Information about worms and fleas, and how to prevent and treat them

WORMS:

Cats carry the following worms; 

Roundworm; 


In the UK, about 2-3% of people are believed to be infected with roundworm at some stage in their lives, however, most of these will remain unaware that they've been exposed to the parasite, as infection is often symptomless, or causes nothing worse than a stomach ache. 

The risk of serious human harm as a result of a roundworm infection caught from a cat or dog is remote. Nevertheless, 12 people annually in the UK suffer eye damage as a result of a roundworm infection: caused when the eggs develop into larvae and circulate to the back of the eye. 

Microscopic roundworm eggs are shed into the environment in faeces by infected animals, where they can survive for up to three years (long after the faeces has disappeared). These eggs are then swallowed by other animals as they graze or snuffle around in the grass. Cats and dogs can become infected this way, or if they eat an infected rodent. 

Inside the infected animal, eggs then develop into adult worms, which shed more eggs, thus continuing the life cycle. Humans can inadvertently swallow roundworm eggs if they get them on their hands and, say, handle food. Children are thought to be more at risk because they are more likely to lick their hands without washing. 

Tapeworm; 


Dipylidium eggs are shed into the environment in the faeces of infected animals. Here they are ingested by fleas, inside which they develop. As cats and dogs groom themselves, they ingest the flea, and so the cycle continues. 

People can also be infected after accidentally swallowing a flea (as may happen when grooming a flea-infested pet). Dipylidium spp. tapeworm do not pose any great health risk to people or pets. Nevertheless, a Dipylidium infection is unpleasant. 

Worm segments are passed, wriggling around in pets' faeces, causing itchiness. 

My kittens are wormed when they are 2,5,9 &12 weeks of age to ensure they are worm free to go to their new homes. They should then be wormed once every 3-6 months for the rest of their lives to remain worm free. My kittens are wormed using Panacur paste, then Milbemax Kitten. Older kittens and cats can be wormed using drontal or milbemax tablets, or a spot-on treatment such as Profender.

                                   

 

Fleas:


Fleas are one of the most common parasites caught by cats and dogs. Indeed, it's thought that every cat and dog will suffer an infestation at some point in their lives. 

Fleas are not just an inconvenience. Their saliva is considered one of the most allergenic substances on earth, and is the cause of a nasty skin disease in pets called Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD). Also, when they bite, fleas ingest blood. If the infestation is severe enough, it can cause anaemia or even kill a small puppy or kitten. That's not to mention the embarrassment of having your home infested with fleas, and the discomfort if you're bitten as well. 

There are over 2000 species of flea in the world. Thankfully, only the cat flea and the dog flea (Ctenocephalides felis, Ctenocephalides canis) are important to dogs and cats. The problem is that fleas breed in stupendous numbers. Each female can lay as many as 200 eggs, which immediately fall off the animal, all around your home. You might think that a pet kept entirely indoors would be at no risk of catching fleas. But don't forget that it only takes a visit from one untreated animal to trigger an infestation in your home, so even housebound pets may require flea control. 

Some pets are allergic to relatively small numbers of fleas, and may need particularly stringent flea control. 

Once on your pet, adult fleas take a blood meal (bite) and mate. Within 24 to 48 hours, the female starts laying her eggs. These eggs fall off the animal, wherever it goes in your house. A typical female flea may lay 200 eggs over a period of five days. They'll hatch in a further 4-12 days, depending on the temperature and humidity. So, two important facts here: 1. For every flea you can see on your cat or dog, there may be another 200 eggs around the house. 2. This is why experts the world over agree that the most effective flea control involves using 2 types of insecticide: one to kill adult fleas on the pet, and the other to prevent fleas reproducing. 

