How To Treat Your Cat’s Parasites

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cat parasite treatment

If you just found out your cat has a parasite, you’re probably pretty stressed. But most parasites in cats are actually treatable.

From dewormers to flea medications and other prescriptions, a quick chat with your vet should help you figure out which treatment is best for your pet.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance, to find out about the different cat parasite treatments.

Intestinal parasites in cats

Intestinal parasites in cats do exactly what they sound like — mess with your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) system.

There are a bunch of intestinal parasites your cat can get, like:

  • Tapeworms
  • Hookworms
  • Roundworms
  • Whipworms
  • Giardia

Tapeworms in cats

Tapeworms are long, flat worms that live inside your cat’s GI tract and attach themselves to the walls of his intestines.

“Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that a cat contracts with the ingestion of an infected flea,” Dr. Burch told The Dodo. “You will know your cat has tapeworms if you see worms in their stool that look like grains.”

Hookworms in cats

“Hookworms are intestinal parasites that live in the small intestines of cats,” Dr. Burch said. Hookworms also attach themselves to your cat’s intestinal walls, where they’ll feed off his blood.

Kittens often show more symptoms of a hookworm infection than adult cats do. If your cat does show symptoms, they’ll include things like:

  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration

Roundworms in cats

Roundworms swim around in your cat’s intestines and feed on the nutrients from the food your cat eats.

“​​Roundworms are intestinal parasites contracted by ... ingesting an infective egg, eating animal tissue containing the larva or passing from mother to kitten via the milk,” Dr. Burch said.

Roundworm infections are often asymptomatic, but possible symptoms could include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Potbelly

Whipworms in cats

Whipworms irritate the intestinal lining of infected cats.

“Whipworms are intestinal parasites that cats become infected with by ingesting the infectious eggs from the environment,” Dr. Burch said. “Cats are not as prone to infection with this intestinal parasite compared to dogs.”

Whipworm infections are typically asymptomatic, but your cat might experience things like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty going to the bathroom
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Abdominal pain

How to get rid of worms in cats

Prescription dewormers can get rid of your cat’s worms.

Different medications are more effective for different worms, but some medications work for several types.

According to Dr. Burch, the following cat dewormer medication will help with your pet’s parasites:

  • Praziquantel: for tapeworms
  • Emodepside: for hookworms and roundworms
  • Pyrantel: for hookworms and roundworms
  • Fenbendazole: for whipworms

Drontal is an oral dewormer that combines praziquantel and pyrantel, so it’s prescribed to treat tapeworms, hookworms and roundworms in cats.

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Profender is a topical combination of emodepside and praziquantel to treat tapeworms, hookworms and roundworms. It’s available for cats in the following weight ranges:

If your cat’s struggling with whipworms, you’ll need to ask your vet for fenbendazole directly since these medications aren’t available online for cats.

Giardia in cats

Giardiasis “is an intestinal infection of protozoa from ingestion of fecal-contaminated soil, food or water,” Dr. Burch said. Cats often have diarrhea when they’re infected with a giardia parasite.

Giardia infects younger cats more frequently than older cats, but if an adult cat does contract giardia, the symptoms can be serious.

Treating giardia in cats

Treating a giardia infection in cats isn’t as simple as clearing up some worms.

“​​The primary goal of treatment is resolving the symptoms as giardia is tough to eliminate,” Dr. Burch said.

Luckily, there are some medicines that can help with this.

“Giardia is treated with fenbendazole, metronidazole or a combination of both,” Dr. Burch said. “I will prescribe Panacur with the active ingredient of fenbendazole and generic metronidazole.” (You can ask your vet directly for Panacur medication for cats.)

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External parasites in cats

External parasites impact outer parts of your cat’s body, like his skin and hair. These include:

  • Fleas
  • Mites
  • Toxoplasmosis

Fleas on cats

“Fleas are the most common skin parasite seen in cats,” Dr. Burch said. “Fleas are easily spotted as black insects that are found near the skin but may be elusive.”

Fleas will suck your cat’s blood, causing itching and other irritation.

Treating fleas on cats

There are a bunch of prescription products to treat fleas on cats.

