Identify and Treat Cat Parasites: Fleas, Worms, Ticks and More

Pet cat at home

Feline parasites are divided into two different types: those that live outside the body including cat fleas, mites, and ticks, and those who live inside the body and include cat worms such as tapeworms, heartworms, and ringworms.

No matter which type of parasite you're dealing with, they can be frustrating, painful for your cat, and difficult to get rid of. They can also be responsible for the spread of disease, and cause your cat a great deal of distress. Here's how to identify cat health problems caused by feline parasites and how to treat them.

  1. Fleas: The most common type of feline skin parasite is the flea. Fleas can cause anemia in kittens, and many cats are allergic to their bites. Fleas are so tiny it can be hard to spot them, but they do leave their droppings behind. The droppings are reddish in color, and will stain a damp paper towel with reddish-pink blots. Cats with fleas will be itchy and have small red bites on their skin.


    • Pet supply stores carry a wide range of items for flea control, including combs, shampoos, and powders. All of these treatment options can be effective in getting rid of fleas.
    • Thoroughly clean all of the cat's bedding, toys, blankets, and furniture, and steam-clean your carpets and furniture to get rid of any remaining fleas in the house.
    • Flea control spray can be used on furniture and around the house to discourage flea larvae from developing.
  2. Ticks: Ticks are not common in cats, but they do sometimes appear and should be removed. Ticks attach themselves to an animal's body and feed on their blood. After several days, the tick will grow to about a quarter of an inch in size, and appear either gray or brown in color.

    • The tick must be removed from the cat's body, which can be accomplished by plucking it off with tweezers. Get the tweezers as close to the tick's head as possible and try to remove the entire tick, not juts part of it. Pull the tick straight out, without twisting.
    • After removing the tick, you'll need to make sure it has been entirely removed from the skin of your cat. If anything remains, apply an antiseptic solution and remove the offending bits with your tweezers. Drop the tick in an alcohol solution. Ticks can often survive being submersed in water.
  3. Ear Mites: Ear mites can cause a great deal of annoyance for cats, as they live deep inside the ear canal. Since ear mites cause so much irritation to the delicate skin in the ear, an infected cat will display a great deal of dark brown or blackish colored ear wax. They may also scratch their ears excessively, or shake their heads frequently.

    • If you suspect ear mites, take your cat to the veterinarian for a definitive diagnosis. Treatment will be prescribed in the form of ear drops that will kill live mites.
    • The treatment will need to be repeated, as it only kills active mites, not those who have yet to be hatched. As each new wave of mites hatches, a fresh cycle of ear drops will begin.
    • If you have multiple pets in your home, they should all be treated for ear mites since these little pests are highly contagious.
  4. Other Mites: There are a few other types of mites that can become troublesome for cats, such as Chigger or Harvest mites. These are generally not too serious, and can be treated with the same products and methods used to treat fleas.
  5. Lice: While lice isn't a very common problem in cats, it can be passed easily between them. If your cat has lice, you'll be able to see the larvae attached to your cat's hairs. These little oval-shaped eggs cannot be removed from the hair, and are always the same shape and size. Lice can cause itching, patchy fur, and dermatitis.

    • Both over-the-counter and veterinarian prescribed sprays and shampoos can be used to treat feline lice. These products will have to be applied several times in several different stages of the development of the lice to ensure that each successive generation is removed.
    • Even after the eggs have hatched, the nits will remain attached to the cat's hair. They can only be removed by shaving the hair, if desired. The presence of nits after treatment does not indicate the presence of active lice.
  6. Roundworms: Roundworms are the most common type of internal feline parasites and cat worms, and are contracted when roundworm eggs are ingested. The worms themselves can reach about four inches in length, and live in the cat's intestine. Roundworms generally don't cause much of a health concern in cats unless they multiply and create an internal blockage. They can also be damaging to kittens, and should be treated immediately. You will see roundworms and their eggs present in your cat's feces if they are infected.

    • For adult cats, you can purchase roundworm tablets at pet stores or get them from your veterinarian. These pills will kill the worms and your cat will excrete them in its feces.
    • With kittens, a veterinarian can prescribe granules or a powder that is easier for them to ingest.
  7. Tapeworms: Tapeworms thrive in a cat's bowels. Cats contract tapeworms by ingesting fleas and lice that have eaten tapeworm eggs. If your cat has tapeworms, you'll notice small, rice-shaped eggs in the feces and around the anus. Tapeworms are not life-threatening, but they can cause a blockage of the bowels and stomach if left untreated.


    • Treatment normally comes in pill form, but must be prescribed by a veterinarian. If your cat refuses to take the pill, the medication can also be injected.
    • The medication used to treat tapeworms is given in a single dose which is usually effective in ridding the cat of the parasites.
  8. Ringworms: Ringworms affect the skin and hair growth of cats, and are most often found in very young or very old cats, those with existing health conditions, and long-haired breeds. They can be contracted by direct or indirect contact with ringworm spores, through contact with other cats, or infected bedding, carpeting, or other mediums. Symptoms include scaly patches of skin, itching, and erratic hair loss.


    • Treatment can be tricky because ringworms spread easily and take a long time to kill off. Topical creams can speed up recovery time and make the cat more comfortable; these can be prescribed by a veterinarian.
    • In serious cases, oral medication is available, but the side effects can be more problematic than the ringworms themselves.
    • If your cat is being treated for ringworms, keep it isolated and thoroughly clean any surfaces, toys, dishes, or other items that your cat has been in contact with.
  9. Heartworm: There is some debate over heartworm and how much of a risk it poses to our feline friends. While common in dogs and other animals, heartworm has only recently been diagnosed in cats, and treatments are still being developed. There are many products being marketed for the prevention of heartworm, but check with your veterinarian before you decide whether to invest in these or not. Treating an existing case of heartworm can prove extremely risky in cats, and most veterinarians will advise no treatment at all because of this.

Now you know how to identify and treat cat parasites. Remember it's always best to consult a veterinarian for advice before taking action.


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