Your favorite frisky feline, whether indoor or out, will come across a variety of creepy-crawlies in his life. These parasites and bugs cause infections and other nasty health issues if left untreated. Please consult a licensed veterinarian about the well-being of your pet if you suspect a parasite problem.
If you're a cat owner, you've probably seen this before: Kitty is happily snoozing in a warm window when suddenly his eyes fly open. He stops, looks around and begins to scratch an ear -- and scratch some more. If he's keeps it up, it's likely he has ear mites. An ear mite, or Otodectes cynotis, crawls its way into your poor cat's ear and sets up a family dynasty. It breeds, feeding on wax, until it's produced a whole colony, leaving their black, dirt-like debris to clog up the place. All that gunk causes your cat to scratch and paw at his ears and to shake his head. The affected ear will eventually become red and inflamed, and your kitty can lose his ability to hear. A good vet will clean out the ear and prescribe drops to de-mite it.
If your cat has bugs on his skin, there are two likely culprits: fleas and cheyletiella mites. Fleas need no introduction. The tiny parasites feed off your cat's blood, causing itchiness he can't help but scratch -- sometimes to a dangerous degree. Too much scratching can puncture and scrape the skin, leading to nasty infections. If Frisky ingests flea eggs while grooming, he's at risk for a tapeworm infestation. Cheyletiella mites have a disgusting, if accurate, nickname: walking dandruff. These skin-infecting mites are large enough to see. Like fleas, they'll make your cat itch. A thorough cleaning of cat and environment should be enough to get rid of these ugly buggers.
If mites and fleas are gross, intestinal parasites are vomit-inducing -- literally. Infected cats tend to throw up or develop diarrhea. You might find blood or mucus mixed in, and poor Mr. Kitty's belly may swell. His coat can lose its luster and in severe cases, your cat's immune system can be compromised. Anemia is a concern, especially if your cat is a kitten. Tapeworms typically ride along with fleas, resembling little grains of rice stuck around Mr. Kitty's bum. If he makes it a habit of eating infected critters -- mice, for example -- he'll develop an infection of his very own. If you allow the infection to go untreated, the worms can proliferate until they block his intestines, leading to death.
As is obvious from their name, heartworms infect the heart, though they can travel to other areas of a cat's body. Infection begins when a heartworm-carrying mosquito takes a bite out of the animal. Unfortunately, Mr. Kitty may show no signs he's infected, and there is no treatment. In some cases, the infected cat will show typical signs of illness: fatigue or depression, problems breathing, coughing and vomiting. Because felines have small hearts, infestation from heartworms is almost always fatal.
- ASPCA: Ear Mites
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Fleas: A Source of Torment for Your Cat
- Skin Diseases of the Dog and Cat; Tim Nuttall et al.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats
- The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health; Scott Line and Cynthia M. Kahn