxoplasma.
Toxoplasma rarely causes disease in cats themselves, but infected moggies shed eggs in their poo, and people can become infected if they accidentally swallow these. Many people infected with toxoplasma show no symptoms, but pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems can be more at risk. The chance of contracting this disease from your cat is actually very low2 (eating undercooked meat is more of a risk factor)2, but nonetheless, pregnant women and other higher-risk groups are advised to avoid handling litter trays, just to be on the safe side.
Delve into the world of parasites and you can start to feel like nowhere is safe! Don’t worry though, as helping protect your cat couldn’t be easier!
If you’ve got your kitten from a breeder, they will more than likely have started your kitten’s worming regime already; expert guidance is to treat kittens for roundworms at 3 weeks of age, and then to repeat this every 2 weeks until they’re weaned.3 After this, advice is to worm them monthly until they’re 6 months old.3
Worming will then need to continue throughout your cat’s life, and most adult cats should be wormed at least every three months. However, if your cat is a skillful hunter, they may need worming as often as monthly. If you’re thinking- this doesn’t apply to my indoor cat- unfortunately that’s not the case! Rodents harbouring worms can make their way into homes, and independent expert advice is that even cats that don’t venture outside should still be wormed once or twice a year.3
Prazitel tablets for cats make worming simple! A tasty grilled-meat flavour, they kill every type of intestinal worm commonly affecting UK cats (including roundworms and tapeworms) and can be given to kittens from 6 weeks of age. And by adding in a treatment for fleas and ticks, you have peace of mind that you’ve got the key culprits covered! Fipnil Plus is an easy-to-apply spot-on treatment that kills fleas and ticks, and used on an ongoing, monthly basis, offers continued protection against these common pests.
Welcoming a small purring kitten into your lives is one of the most exciting adventures there is, so don’t let these creepy crawlies get in the way! Keep up with regular flea and worm treatment for your new family member, and help protect the health of your whole family.