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Fleas and Worms in Cats
Small Fleas and Worms Cause Big Problems
The thought of worms or fleas afflicting one’s pet is not pleasant. Nonetheless, a little education can keep it from becoming a major problem, not only for the feline, but also for other family pets AND for the people in the household.
Worms in Cats
Generally, there are two types of worms found in afflicted cats. These are roundworms or tapeworms. Both can cause serious health challenges and death to one’s beloved feline.
How cats get roundworm
Roundworms have eggs encased in a shell so hard that they can exist and survive in soil for many years. Therefore, cats that are outside (or indoor cats who temporarily escape) can hold them in their fur or claws. As the cat grooms, the eggs are ingested. Then, the infestation begins. Unfortunately, a pregnant cat can pass the worms to her litter. It is common for such kittens to be born with microscopically small roundworm larvae in their tissues. The larvae burrows into the kitten right in the mother's uterus. Furthermore, these roundworm larvae can also be transmitted through the mother’s milk.
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How cats get tapeworm
Tapeworm is transmitted to cats that ingest fleas, because fleas often eat tapeworm eggs. Again, think of the complete grooming that cats perform and the ingestion is easy to understand. The other route is cat digestion of wildlife or rodents infested with tapeworms or fleas. Unfortunately, even complete “indoor cats” can be exposed to fleas that hitch a ride inside the home on humans or other pets.
Diagnosis can only be made by a veterinarian’s examination of feces. However, sometimes the cat owner will see spaghetti-like worms coming from the cat’s anus. The disease symptoms are failure to gain weight or weight loss, dull coat, pot-belly, diarrhea, or coughing.
Tapeworm signs and symptoms
Many cases are diagnosed by seeing small worm segments attached to the cat’s fur under the tail. When they dry up they look like little grains of rice or confetti. Symptoms of tapeworm are similar to those of roundworm: diarrhea, poor skin and coat condition, changes in appetite, or abdominal discomfort.
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Fleas in Cats
Besides the tapeworm transmission danger, fleas can cause other problems. They can carry feline infectious anemia—which can be passed among cats that are in close physical contact. Fleas can also carry agents that cause human diseases as cat-scratch disease (Bartonella henselae), murine typhus, and plague. Yuck!
Skin problems and anemia
William Miller Jr., VMD, a professor of dermatology at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine,elaborated on skin problems and other dangers in an article for the Cornell Feline Health Center. He states that kittens are vulnerable to anemia from fleas.
“A flea doesn’t actually bite,” he points out. “It sticks its proboscis into the skin andsucks blood. It doesn’t take too much of this sucking to cause anemia in a kitten that is carrying innumerable fleas.” - Dr. Miller
Furthermore, there is a specific flea, the Ctenocephalides felis felis, known better known as the cat flea. These little bugs can be as small as a pinhead. Under optimal conditions, having one egg-bearing female flea in the home could result in 20,000 new adult fleas in 60 days! The flea bites cause itching which will bother a cat to varying degrees. Along the theory of survival of the fittest, fleas have figured out that the safest areas on a cat for them to target are the back of the neck and the top of the tail head.
"Cats are grooming animals and the fleas quickly figure out that a cat can't get at those areas. So the cat starts scratching, and because cats have very sharp claws, they can get very severe skin lesions very quickly." - Dr. Miller
A hypersensitive cat’s compulsive scratching may create open wounds in the skin that are then vulnerable to serious infection. Introduce an allergic cat. This cat can develop reddish, crusty bumps all over, even in areas that have not been obsessively scratched. The bumps commonly appear on the lower back, thighs, abdomen, head and neck.
Plan for Preventing Fleas and Worms in Cats
Prevent your cat from contacting soil and dirt, and from catching and eating rodents and birds.The next logical step is: consider keeping your cat indoors to reduce the chance of parasite infestation.
Isolate your cat from stray or newly adopted cats, dogs, kittens and puppies until they can be checked for worms and treated.
Groom your cat regularly to detect any fleas. If you find fleas, treat your cat, other pets, and home with products that control all stages of fleas. You may even need a professional pest exterminator. Then take measures to prevent infestation with tapeworms.
Have a stool specimen checked regularly as your veterinarian recommends be certain that your cat remains parasite-free.
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These steps will become second nature to us, as we keep our felines and ourselves safe.
Photo and text copyright 2012 Maren E. Morgan.