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Ectoparasites in cats - defeating these bugs.

Creepy crawlies. Not pleasant, and not welcome on your cat or in your home! So, what exactly are they?

Informative image: flea

Public enemy number one: Fleas

The flea is the most common ectoparasite (parasite which lives on the outside of the animal, as opposed to our previous blog about internal parasites), and the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, will live on both cats and dogs.

Adult fleas live on the cat; the female can produce up to 50 eggs PER DAY! The flea will complete its life-cycle off the cat – that’s right, in your upholstery… Once it becomes an adult, it will then climb on board an unsuspecting Felix, feed off the cat’s blood, and start the whole unpleasant merry-go-round again.

Many cats cope okay with fleas; the blood sucking may just cause a bit of an irritating itch. The issue is that some may produce an allergic reaction, known as “flea allergic dermatitis”. This looks like many little red dots on your cat’s skin.

Fleas can bite humans, but will not stay on you for long. It is important to treat your home as well as your cat.

Nasty little sucker: Ticks

Ticks hide out in long grass, jump aboard your cat, bury their head in the skin and feed on their blood. This is likely to cause inflammation and itchiness. Ticks can carry a nasty bacteria (spirochaete) of the Borrelia group; hence some ticks can cause Borreliosis, more commonly known as Lyme’s disease. Fortunately for Whiskers, this is less common in cats than in dogs. Nonetheless, be vigilant about looking for any presence of ticks on your cat.

Ticks can also affect humans.

A mighty foe: Mites

There are different species of mites which affect cats: most commonly, Demodex, Cheyletiella, and Scabies.

Demodex mites live in the actual hair follicles of the skin. They are transmitted by direct contact from a mother with Demodex to young kittens; interestingly, clinical signs of Demodicosis (the condition caused by Demodex) is usually only seen in cats with a compromised immune system. So, the mother cat may show no signs, but her kittens can still be infected. There is a condition known as “otic demodicosis”, where the ears are affected and itchy

Cheyletiella - the glamorously named “walking dandruff”! These can often be seen moving along the hair shaft. They generally cause itching and scabs. Typically transmitted from cat-to-cat by direct contact, the long-haired breeds are especially susceptible.

Scabies cause “sarcoptic mange”. Sarcoptic mange is more commonly associated with dogs and foxes, but can affect cats. This mite spends its whole lifecycle on the cat, unlike the flea; the adults bury into the skin to lay their eggs. It may be asymptomatic for several weeks.

Lice to meet you…

Commonly plaguing children, lice are actually rare in cats. The good news is that they are very species-specific, so cats cannot get human lice, and humans cannot get feline lice.

Signs of ectoparasites on your cat

To summarise, here are the signs to look out for:

·         Pruritis; itching. Your cat may seem agitated

·         Red patches of skin; these may appear like pin-pricks

·         “Scurf” or flakes in the hair

·         Scabbing of the skin

·         Pustules; this is when scabs become infected

·         Depression in your cat if he is very severely affected

·         Alopecia; hair loss

How do we deal with ectoparasites?

Always discuss with us at routine health-checks, or if you have a particular concern! 

·         Fleas; “spot-on” treatment. These are applied directly to the skin. It is also essential to treat your house, particularly curtains, carpets and the cat’s bedding.

·         Ticks; always remove gently with tick-removers if you feel comfortable doing so (if not, our vets or nurses will be happy to help!)

·         Mites; these might (excuse the pun) need special shampoos, but generally, a spot-on treatment will be effective. Demodex may be harder to get rid of, as the cat is often immune-compromised to get them in the first place.

·         Lice; again, an effective spot-on will sort your cat out. Make sure you clean his brushes, too!

Don't forget to also look at the ProActive Pets scheme, for treatment against these parasites and so much more!

Here’s hoping you and your cat stay itch-free – and apologies if you feel itchy just from reading…

“What greater gift than the love of a cat?” – Charles Dickens