Fleas, Ticks, Lice and Mites on Cats

Ectoparasites are external parasites that live on the outer surface of the host and generally attach themselves during feeding. Prevention and control of ectoparasites are essential to promote the health of the cat, promote public safety, and to preserve the relationship between cats and their human family. Not all external parasites cause the same problems and some are more harmful than others so monitoring, control and prevention are essential.

Some Ectoparasites that Live on Cats

Fleas

Fleas are small, parasitic insects that feed by sucking blood from mammals and birds. While immature fleas do not bite, adult fleas usually feed several times a day.

Fleas:

  • are reddish or dark brown
  • have flat bodies
  • are wingless
  • are 1 to 4 mm (.04 to .16 inches) long
  • can jump up to 20 cm (8 inches) vertically and 41 cm (just under 16 inches) horizontally

Habitat: In the fur, on the skin

Lead to: Severe irritation, itching, scratching, biting, excessive grooming and hair loss

Dangers: Flea allergy dermatitis, anemia and contracting tapeworm

Popular hosts: Cats and dogs

Gives humans: Tapeworm from ingesting infected flea (very rare)

Spreads: Contact with infested animal or the environment

Diagnosed: Use a comb to look for fleas and/or black specks (flea feces/‘flea dirt’)

Treatment: Broad-spectrum parasite solution that gets rid of eggs, larvae and adults

In most parts of Canada, the peak flea season is early August to early October.

A cat may be at risk for flea infestation depending on the environment. Access to the outdoors, being in contact with other outdoor pets, or living in environments where there are many pets, can be high-risk. In these scenarios, consultation with a veterinarian to recommend methods of prevention and products for control is advised.

Because cats are so fastidious in grooming, it may be difficult to find or diagnose fleas on cats. When fleas and/or flea allergy dermatitis are suspected, treatment should be started whether or not fleas or flea dirt are actually found on cats.

Ticks

Ticks are scientifically classified as Arachnida – this classification includes spiders. There are approximately 800 species of ticks throughout the world, but only two families of ticks, Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks), are known to transmit diseases or illness to humans. Hard ticks have a scutum, or hard plate, on their back while soft ticks do not. Ticks are small and often hard to see. Immature ticks, called nymphs, are about the size of a poppy seed. Adult ticks are about the size of a sesame seed.

In Canada, tick distribution varies with geographic area and tick species. Although cats are less susceptible to tick-borne diseases than dogs, consult your veterinarian about the risk to your cat.

Many tick bites are harmless and don’t require medical attention. However, some ticks (like the deer tick, wood tick, and others) can carry bacteria that cause diseases. Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a bacterial infection that’s transmitted to humans by tick bites. Lyme disease is caused by a type of bacteria found in animals like mice and deer. Ixodes ticks (also called black-legged or deer ticks) that feed on these animals can then spread the bacteria to people through tick bite. The deer tick is tiny, no larger than a pencil point and difficult to find on the skin.

Habitat: Buries head into skin

Leads to: There are a wide range of symptoms including fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, weight loss, weakness, feline infectious anemia      

Popular hosts: Cats and dogs
Gives humans: Tick bite fever

Spreads: Environment or contact with other animals carrying ticks

Diagnosed: Your vet can confirm whether your cat has a tick and can then safely remove it

Treatment: Vet recommended tick control and treatment for possible diseases contracted

Ear Mites

Kittens and newly adopted cats should be evaluated for infection with ear mites (Otodectes cyanotis).

Infestation: Otodectic mange

Habitat: Ear canal although ear mites can leave the ear canal to explore, causing itchy skin

Leads to: Severe irritation, itchy ears, head shaking, ear scratching and discharge from the ears

Dangers: Inflammation and secondary ear infection        

Popular hosts: Cats
Gives humans:  Temporary rash (rare)

Spreads: Contact with infested animal

Diagnosed: By vet, based on sample of discharge from ears

Treatment: As advised by vet (treat infected cat and other pets)

Feline Lice

Cats with signs of severe itching, scaling, repeatedly picking at skin, and hair loss should be evaluated for feline lice Cheyletiella spp and others).

Common name: Walking dandruff

Infestation: Cheyletiellosis

Habitat: These mites live on the skin of cats

Leads to: Flaky skin and/or scabs, red skin, bumps on skin, irritation, itching and mild hair loss

Popular hosts: Cats, dogs and rabbits

Gives humans: Itchy rash (presence is temporary)

Spreads: Contact with infested animal or the environment

Diagnosed: By vet, based on symptoms and contagion risk

Treatment: As advised by vet (treat infected cat, other pets and household)

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