Cat Parasites



Cat parasites play an extremely important part in how a kitten morphs into a full blown adult cat!  Cat parasites are just that; they take away nutrients and food from the growing kitten and give nothing back in return.  The only thing the kitten receives is slower growth and more susceptibility to other diseases due to a poorly developing immune systemThis is an important concept. Everything developing in the body from red cells to the immune system depends upon nutrition. The immune system is composed basically of complex proteins called antibodies. Animals can have weak immune systems unable to fight off disease due to poor diets or parasites that take the nutrition away from them. In young animals this is sad. The development of a healthy immune system in young age has ONE chance to get it right. and a lackluster coat.  In severe cases, the kitten can become anemic.  It is, hence, a win-win for the parasite and a total loss for the young, developing kitten.




Cat parasites are divided into two types for discussion.  Internal parasites are those that cause their damage inside the animal; usually the intestinal tract.  Examples of these in the kitten are:  coccidia, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and heartworms.  External parasites are those that reside and cause their damage to the exterior of the animal; usually the skin or an orifice.  Examples of these in the kitten are:  sarcoptic or demodectic mange, ear mites, fleas and ticks.


Take a moment to learn more about external and internal cat parasites in the kitten.  After studying the following interactive accordions, you will have a greater appreciation of what cat parasites can do to the body of a young kitten.  The only way to make sure your kitten and adult cat is parasite free is by frequent fecal checks by your veterinarian or if you observe something unusual (usually white) around the pets anal area or in the stool.


If you would like to learn more about cat parasites and how they effect pets and humans please view Pets & Parasites; a site geared to just the effects of parasites on pets and people.




Coccida are single cell organisms that are transmitted to kittens via contaminated feces from the mother or from hunting rodents.  The rodent acquires the infection by ingesting contaminated feces and the parasite forms a cyst like structure in the animal that is ingested by a hunting cat.  Either way, in severe cases, a cat can develop periodic episodes of blood tinged diarrhea, weight loss and poor condition.  Coccidia are normally seen in kittens.  Rarely do adult cats pick up the parasite.  This probably is due to a mature immune system.  In the majority of cases, most kittens do not show any symptoms at all.  Treatment is based on a three week program of sulfamethoxazole; usually presented in a mint flavored liquid (yellow) given twice daily.
Hookworms are seen in kittens but not as common as presented in puppies.  Hookworms are normally picked up by ingesting feces containing hookworm eggs.  Puppies are a bit different.  They are like vacuum machines with their noses to the ground.  They sniff another bowel movement, get the eggs on their nose, lick their nose and swallow hence starting the disease process all over.  In severe cases kittens can become severely anemic.  One hookworm, sucks about 0.5cc of blood from the animal daily.  Due to parasitic irritation, diarrhea can also be present.  Treatment is with pyrantel.  Cats that are put on once a month flea protection also have these drugs embedded in the mixture so that an effective dose is given monthly to prevent infection.  Hookworms are a zoonotic disease; meaning a disease that can be passed from animal to human.  In humans, the larvae of the hookworm penetrate the skin causing cutaneal larval migrans.
Roundworms or Ascarids are very common in kittens.  They are picked up by ingesting feces contaminated with the parasite.  This parasite can cause more than intestinal problems.  Larvae will penetrate the intestinal tract and migrate to the lungs where they will develop.  They irritate lung tissue hence the animal coughs and coughs up the parasite which than is swallowed starting the cycle all over again.  Most kittens, as well as puppies, will have a distended abdomen secondary to the parasite.  A lot of kittens will have a loose stool or one tending towards diarrhea.  Treatment is with pyrantel or pyrantel included in a once a month flea preparation.  This also is a zoonotic disease.  In people the larvae penetrate the body causing visceral larval migrans.
Back in the 1990’s there was a big push to put cats on heartworm preventative.  Many companies came out with such products.  In my opinion feline heartworm is far far less common than in dogs.  However, the modus operandi is the same.  A mosquito infected with a larval forms bites the cat and within 6 months an adult is present in the heart.  The big difference with cats is that there is usually only ONE worm in the heart.  Most cats are assymptomatic.  In my 33 year career in medical practice, I have seen only a few cases.  Most of these were found on autopsies that had nothing to do with heartworm.  Adult cats develop this parasite.  It is impossible for kittens up to 6 months of age to have heartworm.  Whether to put the cat on a monthly preventative depends upon the area of the country you live in.  Veterinarians may be prone to use monthly preventative in areas with a high mosquito population over the majority of the year.

