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Common cat parasites

Common cat parasites

When it comes to caring for our cats, it's important to know what kind of parasites they can contract and what you can do to prevent this from happening. Our Madison vets will give you information on the most common parasites in cats and prevention and treatment options.

What Kinds Of Parasites Do Cats Get?

There are two main types of parasites in cats: external and internal. External parasites live on the hair and skin of cats and internal parasites live in the body and organs, for example, the intestines.

Parasites are defined as organisms that live inside or on another organism, called the host, and feed themselves off the host, causing it harm.

Parasite prevention is essential for a healthy cat, and understanding the potential health hazards helps protect your cat.

What Are The Most Common External Cat Parasites?


Fleas are external parasite that depends upon a host animal for their survival, in this case, your cat. Once one of these troublesome critters lands on your kitty they can make themselves at home and begin multiplying at an alarming rate! Some estimates calculate that for every adult flea you find on your cat, there can be 100 or more immature fleas hiding throughout your cat's coat.

Not only that but if your pet has fleas, there is a good chance that they are also invading your home, hiding in carpets and soft furnishings.

The itchy bites can lead many cats to scratch and groom themselves excessively until the bites become inflamed, infected, and even more uncomfortable.

While the discomfort your cat feels should be enough of a reason to take action, fleas can also transmit tapeworms to your kitty. 


Ticks are external parasites that rely on hosts for transportation and food. Ticks feed on the blood of their hosts, including humans and animals. Wild animals are commonly responsible for bringing ticks into backyards where pets can easily pick them up and then bring them into the house.

Ticks are a danger to people and pets because they spread several serious diseases. The tick's saliva contains germs and bacteria which can be transmitted to people, sometimes leading to conditions such as alpha-gal allergy or Lyme disease.

Ticks are large enough to be noticed when running your hands over your cat when checking for bumps and irritation. A tick feels like a surface-level bump on its fur. They are usually found on the head, neck, ears, and legs.


Mites are tiny spider-like parasites that live on a cat’s skin or in the ear canals. They can cause substantial irritation, skin diseases as well as bacterial infections. The most common mite found in cats is the ear mite, which is generally found in the ear canal but can also live in other areas of the body. Other types of mites can cause scabies and trombiculosis.

The most common sign of mites in cats is constant scratching, head-shaking, licking, or biting, all of which can lead to wounds, scabs, inflammation, and hair loss.

The best way to prevent mites in your cat is with anti-parasite treatments, monitoring, and regular grooming. If you notice signs of these parasites, contact our Madison vets right away for treatment options.

Internal Parasites Of Cats?

Many types of internal parasites can make your cat sick, including roundworm, tapeworm, heartworm, and hookworm.


Roundworms are a common parasite in cats. As the name implies, they’re large roundworms that live in the intestines and cause ascariasis. Kittens generally become infected with roundworms through nursing and can catch this roundworm by eating the larvae found in the feces of infected animals. Humans can become infected with roundworms.

The most common signs of roundworms are diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, and some vomiting. In cats with few worms present, there may be no signs of infection, but you may notice them in the stool or vomit.

Since roundworm infection symptoms may not be visible, it is important to keep up to date on yearly wellness visits including stool analysis.

Once diagnosed, treating ascariasis is relatively easy, with a few doses of specific dewormers.


These are flat, long, segmented parasites that attach to the walls of the small intestine. Cats are most commonly infected by the Dipylidium canine species, but several types are known to infect pets. Cats only become infected after swallowing a flea that has been infected with the tapeworm, this generally happens through grooming or as a response to flea bites. Humans are highly unlikely to be infected by tapeworms.

Tapeworm treatment includes deworming medications either in oral or injection form. The best way to prevent tapeworm infection in cats is through flea control treatments, especially in cats with outdoor access.


Heartworms or Dirofilaria immitis, are protozoan parasites that live in the heart and surrounding blood vessels. Cats are generally more resistant to heartworm infection than dogs, however, the infection may still happen. This disease is transmitted by infected mosquito bites when eggs are injected into the pet; the larvae travel through the bloodstream for several months, finally settling in the heart and pulmonary arteries.

Heartworm infection may not show any symptoms in cats until its later stages. The most common visible signs are rapid breathing and coughing attacks, with some vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Cats may infrequently faint, have seizures, and have trouble walking. Sudden collapse and death are sometimes the first signs of heartworm disease in cats.

Unfortunately, there is no specific medication for treating heartworm disease in cats, and the medication used on dogs isn’t safe for cats. The usual treatment in cats includes treating the symptoms and stabilizing the animal. Heartworm is preventable with vaccinations and routine exams.


These parasites are small (1/8″) and very thin worms with hook-shaped mouthparts that help them attach to the walls of the intestines and feed on the host’s blood and tissue fluids. Cats are commonly infected by Ancylostoma tubaeforme and Ancylostoma braziliense but may be infected by the dog hookworm (Ancylostoma caninum).

Hookworm eggs can infect cats by either being ingested (commonly when grooming their paws), burrowing through the skin, or eating prey that has been infected. Kittens may also become infected via their mother’s milk. Humans can not be infected internally, but larvae can burrow into the skin and cause skin infection.

The most common signs of hookworm infection in cats are anemia, weight loss, diarrhea, poor hair coat, and blood in the feces.

The best way to diagnose hookworms is through a stool analysis; once diagnosed by a veterinarian, treatment involves a few rounds of deworming. Regular use of parasite preventives is recommended for cats at risk, along with periodic deworming, daily litterbox cleaning, and good hygiene.

If you have any questions or concerns about parasites, please contact our Best Friends Animal Hospital vets today for more information.

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