Keeping Cats Parasite & Disease Free
Cats are quite self-sufficient creatures. They groom themselves, eat when they want to and tend to lead a relaxed and quiet life. It’s because of this that owners forget that, just like dogs, they are also at risk of infestations from parasites that cause illness and even death. Fortunately, control has become much easier over recent years with easy to apply treatments now available that will protect our favourite feline friends.
Regular vaccinations and treatments are an important part of health care for a cat since many life-threatening diseases can be prevented. Some feline diseases are very serious and sometimes fatal even with veterinary treatment so routine preventive healthcare is the key to a cat’s long healthy life.
Often the first place a new cat owner will head to is their veterinarian so that their cat or kitten’s health can be assessed. This is the best time to seek advice on the best regime to control both internal and external parasites. After this first visit, most veterinarians will send out handy vaccination reminders so if moving house, be sure to inform them of the new postal address.
PROTECTING AGAINST WORMS
Tapeworms and roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite of cats and are easily picked up from other felines or even just the environment in which they live. Kittens can also be infected through their mothers and sadly the outcome could potentially be death. Humans, and in particular children, can also become infected with worms and so diligently treating pets is important for the health of the whole family as well.
There are various treatments available but not all worming medications kill all worms so it is important to check the label or seek advice. Treatments can be administered orally with a ‘pill popper’ or with a liquid solution combined with food but easy to apply spot-on treatments have now become available that control hookworm and roundworm as well as fleas, heartworm and ear mite. The frequency of application depends on the type of control chosen so read the packaging carefully.
For advice, pop your cat into a carry cage and bring it into any Better Pets and Gardens store. Our team will weigh your pet and help you develop the most suitable regime to protect her against internal and external parasites.
Hookworm infection can occur from the ingestion of eggs in the soil, through the skin or in the case of kittens, through the mother’s milk. These are small worms that burrow into the intestinal wall and suck blood causing weakness, anaemia, diarrhoea and weight loss and potentially death. The larvae of the hookworm can penetrate the skin of humans causing itchy dermatitis.
Roundworm is very common in kittens as they become infected via their mother immediately after birth but adults also become infected by swallowing eggs from the environment or by eating mice and birds. Roundworm can grow up to 10cm long and infection is usually obvious from the cat displaying poor condition, pot belly, coughing, diarrhoea, vomiting, and loss of appetite and in kittens this can result in death. Children can become infected with roundworm from handling their pets or infected faeces and then putting their hands in their mouth.
The most common form is the flea tapeworm caused by the larvae of the flea eating the tapeworm eggs and then, when the cat ingests the flea during grooming it becomes infected. Tapeworm can grow to 50cm long but usually only small segments of this are seen in the cat’s faeces or around the tail and anus causing itchiness and for them to continually lick the area. Control of fleas in the cat’s environment is essential to stopping infection of tapeworm.
Signs of Worm Infection:
- ‘Pot Belly’ appearance in kittens
- Change in appetite & weight loss
- Poor coat condition & pale gums
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
- Worm segments around anus and in faeces (looks like white rice).
- Licking or irritation around anus.
If your cat appears unwell, consult a veterinarian immediately and remember that children should be taught good hygiene during and after playing with their pets to avoid infection.
Heartworm infestation is far more common in dogs but cats can become infected as well and whilst it is rare, they are extremely vulnerable to even a small number which can potentially lead to death.
These worms are up to 30cm long and live in the heart and main blood vessels of a cat’s lungs. It is transmitted by mosquitoes and is potentially fatal. It is more prevalent in warmer parts of Australia where mosquito numbers are higher and signs of infection can take up to 18 months to become obvious. Symptoms include loss of energy, difficulty breathing and a persistent cough but by the time these begin to show, the disease is well advanced and the cat may die suddenly. Treatment for heartworm is dangerous and expensive and may not actually reverse some of the damage already caused so prevention is absolutely essential.
Protection against heartworm is no longer difficult with monthly spot-on treatments available for cats which also control fleas and other worms. Adult cats that have never received heartworm prevention need to be assessed by a vet before treatment is started and may require a blood test prior to starting preventative treatment.
