Routine HealthCare Examination: Parasite control
Both ecto- and endo-parasite control is important in cats of all ages and prevention includes consideration of the cat and its environment.
Some cats, depending on their lifestyle and environment, are more likely to have parasitic infections than others but ESCCAP (European Scientific Counsel Companion Animal Parasitology) points out that this difference is rarely absolute. Hence all cats should receive appropriate worm control throughout their lives. Also, as it is difficult to control where outdoor cats defecate, worm control is vital to minimise the risk of zoonotic infections such as Toxocara cati and Dipylidium caninum.
Rational control measures are suggested by ESCCAP based on risk factors for the principal internal worms and protozoa of cats. Risk factors include:
- Life stage of the cat
- Presence of ectoparasite vectors
- Environment the cat resides in (cattery, indoors, outdoors etc)
- Nutritional sources
- Access to intermediate hosts
- Travel status
Kittens: In the owner’s Cat Care for Life information we suggest that, as a general approach, kittens are treated against roundworms. Worming is generally recommended every two weeks from three to nine weeks of age and then every 4 weeks until at least six months of age.
Junior and older cats: They should be regularly treated for both roundworms and tapeworms. Frequency of worming should be based on a risk assessment and this should be reassessed every visit. Based on ESCCAP guidelines, cats with outdoor access should be dewormed at least every three months and cats that share homes with children under 5 years of age or immunocompromised individuals should be treated monthly. Strictly indoor cats may only need treatment every 6 months.
Faecal testing allows monitoring of the effectiveness of worming protocols, as well as diagnosis of some endoparasites not treated by typical broad-spectrum wormers. However, faecal examination also has limitations and does not always detect the presence of endoparasites. Faecal testing may therefore be used as part of the routine healthcare examination, or may be used more selectively in certain cases, depending on the worming history and risk factors of the individual.
Heartworm presents an important risk to the health of cats in all life stages if they are from an area where infection is endemic. Although the prevalence of heartworm is higher in dogs than cats, because infection can be severe and life threatening, appropriate regular prophylaxis in endemic areas is strongly recommended.
Flea and tick treatments
Proper advice on flea control using safe, efficacious products that are administered correctly will have a positive impact on both cat health and reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases (such as bartonellosis or dipylidiosis). Ongoing and consistent advice on flea control from the veterinary team is important to avoid poor treatment regimes or the use of less safe or effective products purchased by the owner elsewhere. Worse still, many cats are still poisoned every year through the inappropriate use of permethrin-containing products either on the cat itself, or on other animals in close contact with the cat. It is best to avoid any permethrin-based insecticide in a household containing cats (dogs should be treated with alternative products).
It is important that owners understand flea preparations vary hugely in their safety and efficacy. Most owners perceive veterinary advice to be valuable and trustworthy, and this can be used for the benefit of the cat with the whole veterinary team promoting the same approach to flea prevention, as with other healthcare measures. Different regimes will be appropriate in different situations, as the prevalence of fleas varies in different regions and climates. However, most cats will benefit from regular flea treatment throughout their lives. Where fleas are a major problem or, for example, where flea allergy is present, more intensive therapy may be required that includes the use of environmentally active products and/or the use of more than one product on the cat. Where ticks are present and the cat’s lifestyle means they have risk of exposure, products should be used that also prevent or treat tick infestation.