Flea eggs hatch into worm-like larvae which move away from light and downwards. This means that they are usually found deep in the carpet pile. They tend to accumulate in areas where the pet rests, but have been observed to crawl as far as 20 feet while in this stage of the life cycle. The lessons for effective flea control are: 1. Whilst household sprays can certainly help, it can be difficult to be sure that you've treated all the hard-to-get areas that flea larvae congregate. 2. Flea prevention is better than cure. In other words, far better to treat your pet before it catches fleas, than end up chasing possibly hundreds or thousands of flea larvae around the house. 

After 7-18 days, flea larvae pupate. Not the latest dance fad, but the process by which they spin a protective cocoon around themselves and develop into adults. Inside the cocoon, fleas are almost impervious to insecticides. In fact, about the only thing that will get them during this stage of their life cycle is a blowtorch (which is perhaps a bit extreme for most people!). It takes between 5-14 days for fleas to develop inside the cocoon, after which they are triggered to hatch in response to vibration (being stepped on), or the carbon dioxide exhaled by a passing host. But in the absence of a trigger, they can survive inside the cocoon for up to nine months. 1. There are no chemical sprays on the market today that will penetrate the pupal cocoon. So, if you have pupal fleas in the house, you will need to start your flea control programme and accept that it may be weeks before they hatch and can be completely eliminated from the house. 2. Once again, prevention is the best approach to flea control. If you treat your pet before it comes into contact with fleas, you won't end up with flea pupae around your home. A flea can hatch from its cocoon, jump on a passing pet, and begin feeding in as little as 7 seconds. Unfortunately, scientists believe there is no such thing as an effective flea repellent. It seems that fleas are not repelled by garlic, citronella or brewers yeast. 

Adult fleas are permanent ectoparasites. In other words, once they have landed on a pet, they'll stay there until they're removed by grooming or die. That's logical. After all, if you're already sitting in the best restaurant in town, why move? Adult fleas usually live for a matter of days on a cat or dog, unless swallowed by the pet, or killed by an insecticide. They account for only 5% of a typical flea infestation at any one time (the rest existing in the egg, larval and pupal life stages). 

A trained eye isn't usually needed to spot a heavy flea infestation. You'll probably notice your pet scratching, biting its coat, or showing other signs of discomfort. If you then run a fine metal comb through your pet's coat, you might see them crawling around on the comb afterwards. Often though, you'll notice symptoms of a flea infestation without being able to find the culprit. That's because pets, especially cats, will groom fleas out of their coats long before you've had a chance to try and find out what's making them itch. If you're in any doubt, carry out a simple flea check. First sit your cat or dog on a large piece of white paper. Then rub its back vigorously for a minute or so. As you rub, any flea faeces will fall onto the paper. You may need to hold the animal's tail between its legs in order to prevent it moving whilst you do this. Next pick up the piece of paper, remove any hair, and transfer the 'rubbings' onto some damp cotton wool. Leave to stand for a minute. Flea faeces are made up of dried blood from the host they have bitten. When dry, they are dark brown flecks that can be easily confused with dirt or dead skin. But once transferred onto the moist cotton wool, they'll dissolve and turn a lighter shade of red. So, if you can now see red spots on the cotton wool, you can be certain that your pet has been in recent contact with fleas. Treatment is required. 

My kittens are treated when they are 12 weeks old as a preventative measure before they go to their new homes. Afterwards, they should be treated once every 3 -12 months for the rest of their lives to remain flea free. Frequency depends on if you have any outdoor animals, and if you live somewhere there are lots of fleas. I recommend a spot-on treatment such as Frontline, Effipro, or Stronghold. This is a pipette of liquid that is applied onto the skin on the shoulders and base of the head. 

Flea tablets and collars are useless, as are other shop bought flea treatments such as Bob Martin or Sherley's. Treat your cat for worms and fleas at the same time. This way you won't forget and it makes it quick and easy. If you are unlucky enough to suffer an outbreak of fleas in your home, be sure to treat all soft furnishings as well as the cat. Fleas breed very quickly in warm, dark, soft areas such as beds, couches and cushions. Home sprays are available online or from your vet. Indorex is one good example.