Tapeworms go hand in hand with kittens and adult cats!  Tapeworms are transmitted by two methods.  There is not direct transmission.  This means that if a kitten swallows a tapeworm segment it will be passed in the feces and not cause any issues in the body.  This parasite is transmitted by fleas and by hunting mice and other rodents.  The flea contains a larval form of the parasite.  Due to the flea allergy the cat will hyper groom itself swallowing the flea and starting the life cycle.  Kittens/Cats are natural hunters and will hunt mice.  They ingest the animal which has a cyst inside and again starts the life cycle over again.  What owners will see are the small white segments that are passed in the feces.  These always look like grains of white rice.  This really freaks out most people as segments are found on bed pillows; basically anywhere where the cat rests or sleeps.  What owners are seeing is just a segment.  The adult parasite is much much longer.  Damage to the kitten comes from the circular teeth found in the head of the parasite that latches on to the lining of the intestine irritating it and causing diarrhea and poor condition.  Treatment is with 1 or 2 doses of praziquantel by mouth or injection 2 weeks apart.  Cats that are outside all the time should by wormed every 2-3 months as a preventative.  Humans can not get this type of tapeworm.

Toxoplasmosis is very similar to coccidia but the big difference is that it can be transmitted to people.  A cat has to be in the loop so that the cat’s body can allow the small larva of the organism to grow in its intestinal tract and than releasing the eggs in the cats feces.  The parasite causing the disease is Toxoplasma gondii.  The cat originally picks up the cyst, which is embedded in rodents, while hunting.  After the eggs are passed, humans pick up the disease by ingesting water contaminated with the eggs or by eating uncooked meats such as pork and beef.  Most cats with Toxoplasmosis do not show any clinical signs.  The big problem with toxoplasmosis in humans is that a pregnant woman can infect her child in utero.  One of the problems of the newborn baby is choroid retinitis; which causes a diminution of sight.  One of my professors in veterinary school was born with this.  The main way to prevent this disease is by frequent changing of the litter box and not eating raw meat.  If a woman is pregnant, KEEP YOUR CAT!  Toxoplasmosis can not be passed DIRECTLY to you.  The smart thing to do though would be to have another person change the litter box and if you enjoy gardening, please use gloves to cover your hands.




Fleas are a constant battle for all animals but the small kitten is susceptible to the deleterious effects of them.  Fleas are blood suckers and can cause anemia and weakness in susceptible kittens in an environment with a high flea population or a huge volume of them on the mother.  Fleas can produce a severe allergy even in young kittens causing them to bite at themselves and excessively groom their coats.  Doing this, they swallow the fleas leading to tapeworm issues.  Flea control is based on treating not only the pet but the environment.  If the kitten is too young for the once a month topical flea products, consider getting a shampoo with pyrethrins.  DO NOT GET products with permethrins in them.  These will cause neurological side effects in all cats.  In a pinch, you can use warm, soapy water that will flush a lot of fleas off of the body into the drain.  Fleas will make a mad dash to the head area so protect the kittens eyes and ears and wash the head area.  Treat the environment with appropriate fleas sprays and foggers as recommended by your veterinarian.
Most people think that ticks are more common on dogs rather than kittens or adult cats.  Cats may groom themselves more than dogs but the teeth of the tick attach tightly to the skin so a kitten can not remove all of them.  On the skin you will usually find the blood full females while you will find the males in the ears.  The best way to remove a tick is with a tweezer.  Attach the tip to the tick and as you pull up turn the tweezer counter clockwise to remove the mouth parts of the tick.  If they remain, a local allergy may occur but the body will wall off the offending mouth parts and will be eliminated during skin sloughing.  Ticks can transmit many diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease amongst others.  Tick control on a limited basis is by picking off the ticks seen on the kitten or by using a shampoo containing pyrethrins.  Using appropriate foggers and aersols to control them in the environment is also crucial.
Notoedric & Demodectic Mange
Mange in cats may not be as commonly seen as in dogs but kittens can develop notoedric mange; which is similar to sarcoptic mange in dogs.  Demodex exists in the kitten but not likely in healthy young kittens.  Hey!  Most humans have a Demodex population in their eyebrows!  They do no harm but they are there!  Notoedric mange is different.  It causes a severe pruritis (itch) around the face and forelimbs and can extend to the entire body.  The parasite is easily diagnosed via skin scrapings and treatment is with ivermectins or Revolution(R).
Ear Mites
As I used to tell clients, ear mites to kittens are like bees to honey!  They are seen every day in most animal hospitals.  Ear mites are usually transmitted from an infested mother to her kittens.  The mites crawl over her skin to the kittens and make a bee line to the kittens ear canals.  There, they reproduce and cause severe ear irritation and inflammation in and around the ear.   In severe cases, they irritate the tympanic membrane causing hearing loss.  Diagnosis is very easy by noting a dark, waxy material in the affected ear and the parasiste can easily be seen under microscopes.  There are many treatments but my favorites are:  Acarex(R), Revolution(R) and Tresaderm(R).  Treatment of the ears with Tresaderm(R) takes a full 3 weeks.  Tresaderm(R) must be refrigerated after each use.  Also, apply a drop of the liquid to the kitten’s tail each time you treat the ears and rub it in.  It will take care of a lot of them trying to reach the ear.
Two grey tiger striped kitten, one yawning, are sleeping on a towel in a small wicker basket.
A brass colored statue of a a cat is seen in subdued light.
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