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Cat Parasites

Fleas | Ticks | Lice | Mites | Ringworm | Maggots | Bronchitis | Worms | Roundworms | Tapeworms | Toxoplasmosis

You must check your cat or kitten regularly to make sure that the fur and skin is kept free from parasites. A parasite is an animal or plant that takes food and protection from a host animal or plant. It survives by living of its host (such as your cat), which causes loss of condition and sometime death. In some cases, such as ringworm, the parasite can be passed on to humans.

There are readily available preparations to get rid of parasites. Ask your vet for advice, follow the instructions carefully, and stick to a strict cleaning programme and the parasites should not be a problems.


A cat with fleas may scratch obsessively, especially around the neck, and groom heavily at the base of the spine. Using the tips of the fingers, groom the cat behind the ears, the neck, spine and base of the tail. If this reveals dark, chocolate brown grit, put these on a damp tissue. If red leaches from them, they are flea droppings, which are mainly made from dried blood.

Scabby patches of skin may be found on your cat in severe infestations, with the scabs breaking off to reveal sore looking skin, with weeping. This will clear up when the fleas have gone.

Fleas move very fast through the cats fur and are hard to catch if you see them. A cat can be attacked by the cats fleas, dog fleas and human fleas. They lay eggs in the cats fur; many will drop out and hatch into larvae in cracks in the floorboards or in the carpet. The larvae develop into fleas that will feed from any host that walks by. A flea can live with periods of feeding and resting, for up to two years, but normally its six months.

There are many anti-parasitic treatments available, including powders, shampoos and sprays, that you can get from the pet store, supermarket or your vet. If the infestation is heavy, then both the cat and the environment will need to be treated, you can get long-lasting sprays for this. For the cat, the most effective method is an insecticide applied to the cats neck. This spot of application gives the cat protection for one month.

Modern parasiticides are very safe and some are suitable for young kittens. Your vet can advise you on which products are suitable for your cat.


Ticks are blood suckers and live permanently on the cat. Normally found in rural areas, but the hedgehog tick is common in urban areas. The tick burrows its head into the cats skin and gorges itself on blood. It can sometimes reach the size of a haricot bean, then drop off to no further damage to the cat. However, it could move on to other animals in the home. Removal requires precision, to avoid the head parts remaining buried in the cats skin. The cat may be irritated by the tick and knock it off, leaving the head behind. This is usually followed by chronic infection followed by an abscess. A vet can use substances to relax the tick's hold before removing it. The whole tick is carefully removed with tweezers or a tick-remover.

Tick bites can be responsible for a bacterial disease called Lyme disease. This occurs in the United Kingdom, but is more widespread in the United States. Symptoms include reluctance to jump followed by acute and recurring lameness, a raised temperature, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes especially around the head and limbs. Testing your cats blood will confirm this and the treatment is antibiotics. Lyme disease should not occur if tick are prevented, most flea treatments can do this.


It is uncommon for cats to get lice, but if the cat is old and in poor condition then it may happen. There are 3 types of louse that are known to occur on cats, one is blood-sucking and the other two bite. The signs are scratching, dry skin and an unusual increase of scurf or dandruff. Lice can be seen easily by the eye, and flea treatments will work on these.

Four groups of mites affect the cats ears and skin. The harvest mite appears in the autumn. The cat is affected by the larvae which settle in the areas where the fur is thin, such as between the toes, on the belly, in the groin and around the lips and nose.

The orange larvae are just about visible to the naked eye. They set up irritation which the cat attacks with teeth and claws, which creates more irritation. The sores that develop are round, damp and surrounded by scabby skin. Mites are contagious and treated with insecticidal treatments.

The ear mite is commonly transmitted from cat to cat. Irritation is sometimes severe; the cat shakes its head, holds the ears flat and scratches furiously. This can lead to secondary infection from self-inflicted trauma. Evidence of ear mites is a dark brown tarry substance in the ears. Ask your vet to carry out the treatment, as the ears are very delicate. The owner can the cleanse the ear gently.

Cheyletiella mites cause a condition known as "walking dandruff" and are less common. They seem to cause little irritation to the cat, although they may scratch more than usual. Excessive is the usual sign. The mite normally lives on the wild rabbit and can also effect people. Treatment is with parasiticides.

One rare form of mange is caused by a burrowing mite. It's usually found around the head starting at the base of the ear. There is severe irritation, hair loss and general lack of condition. Blood poisoning can occur in severe cases. Antibiotic treatment is necessary of any secondary infections while the skin damage is treated with parasiticides.

