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Parasites and the Inside Cat: Why it Makes Sense

Mar 17, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

My three cats never leave the house, and it was easy for me to assume that they couldn’t possibly get infected with parasites, because how would they get exposed?  I am ashamed to admit it, but my own preventive parasite control routine with my boys was less than ideal.

That changed the day I diagnosed my best friend’s inside cat with heartworm disease.  I felt a little less than professionally competent when I thought about the number of times I’d been bothered by mosquitos inside my own house, and then realized that any one of those mosquitos might have been carrying heartworm disease.  Why in the world did I think that inside cats were magically immune?

Cats today might not eat off a silver spoon, but they generally lead much more pampered and comfortable lives than their ancestors ever imagined.  Gone are the days of fighting to survive!  Our cats are so far removed from the daily struggle to find food and avoid enemies that it’s easy to think that they have nothing to worry about.
But are they really safe?

Parasites are everywhere, and entire melting pots of potential pathogens, including parasites, can and do reside quite happily inside and on our treasured house cats.  Our challenge is that even though we know that life rarely exists in an impermeable and sterile bubble, the concept of parasite control for an inside cat is not intuitively natural.  For many of us, we simply don’t think that the element of risk is enough of an actual threat to take action.  Even when we know that some of the common and preventable parasitic diseases can be transmitted to people, we still resist using preventives.

I’m just like anyone else, and if I can’t see something physically, like a jumping flea or a worm in my cat’s poop, it makes it more difficult to believe that it exists.  Human nature?  Who knows?  And doubly crazy when I know just as well as anyone else that there are many problems that are effectively invisible, like a high cholesterol level.

Preventive medicine is a time-honored concept.  It is the philosophical backbone behind the use of vaccines, and maybe closer to home, it is the support for wearing a seatbelt when we take the car out and brushing our teeth to prevent decay.  For some parasitic diseases—like heartworm disease—the risk of one exposure can be death.  For others, exposure is more of a nuisance or irritation.

Many cats have very fluid lifestyles—they might spend most of their time indoors, but occasionally sun themselves on the back porch, or they live with animal housemates who go outdoors, or they go outside when their owners vacation at the beach cottage.  And there are true indoor-only house cats who love to kill and consume bugs.  Insects can be transmission agents for some of the more common intestinal parasites, so it makes perfect sense to do yearly fecal checks on indoor cats along with broad-spectrum parasite control.  Anyone who’s been plagued by a buzzing mosquito or housefly knows how easily flying insects can gain access to even the most well-secured house. Heated, humidified homes can also be terrific breeding grounds for fleas, as well as a place of refuge for flea-carrying rodents.  Ever get mice in your house?  We do, and our cats think it is party time.  Beyond fleas, mice can carry other parasites that can infect your cat.

How else can our indoor cats get exposed to parasites?  Just think about what happens when we’re doing yard work or gardening and then come inside.  Shoes, gloves and clothes covered in contaminants fresh from the parasite reservoir that exists in most suburban yards are now in perfect position to inadvertently expose our feline friends.  My cats like nothing better than to rub all over my sneakers—the smellier and dirtier the better—and take in the spoils of the great outdoors.
As veterinarians, we are concerned about the welfare of our feline patients.  Cats are enormously important to their families, and provide tangible health and happiness benefits.  It seems the least we can do is to implement safe and effective preventive healthcare measures that take into account the cat’s unique role and special needs.  Parasite control is an integral part of any wellness program, and year-round preventive use makes complete sense for today’s cat.

I don’t ever want to say to another friend, “Sorry, I just didn’t think he was going to get infected, so it seemed silly to give him a preventive.”

If you’re interested in the down and dirty of parasites and your cat, the Companion Animal Parasite Council has excellent information on its website, www.petsandparasites.org.

Dr Cathy Lund

Cathy Lund, DVM, owns and operates City Kitty Veterinary Care for Cats, a cat practice located in Providence, RI. She is also the board president and founder of the Companion Animal Foundation, a statewide, veterinary-based nonprofit organization that helps low-income pet owners afford essential veterinary care. She lives in Providence, and serves on several architectural and preservation commissions in the city, and is on the board of directors of WRNI, RI’s own NPR station. But her favorite activity is to promote the countless virtues of the “purr-fect” pet, the cat!

City Kitty
18 Imperial Pl # 1B
Providence, RI 02903-4642

Phone: (401) 831-6369
Email: email@city-kitty.com

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