Fleas, Ticks, and Other Parasites

A tabby cat scratching its ear

Parasite checks must be conducted early and often, since mother cats can transmit parasites to their kittens. Parasites are organisms that can live in or on another living thing.

Internal parasites usually live in a kitten’s digestive system and are detected by an examination of your cat’s stool. Treatment can begin as early as two weeks of age and be repeated at two to three week intervals, as determined by your veterinarian. The veterinarian also will do one or more fecal parasite checks within this period. External parasites live on your kitten’s body. These are diagnosed by physical examination and by tests run on your cat’s skin. If left unchecked, parasites can make life miserable for you and your kitten. However, there is much you can do to prevent and treat them. As with most health problems, prevention of parasites is easier, less expensive and less bothersome than treatment. So be alert for early signs and symptoms.

Internal Parasites

Researchers now believe that many cats transmit roundworms and hookworms directly to their offspring. Your veterinarian will advise you as to whether a parasite check and/or worming treatment are appropriate as part of your kitten’s or cat’s routine care – whether or not symptoms are present.


Tapeworms are one of the most common problems cats encounter. However, they rarely pose a health risk. Cats can acquire tapeworms by eating a rodent or ingesting a flea carrying an immature tapeworm, so flea control is important. Keeping your kitten indoors also may help. Small, white worm segments around your kitten’s anus or in her litter pan indicate tapeworms are present (though infected cats may show no symptoms). Check your cat’s stool periodically. Your veterinarian can give an injection or prescribe medication as treatment.


A mother cat, even if she has been wormed, may pass roundworms to her kittens through her milk. Take a stool sample to the veterinarian when your kitten is scheduled for her regular shots. These intestinal parasites may cause weight loss, weakness, diarrhea, or mucus in the stool. Mildly infested cats sometimes show no symptoms. Your veterinarian can deworm your kitten safely. Frequent, thorough cleaning of the litter box can help avoid reinfection.


Kittens may acquire hookworms from their mother before birth or when nursing, so it’s vital for your veterinarian to routinely check your kitten’s stool sample. If possible, keep your kitten away from other cats’ waste, since hookworms can be transmitted through contact with infected feces. Hookworms cause anemia, diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting or black, tarry stools. Your veterinarian can provide appropriate treatment. Frequent, thorough cleaning of the litter box can help avoid reinfection.


To avoid these organisms, which can live in your cat’s intestines, make sure your kitten doesn’t eat raw or undercooked meat, including rodents. Also clean her litter pan daily. It only takes one or two days for feces to become infectious. Symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and loss of appetite, but most infected cats show no symptoms at all. Your veterinarian can prescribe oral medication.


Toxoplasmosis is a multi-systemic parasite that is dangerous to humans as well. Symptoms can include non-specific signs such as fever and loss of appetite as well as ocular lesions, difficulty breathing and diarrhea. Since toxoplasmosis can cause severe birth defects in humans, pregnant women should avoid changing the litter box, having a non-pregnant family member do the job.

External Parasites


Cats can get fleas from another cat or from their environment. Examine for fleas during grooming. If you suspect your kitten has fleas, consult your veterinarian for a safe and effective treatment method. A cat infested with fleas scratches or bites herself frequently. Small red spots may show up on her skin and black specks (flea dirt) may cling to the fur on her neck or rump. Fleas may also cause allergic dermatitis, which shows up as mild to severe encrusted lesions on your kitten’s skin. The only way to fight flea infestation is to treat both your kitten and her environment. Depending on where you live, the flea season can last many months and you don’t want your kitten to be in misery all summer long. Recent scientific innovations have now made it easy for you to administer treatments to not only protect your kitten against fleas, but to rid her of fleas too. You can get safe and highly effective products through your veterinarian. Always ask your veterinarian about the best way to combat fleas for your pet. Remember, cats lick themselves as part of a normal grooming, and certain combinations of over-the-counter products you might be considering could be harmful to your kitten or cat. You must also wash your kitten’s bedding in hot, soapy water. Clean the carpeting with a commercial rug cleaner safe for cats. Vacuum thoroughly and throw away vacuum cleaner bags afterwards. Use flea-killing room foggers according to your veterinarian’s instructions to make sure all newly born fleas are destroyed. And consult a professional exterminator if the problem gets out of hand.

Ear Mites

Cats are very susceptible to ear mites. Since mites can lead to secondary ear infections, it’s important to check your kitten’s ears regularly. Cats can get ear mites from contact with other cats. If you have several cats and one becomes infected, consult your veterinarian about treating or protecting the others. An infested cat will scratch her ears and shake her head. Her ears may also show rough spots or look like there’s dried blood inside. Your veterinarian can prescribe eardrops for treatment and demonstrate how to keep your kitten’s ears clean.

Ticks and Lice

Fortunately, ticks and lice are a much more rare problem than fleas. However, you should periodically examine your kitten for these parasites, especially if you live in a hot or wooded region where ticks thrive. A hidden tick may resemble a scar or other bump. Remove a tick by grasping it with a tweezers, close to your kitten’s skin, and pulling upward slowly and firmly. Avoid twisting and breaking the tick’s head off. Leaving a tick in your kitten could cause skin irritation and infection. After the tick is removed, apply antiseptic to the skin. Lice can be controlled through most flea sprays and powders. Be sure to use only those which are safe for cats and approved by your veterinarian.


Ringworm is caused by a fungus and is very contagious – even to humans. Ringworm appears as oval bare patches on your kitten’s skin. To help prevent ringworm, your kitten should avoid unnecessary contact with other cats. Your veterinarian can treat ringworm with topical and/or oral medication.


Mange is caused by several kinds of mites and like ringworm, can also be transmitted to humans. As a preventative measure, have your kitten avoid unnecessary contact with other cats. An infected cat loses fur in patches, shows excessive shedding, or has bald spots around her eyes, nose or ears. Your veterinarian can use a special insecticidal dip to treat mange.

Allergic Dermatitis

Most often caused by fleas, allergic dermatitis shows up as a mild to severe encrusted lesion on the cat’s skin. An early diagnosis will help avoid excessive skin irritation.

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