Ringworm is caused by a fungus, and can also affect humans. The name comes from the shape of the lesions seem on the skin in humans, which are circular, red, scaly and very itchy. In the cat, particularly the Persian, they are seen as pimples and scurf on the skin. At worst, moist, pink sores spread outwards. The parasite lives on the hair and causes the hair to break off. Ringworm can affect animals that are not in top condition and can be a big problem in longhaired cats.

Diagnosis is by the use of a special filtered light when about 65% of cases will fluoresce. Laboratory tests are more reliable but takes longer. To get rid of ringworm is a long process. The animals are treated with fungicides, in the form of baths, applications and tablets. The environment has to be cleansed to remove all spores. If your cat gets ringworm, you must take professional advice, and if necessary, the local environmental health department consulted. Good progress is being made with a vaccine, but at the moment they only exist to cut down treatment time.

Flies can be attracted to animals by the presence of discharge from wounds, or diarrhoea and lay their eggs in the fur. This is common in poor condition cats, such as those in feral colonies. The maggots burrow into the skin and form tunnels which can be of considerable length. Toxins produced to aid burrowing are absorbed by the cat and cause toxaemia (blood poisoning). If you find maggot infestation on your cat, clean it thoroughly and contact the vet.


Infectious bronchitis is sometimes caused by a parasitic bacterium that lodges in the respiratory tract of animals. The parasite does not normally cause disease, but certain strains to cause bronchitis. In a dog, this may appear as kennel cough. A cat may cough and sneeze, with or without running nose and eyes. Normally the disease is self limiting, but is can be persistent in very young or elderly cats. The organism is sensitive to several antibiotics.

The cat is affected by two types of internal, parasitic worm - roundworms and tapeworms. Worm treatments are available. Expertise has shown that these may be difficult to give with total accuracy. Routine worming treatments are best obtained from your vet. Worming preparations which give multiple protection to the cat are now available as tablets or injections. Regular treatments will keep your cat worm-free. These are often supplied at the same time as the annual booster vaccination, but may need to be given every 6 months.

Roundworms include ascarids, hookworms and lungworms. Infestations are difficult to spot unless it is very severe. If you suspect an infestation you will probably need to take a faecal sample to your vet for identification. Ascarids and hookworms live in the small intestine. Ascarids are free-floating and feed on food in the process of digestion, the hookworms attach themselves to the lining of the intestine and suck blood. Symptoms differ slightly. In severe ascarid infestation, the cat will have diarrhoea, the coat will be lank and the cat will look uncomfortable. Often the belly is enlarged.

The main symptom of hookworm is anaemia, which is most obvious on the nose leather and gums. The gums appear pale, almost white. There is a general lack of energy and the cat may become very thin.

The intermediate host of the lungworm is the slug or snail, which can be eaten by cats. However, its more likely that they will first be eaten by birds or rodents and the infective larvae reach the cat through eating them. But infestation is rare. After a complicated journey through the cat's intestine and lymph nodes, the larvae become adult worms, which may enter the lungs via the bloodstream. As a result, respiratory symptoms occur, similar to bronchitis or pneumonia.


Tapeworm diagnosis is easy. Segments of the worm containing eggs are shed and attach themselves to the fur around the anus. They look like grains of rice. Tapeworms need intermediate hosts and the flea fulfils this role in relation to the most common tapeworm to affect the cat. Flea larvae eat the secreted segments that contain eggs. The infective stage of the tapeworm s reached as the adult flea preys on the cat. If the cat swallows a flea, the process is complete. The infective stage of the second most common tapeworm develops in the liver of small rodents. The infected liver and other intestinal parts will almost certainly be consumed by a cat, if it catches one of these animals.

The way to prevent tapeworm infection is to eradicate fleas, and discourage your cat from hunting. Both may be impossible targets, but tapeworms continue to be a problem, their presence does not seem to affect cats much beyond diarrhoea.

Toxoplasmosis is caused by organisms called coccidia. They can infect humans, although symptoms of illness are rarely felt. However, if a pregnant woman is infected, the foetus may be affected, resulting in spontaneous abortion or brain damage to the baby. The disease may not affect the cat in any recognizable form, although it may cause chest infections in young cats. In older cats there may be loss of condition, digestive disorders and anaemia.

The immature egg of the parasite is passed in the cat's faeces, so potential contact with any faecal matter when changing and cleaning litter trays must be countered by a rigid routine of hygiene. Oocysts passed by the cat with toxoplasmosis take at least 24 hours to become infective, so litter trays must be cleaned as soon as possible after use and rubber gloves worn.

Small children should be kept away from litter trays at all times. You should also regularly clear away the faeces of any neighbourhood cats that visit your garden and use it as a toileting area.


Cat Flea

Cat Mite