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Ask the Vet: Parasites Commonly Infect Indoor Cats

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: Can cats that stay indoors get parasites? My veterinarian recommends that I apply a parasite preventive to my cat Seymour's skin every month, but I don't understand why it's necessary.

A: While cats that spend time outside are more likely to encounter parasites, even indoor-only cats can become infected. Three types are common.

The first is fleas. These pests catch a ride into our homes on our shoes and pant legs and sometimes on indoor-outdoor pets. Not only do they bite, drink blood and cause itchiness, but they also transmit tapeworms to cats and cause a variety of human illnesses, from cat scratch disease to the plague.

The second is intestinal parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms. Indoor cats "catch" these worms when they capture and eat a creature, such as a cockroach or mouse, that carries the immature parasites.

Moreover, roundworms, which are widespread in the environment, produce sticky, microscopic eggs that ride indoors on our shoes. The eggs are deposited on the carpet and transferred to the cat when he plays on the floor. When the cat grooms, he ingests the eggs, which mature into adult worms that produce more eggs.

Roundworms and hookworms cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats. In humans who inadvertently ingest the microscopic eggs, these parasites cause blindness, seizures and organ damage.


The third parasite that infects indoor cats is heartworms, found in all 50 states. Heartworms are carried by mosquitos, which easily enter homes. Research shows that 25% to 30% of heartworm-infected cats spend all their time indoors.

Heartworms cause heartworm-associated respiratory disease in cats. This condition is characterized by coughing, wheezing, labored breathing, lethargy, vomiting, decreased appetite and death.

Fortunately, you can protect Seymour from all these parasites by applying a single product to his skin every month or two, according to the medication's directions.

Q: My 10-year-old golden retriever, Samson, developed golf ball-size lumps under both jaws almost overnight. Otherwise, he is completely normal. Will they go away on their own, or should I make an appointment with his veterinarian?


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