Fleas on kittens and cats are almost inevitable but can be easily controlled. Adult fleas live on animals and reproduce there but their eggs fall all over the backyard, park or the home to hatch and develop later. About 95% of the flea life cycle does not occur on the pet but in the environment where the cat lives which is why the environment has to be treated as well as the pet.
Drop into any Better Pets and Gardens to find out how to treat both your cat and your environment for fleas and at the same time reduce the possibility of infection from flea tapeworms.
VACCINATION AGAINST DISEASE
Most vets will routinely vaccinate against both types of cat flu and feline panleukopaenia at a minimum which is often referred to as an F3 vaccination. However, indoor and outdoor cats have different needs and the vet may recommend other vaccinations depending on the cat’s situation. It is important to remember that a vaccination will prevent a cat from becoming ill but may not prevent it from becoming infected so a cat may still infect other unvaccinated animals in the household.
Vaccinations will be successful for most cats but under some circumstances the vaccine may fail such as if a variation of a strain occurs, if the cat is pre-infected or the cat is not healthy at the time of vaccination. Severe reactions to vaccinations are very rare though some cats will experience a mild reaction at the point of the vaccination. There might also be a general reaction where a cat will become quiet, lose appetite and possibly have vomiting and diarrhoea for a day or so. It is important to discuss these risks with the veterinarian before undertaking vaccination and to keep them informed if any reactions do occur.
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (Cat Flu)
This virus causes upper respiratory-tract infections similar to the human common cold. It is highly contagious when a cat comes into contact with another cat and symptoms include mild fever, loss of appetite, sneezing, coughing and discharge from the eyes and nose. Available treatments are limited and even if a cat recovers it may still be a carrier for life.
Feline Calicivirus (Cat Flu)
This cat flu is also highly contagious and difficult to treat. Symptoms include fever, ulcers and blisters on the tongue, pneumonia and possibly even depression. Even after recovery a cat will continue to experience chronic sneezing and runny eyes and will still be highly contagious to other cats.
Now an uncommon disease, this infection causes severe and often fatal gastro-enteritis however the virus can survive for up to one year outside the cat’s body meaning that the possibility of the cat coming into contact with it over its lifetime is high. Like many of the other viruses, even if the cat does recover after treatment it can still spread the disease to other, unvaccinated cats.
This bacterial disease is a particular problem in colony cats and is responsible for around 1 in 5 cases of all feline respiratory diseases. It is extremely contagious and causes painful inflammation and swelling of the membrane around the eye and is known to cause infertility to female cats. Although vaccination is the preferred method of prevention it may make a cat sick for several weeks and should be discussed with the veterinarian first. When this is added to an F3 vaccination, it is known as an F4.
Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
FeLV causes suppression of the immune system, cancer of the white blood cells and solid tumours. After initial contact with the virus, a cat may show no symptoms for months and even years but will still be infecting other cats. Testing is available to determine the FeLV status of a cat. It is a far greater problem in colonies of cats and since these pets tend to roam, veterinarians may recommend vaccinating against it.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
FIV is mainly transmitted to outdoor cats by deep bites and scratches from an infected cat and can cause weakening of the immune system leading to chronic infections and disease in various organs. The initial vaccination is followed by two more vaccinations several weeks apart and then an annual booster that can be given at the same time as the regular F3 vaccinations. The decision whether to vaccinate for FIV should only be made after discussion with a veterinarian.
When a kitten is born it is protected by antibodies passed on from its mother in the first milk. The amount that the kitten receives varies but these antibodies can also prevent vaccination from working properly. This is one of the reasons that a kitten needs two to three injections for full cover.
Kittens should be first vaccinated at 6 to 8 weeks and then every four weeks until they are around 16 weeks old. A kitten will not be fully protected until 7 to 10 days after the last vaccination so should not be allowed contact with animals from outside the household until then and only if their worm treatments are up to date. Thereafter, the cat will require repeat vaccinations (probably annually) throughout the rest of its life as recommended by a veterinarian.
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