Cats can be excellent pets and can provide you with great love and affection. However, cats can also expose you to parasitic organisms that can negatively affect your health.
Cats can become hosts to several different types of parasites, most of which can also be passed on to humans. Your cat may become exposed to parasites more easily if they are an outdoor cat, but indoor cats can also be exposed. They may be exposed by other furry friends in the house, particularly dogs, or they may be exposed by any raw fish products they are fed.
One parasite is particularly common in cats—toxoplasma gondii. This is a protozoan parasite that can also infect humans and cause serious eye disease and severe lung and brain disease in people with weakened immunity. (1) In rare cases, it can also travel to other tissues in the body. Humans get exposed to toxoplasma gondii through contact with contaminated cat feces. When humans are infected with toxoplasma gondii it is known as toxoplasmosis.
While parasitic infections from pets aren't something that most people tend to think about, being aware of the risk of exposure to parasites can help you avoid these common sources of exposure so you can protect your health.
What Are Parasites?
A parasite is any organism that feeds in or on a host organism and sustains itself at the expense of that organism. There are both internal and external parasites. Internal parasites refer to worms and some of the other intestinal parasites in cats. External parasites refer to lice and fleas—creatures that live on the body rather than inside it. In this article, we are referring primarily to intestinal parasites in cats, not lice, ticks and fleas.
What Are the Types of Parasites in Cats?
There is a range of different parasites that can infect cats. Not all these affect humans, but many do, making cats a potential source of exposure. Some of the common parasites in cats include:
- Protozoan parasites (such as toxoplasma gondii)
- Roundworms (such as Toxocara cati, Toxascaris leonine, Ascaris lumbricoides)
- Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis)
- Tapeworms (such as Dipylidium caninum, Taenia, Echinococcus)
- Hookworkms (Ancylostoma)
- Whipworms (Trichuris vulpis)
Most of these parasites can also infect dogs, so if you have a cat and a dog, both pets can potentially expose you (or one another) to these parasites.
The most common intestinal parasites in cats are toxiplasma gondii and roundworms, but any of the parasites mentioned above can infect your cat. Many people are familiar with ringworm in cats. However, even though it is called "ringworm," this is actually a type of highly contagious fungal infection. Like parasitic infections in cats, however, ringworm can also infect humans. (2)
Can Parasites in Cats Infect Humans?
Most of these parasites can infect humans as well. Roundworms are a very common parasite in humans that can cause abdominal pain, cough, and delayed growth in children—though not all roundworm infections show symptoms. (3)
Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) infections are known to cause pulmonary diseases in humans. (4) Tapeworms can cause weight loss, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and even seizures. (5) Whipworms can cause diarrhea and frequent and painful bowel movements. (6) Parasites are not good for your health and are not something you want in your body or your cat's body.
Symptoms of Parasites in Cats
So, what are some of the signs of parasites in cats? How do you know if your cat has parasites? While parasites don't always show symptoms, some of the common symptoms of parasites in cats include:
- A dull haircoat
- Mucoid or bloody feces
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pale mucous membranes
- A pot-bellied appearance (7)
The signs associated with parasite infections in cats are considered to be fairly nonspecific. However, if you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms it is recommended to take your cat to a vet as soon as possible. The vet may ask you to bring in a stool sample of your cat for analysis.
How to Get Rid of Parasites in Cats
So, how do you get rid of parasites in cats? The best thing you can do is to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible to start treatment. Your veterinarian will test your cat's fecal matter and conduct other diagnostic tests to determine the best course of treatment.
Different parasites can require different methods of treatment. Therefore, it is helpful to properly test and diagnose with a professional veterinarian.
However, if you do not have access to a veterinarian, there are certain steps you can take at home to help deworm your cat.
The home treatment for parasites in cats is a bit different than the treatment for dogs. With dogs, you can feed them antiparasitic foods and can mix some antiparasitic herbs into their food as well. With cats, it isn't so easy.
Cats are picky eaters, and unlike our omnivorous dog friends, cats are carnivores. So, they can't eat a lot of the antiparasitic foods you may feed your dog. Trying to get your cat to eat any kind of medicine can also be a challenge. So, what do you do?
The best approach to treating parasites in cats from home is to force the medicine down their mouth. This might sound a little harsh, but it is necessary if your cat has a parasitic infection that can affect its health or possibly contaminate you or your family. This is one of those cases where you just have to do what's best for them, even if they don't like it or understand it.
You will need a liquid antiparasitic remedy to do this most effectively and practically. However, many of these are alcohol extracts that, while potent, can also burn your cat's mouth if not diluted.
So, you will need to dilute a serving of the antiparasitic remedy into a small amount of water, then fill a dropper and squirt the serving in your cat's mouth. For best results, you will have to do this 1-2 times a day for 2-4 weeks, depending on the severity of the infection.
Whenever using medications, it is important to use the proper dose. This can be somewhat challenging when taking the natural approach to treating parasites in cats, as you may not know what parasite they have or how much of a natural parasite remedy they need.
This is why it is best to take your cat to a veterinarian to get properly diagnosed, so they can receive the proper medication for treatment.
How to Prevent Parasitic Infections in Cats
Preventing parasitic infections begins with good sanitation practices. This includes daily removal of feces, frequently changing cat litter, regularly washing the litter box with a disinfectant, and avoiding diets of raw meat that can expose your cat to parasitic eggs or larvae. These sanitary measures are essential to having a healthier, happier cat. Parasitic reinfections are also very common, so make sure to keep up with these sanitation procedures after treatment.
Most people have heard that it is beneficial to deworm their pets, but not many people actually do this on a regular basis. Worms are a health risk for not just your cats but for you and your family as well. Just as you should deworm your cat periodically, or if it shows any symptoms of infection, you should deworm yourself periodically or if you notice that you have any symptoms of parasites.
Thankfully, getting rid of parasites is simple as long as you follow the right protocol. However, if you think you may have a parasitic infection, you should speak with your doctor. Likewise, if you suspect your cat has parasites, you should take them to a veterinarian for the best medical advice and method of treatment.