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Skin Parasites in Cats

| Updated September 26, 2017

Skin parasites in cats can cause a lot of concern and distress for owners and felines. Although not usually fatal, skin parasites, or external parasites, can often cause other problems such as sores, irritation and the spreading of diseases. Parasites are organisms that live on (or in) another organism from a different species (the host). The parasite usually survives at the expense of the host.


Lice are fairly uncommon in cats but often show up in felines with poor health or those living in dirty conditions. Lice, or Pediculosis, are visible to the naked eye and their eggs look like small grains of white sand attached to the hairs. Lice spend their entire life cycle on their host causing redness, irritation and scratching that can lead to open sores.


There are a few different types of mites and some are more common on cats than other animals. Sarcoptic mange is a type of mite that can be found on cats, but only in rare cases. Sarcoptic mange is also known as scabies. Mites of any kind can lead to skin irritations, open sores from scratching, hair loss and the transmission of diseases from mite to feline.


Fleas are another parasite that can transmit diseases. Fleas feed on the blood of their feline hosts; this exchange of body fluids spreads that viruses. Fleas breed quickly so a small problem can very quickly become an infestation. Infestations will cause severe distress for the feline and can also cause the cat to become anemic. Anemia occurs when the red blood cell count of a cat becomes too low. Fleas can cause this by drinking too much blood from their host.


There are different types of ticks all over America. These parasites also transmit diseases such as Lyme disease. Ticks feed by burying their head into the epidermal layers of the skin until they reach a blood supply. Then they will gorge themselves on blood while forming a hard protective shell over their exposed body, making it difficult to get them off of the cat.


For mite eradication there are dips, topical treatments and injections depending on the type of mite, severity of infestation and type of feline. Some lice may be taken care of with a medicated shampoo while others may need a more aggressive solution.