Cats make us laugh and provide us with comfort, filling our lives and homes with joy. One thing we don't want from them, however, is parasites. All cats are vulnerable to parasites, such as worms, fleas and ticks. Fortunately they're fairly easy to prevent.
Infection with Worms
The most common way for a cat to pick up worms is through ingesting stool or rodents infected with parasites. This doesn't mean your kitty is eating cat poo—it's fairly easy for her to pick up worms when she grooms herself or uses a contaminated litter box. She's also vulnerable if she eats an infected rodent she's captured during one of her hunting trips. Worms that commonly infect cats include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and lungworms. Symptoms of the various worms include bloody stool, diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting, difficulty breathing or coughing, bloating or constipation. Sometimes worms will be visible in the stool or near the cat's anus. Tapeworm can also be acquired when your cat swallows an infected flea, which she's likely to do if they're biting her, so flea control is essential to preventing this parasite.
Traditionally heartworms were considered mainly a threat to dogs, but cats are increasingly affected by them. As with dogs, an infected mosquito feeding on Kitty can infect her. The heartworm larvae enter the cat's bloodstream and eventually migrate to her heart or her lungs' blood vessels. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing, vomiting, weight loss or lethargy. Heartworms can have potentially fatal consequences.
People and their pets who spend time outdoors are at risk for picking up ticks, which are most prevalent during warm months. Species of ticks vary by geographic area, but all of them are interested in feeding on blood. Ticks bury their heads in the skin of their host and help themselves. This may cause mild skin irritation, but beyond that ticks can pose a serious threat to humans and animals. It's rare for a cat to exhibit symptoms of having "hosted" a tick, unless she's been infected with a disease from the tick. Symptoms can include loss of appetite, fever, anemia and lethargy.
Preventing infection from worms and ticks is fairly straightforward. Keeping Kitty's litter box clean is a good start, as it will help prevent infection from parasites that live in feces. Laundering her bedding will also get rid of microscopic larvae. Your vet can offer a variety of options for preventing infection, including topical and oral medication that will be effective in warding off parasites. A wide variety are available and you should discuss your cat's risks with your vet. Keeping Kitty inside can make a big difference in her chances of becoming infected with parasites. She will be less apt to hunt, kill and ingest infected prey, she will have fewer opportunities for her to dig around in soil containing infected stool of other cats and it will be more difficult for critters such as fleas and ticks to put her on their menu.