Sometimes it’s hard to take invisible threats seriously. You read warnings about he bacteria living on your
toothbrush or kitchen sponge,
and you might resolve to get a
new toothbrush or use disposable
counter wipes. But those resolutions might not last beyond the
next trip to the store. Threats we
can see, like an oncoming car or a
wildfire, make a much more dramatic impression.
That’s why talking about cat
parasites is a little challenging for
veterinarians. Even parasites we
can see at some phases of their
life cycle are invisible most of the
time, lurking in our carpets or our
cat’s digestive tract. Mostly invisi-
ble parasites and the diseases they
carry cannot only make our cats
(and us!) sick, some of them can
kill our feline companions.
Sound frightening? Maybe so, but
there’s also some good news. The
scary stories making headlines about
feline parasites are mostly hype, and
nearly all parasite risks can be greatly
reduced or eliminated with some
simple lifestyle changes and modern
When it comes to familiar parasites like fleas, roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm, the veterinary community tends to think
of them like the common cold.
They’re not harmless, but they are
easy to diagnose, treat, and prevent. In fact, many of the topical
and oral products recommended
by veterinarians to prevent fleas
also continuously kill and control
those other parasites.
One common parasite that usually isn’t diagnosed until it makes
itself visible is the type of tapeworm known as Dipylidium cani-num. Transmitted mostly when a
cat eats an infected flea, it spends
much of its life hiding inside your
pet — until it crawls out and
makes its wiggling-rice-grain-self
known, usually on the fur beneath
your cat’s tail. If you spot tapeworm segments on, or a flat worm
in the process of exiting, your cat,
head for the vet, because you’ll
need a prescription medication to
kill the parasite.
If your cat has this type of tapeworm, she has also been exposed
to fleas. That means you’ll need to
treat all the pets in your family for
the pesky critters, because while
only one pet may be itching, fleas
are still present in the home and
are undoubtedly biting your other
pets — dogs as well as cats.
Cats can also get another type
of tapeworm, Taenia taeniaeform-is, from eating infected rodents.
“If a cat is routinely given flea
prevention but still has tapeworm,
chances are it is Taenia,” said Dr.
Heather Fritz, assistant professor
of parasitology at Washington
State University College of
Speaking of worms, did you know
that heartworm is actually more
dangerous for cats than for canines?
People are far more likely to
buy heartworm preventive for
their dogs than their cats, especially indoor cats, but mosquitoes
do get inside. Far from being a
new problem, heartworm disease
has been diagnosed in cats since
the 1920s. And unlike with dogs,
it only takes one or two heartworms to kill them, and there’s no
treatment. Do your cat a favor, and
reread that last sentence.
“This is a disease that’s potentially lethal, difficult to diagnose,
Cat Parasite Primer
THE VET IS IN BY DR. MARTY BECKER,
CHIEF VETERINARY CORRESPONDENT, CATSTER MAGAZINE