Common Skin Parasites in Cats

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Common Skin Parasites in Cats

No matter what precautions you take in safeguarding your cat’s health and well-being, skin parasites (ectoparasites) are always a constant threat. These ubiquitous creatures can wreak havoc on the life of pets as intense itching sends them scratching, licking, chewing, and rubbing itchy parts of their bodies against surfaces to find relief. Parasites are also important carriers of diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans. Keep reading to learn about the common skin parasites affecting cats and how you can help your feline friend!

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Fleas Can Affect Indoor and Outdoor Cats

Fleas are the most common skin parasites in cats. These tiny parasites thrive by feeding on the blood of their hosts. Some cats are allergic to a substance in the saliva of fleas and develop intense itching that causes them to engage in non-stop scratching, overgrooming, and hair loss. The condition is known as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Affected cats become more prone to secondary infections as their skin becomes raw because of all the scratching, licking, and chewing that they do to find relief. Fleas can also bite humans and cause allergic reactions, especially in hypersensitive individuals.

Heavy flea infestations in very young kittens, senior cats, or those that are immune-compromised can lead to severe anemia and even death.

Fleas can also transmit tapeworms. The most common way by which cats acquire tapeworms is when they groom themselves and ingest fleas that are infected with tapeworms.

Fleas are pesky parasites that can be found anywhere. They have extra strong legs that make it possible for them to jump from one host to the next. Even if your pet cat is confined indoors, she can still become infested with fleas. When your cat is infested by fleas, flea eggs will be everywhere in your home. Even if you have given your pet flea medication and you can’t find any traces of fleas on her body, reinfection can occur within a short period as the flea eggs hatch and search for a host to feed on. Aside from treating your cat to get rid of the fleas, heavy infestations will also warrant eliminating the different life stages of fleas - adults, eggs, larvae, and pupae - in and around your home.

Like any other health issue, prevention is always better than cure. Placing your pet on a regular flea preventative to ensure adequate protection against fleas is always the best way to deal with these ubiquitous parasites. They are hardy creatures and can survive extreme environmental conditions and stay active even during winter.

Since cats are extremely sensitive to some ingredients that are used in flea preventatives and medications, it is highly recommended that you consult your vet for a product that is safe and effective for cats.

Ticks Can Cause Problems for Cats

Cats can get ticks, too. Cats that spend time outdoors are more prone to getting ticks, but indoor cats are not 100% protected. They can still get ticks when a tick ‘hitches’ a ride home with a person or another pet who has been outdoors.

Ticks are voracious bloodsuckers. They latch onto the skin of their hosts, have a blood meal, and once they’re fully engorged with blood, the female ticks drop off and lay eggs on the ground. Ticks cannot jump or fly; they crawl toward a host.

Several species of ticks can infest cats, the most common are the American dog tick, brown dog tick, lone star tick, and deer tick. Unlike dogs, cats are rarely affected by tick-borne illnesses.

All cats, both indoor-only and indoor-outdoor cats, benefit from regular tick preventatives throughout the year. There are tick medications that you can buy over the counter, but they have limited effectiveness. The stronger formulas are only available through your vet. Tick medications are available in various preparations. Many vets recommend products that can be applied topically to the skin at the back of the cat’s neck.

Important Note: Flea and tick products that are meant for use in dogs should NEVER be used on cats as they can contain ingredients that are toxic to cats.

Lice Can Affect Older Cats and Kittens

Lice infestations are usually found in older cats and those with compromised immune systems. Affected cats have itchy skin that causes them to scratch and lose hair.

Several Types of Mites Cause Skin Disease in Cats

Different types of mites can infest cats. These include the following:

Ear Mites (Otodectes cynotis)

These are the most common mites in cats. These microscopic parasites live in the cat’s ear canal and feed on the ear wax and other debris inside the ear passages. The itching and discomfort can cause affected cats to scratch at their ears or shake their heads a lot as they try to get rid of the little crawly things in their ears.

The ears of affected cats look dirty, as dark brownish ear wax and debris accumulate in the ear passages. Sometimes a crust forms which can block the ear canal.

Your vet will use an otoscope to see if ear mites are responsible for your cat’s ear troubles. The ear wax and debris may also be examined under the microscope for mites.

Ear mites are highly contagious. If you have several pets in the household and one is infested by ear mites, all of your pets should receive treatment.

Sarcoptic Mites (Feline Scabies)

Also called mange or scabies, mites of the Notoedres species bite the skin of cats and cause severe hair loss, intense itching, and skin inflammation. Immediate treatment is necessary before the problem becomes more serious and challenging to treat. Any signs of skin irritation on your cat should be brought to your vet’s attention sooner rather than later.

Mange mites are highly contagious and can even affect humans. More often than not, over-the-counter products are not strong enough to kill the mites. You will need a veterinarian-prescribed mite product that will address the issue in a shorter time and bring relief to your pet.

Other Mites That Affect Cats

Walking dandruff or Cheyletiellosis is caused by a mite that belongs to the Cheyletiella species. They can affect household pets and even humans.

Another type of mite called chiggers causes trombiculosis in cats. They are blood-sucking mites that drop off to the ground or floor after a blood meal.

A good health preventive program for cats should include regular preventatives that will give year-round protection against any type of skin parasites. Working closely with your vet can help ensure that your pet is protected by the best and safest preventative medications against skin parasites.

Read more:

Parasites That Cause Diarrhea in Cats

Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

Ringworm in Cats and Dogs

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Published: 9/20/2021

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