“Treatment of fleas in a cat is a multimodal approach as fleas will not only be found on your cat's body but also in their environment,” Dr. Burch said. “Cats and all other animals in the household will need to start on a year-round preventative.”

One of Dr. Burch’s go-to flea preventatives for cats is Revolution Plus, which can kill existing fleas as well as prevent future infestations.

“Preventatives for cats include Revolution Plus, a monthly topical placed on your cat's skin to prevent fleas, ticks, heartworms and intestinal parasites, including roundworms and hookworms in your cat,” Dr. Burch said. “The active ingredients of Revolution Plus are selamectin and sarolaner.”

Revolution Plus should be given monthly and is often sold in six-month supplies. It’s available for cats in the following weight ranges:

Another favorite is Bravecto Plus, which also kills and prevents fleas.

“I also recommend Bravecto Plus, an every-60-day prevention against fleas, ticks, heartworms, roundworms and hookworms,” Dr. Burch said. “The active ingredients in Bravecto Plus are fluralaner and moxidectin.”

Bravecto Plus is available for cats in the following weight ranges:

Mites on cats

There are a few different mites your cat can get.

Demodex is a common type of mite that can hitch a ride on your cat.

“Demodex is a typical mite that lives in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands of the skin,” Dr. Burch said. “The infection typically affects younger cats or individuals with a compromised immune system due to disease or medication.”

You won’t see symptoms of demodex in cats until the mites start reproducing a lot. When they do, and the infection becomes severe, your cat might experience things like:

  • Hair loss
  • Itching
  • Red skin
  • Scaling

Scabies is another common mite your cat can get.

“Scabies is a mite that lives on the skin and is highly contagious to other animals and people,” Dr. Burch said. “Symptoms include severe itching — especially at the ears, elbows, belly [and] hocks — hair loss, redness and crusting.”

Cheyletiellosis is a third kind of mite that can irritate your pet.

“Cheyletiellosis is a large mite found on the skin of cats and is also called walking dandruff,” Dr. Burch said. “Cats become infected with these mites by directly contacting affected animals or objects, such as combs.”

Symptoms of cheyletiellosis in cats include scaling and itching.

Treating mites on cats

Treatment for your cat’s mites is often the same stuff you’d use to treat fleas.

While there’s not a lot of information about treating demodex in cats, you do have options.

“​​Demodex has limited research on treatment therapies, and most efficacy data is derived from case reports, clinician experience and canine data,” Dr. Burch said. “Treatment for demodex can include lime sulfur dips, ivermectin, fluralaner and milbemycin. I will prescribe a fluralaner in the form of Bravecto Plus.”

Scabies and cheyletiellosis can both be cleared up with Revolution Plus. In addition to Revolution Plus, scabies treatment also involves heavily cleaning your environment.

“All combs, brushes, collars, litter boxes or crates will need to be disinfected,” Dr. Burch said.

Toxoplasmosis in cats

Toxoplasmosis occurs when your cat gets infected by a microscopic, single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii).

It can have a big impact on young kittens.

“Kittens infected in the womb can have low birth weights, are weak and develop fading kitten syndrome,” Dr. Burch said.

It can have some pretty serious effects on adult cats, too.

“Adult cats can experience lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and reproduction issues, including abortion, stillbirth or premature birth,” Dr. Burch said. “Additionally, some adult cats may experience neurological symptoms with convulsions, disorientation, changes in behavior and paralysis.”

Treating toxoplasmosis in cats

“There is no precise treatment for toxoplasmosis in cats to remove all organisms from the body altogether,” Dr. Burch said.

However, there are options to help keep your cat’s parasite count under control.

“Treatment options for antibiotics include clindamycin, trimethoprim-sulfonamide, pyrimethamine and ponazuril,” Dr. Burch said. “The treatment option I prescribe is clindamycin, but each case is different, and individuals may need a different treatment.”

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“Cats who have been diagnosed with toxoplasmosis will need continued evaluation to monitor the response of treatment,” Dr. Burch said. “Your veterinarian will need to perform repeated chest X-rays, PCR testing, complete blood analysis, blood chemistries and urinalysis.”

It can be scary if your cat ends up with a parasite, but the good news is you have so many treatment options. Just make sure to chat with your vet in order to figure out which one’s right for your BFF.

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