As the name suggests, preventative treatments are there to prevent disease, rather than treating it if it occurs. In general, these are a range of treatments to control infectious disease or parasites – all of which can make your cat’s life a misery, or even prove life-threatening. So, what are we trying to prevent?
The group of worms we’re usually most concerned about are the roundworms. Their life-cycle requires that the worm’s eggs are shed in the faeces; when another cat comes along, they then become infected. A heavy roundworm infestation may lead to weight loss, diarrhoea and vomiting, this is particularly dangerous for a small, young, ill or weak cat.
Sometimes, kittens can become infected while still inside their mother through the placenta, or in early life through their mother’s milk. The culprit in this case is the nasty Toxocara cati. This worm can also infect humans, burrowing through our intestines and sometimes even ending up in our brains or eyeballs. This is called visceral larval migrans and is most common in children (probably because if they get cat poo on them they aren’t as good at washing their hands as adults!). Killing these worms isn’t just helping your cat, but it’s doing a service to the community too.
There are, however, also the tapeworms. These long thin worms are made up of segments (called “proglottids”) and a head (or “scolex”). The symptoms of infestation are similar, plus they can also cause gut irritation (potentially leading to an “intussusception” where a loop of gut turns inside out; most common in young cats) and itchy bottoms and scooting-type behaviour. The reason for this is that when the segments are fully mature, they mate (with themselves – they are hermaphrodites being both male and female!) and then separate off from the main body of the worm and are carried to the rectum. Then they crawl out of the anus to release their eggs into the environment – and this crawling is really itchy for the cat! The segments look like grains of rice, but if you look closely at them, you can see that they wriggle slightly.
Cats develop tapeworms when eating prey infected with tapeworm cysts – this may be birds, mice, rats, shrews etc; or even fleas and lice (which carry the very common Dipylidium caninum tapeworm cysts).
Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to prevent a cat coming into contact with worms occasionally; and if they’re an active hunter, they WILL be contracting worms. This is why we advise that, although worming doses (with a safe, effective modern wormer) can be given every 3 months or so to cats who live indoors, hunting cats should be wormed more regularly, usually every 4-6 weeks.
We tend to think mostly about flea control. Fleas are small, laterally flattened insects, and there are several species (the most common in the UK is the Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis). However, they all have the same life cycle! The female flea jumps on board, and feeds off your cat’s blood. It then mates and lays eggs. It feeds again and repeats over and over until it dies of old age and exhaustion, having laid up to 40 eggs per day and living up to 100 days.
The eggs then fall into the carpet, or the bedding, or your soft furnishings, or even the cracks between the floorboards, and hatch out into larvae. These maggot-like creatures live off dust and adult flea droppings until they’re ready to transform. Just like a butterfly, they weave a cocoon and inside, reorganise themselves into an adult. Then they wait… and wait… and wait. These pupae may last for months or years, like ticking time bombs, waiting for a cat (or dog, or human) to pass by. At that point they hear the footsteps and feel the air movement, so hatch out and go in search of blood.
At any one time, only 5% of the flea population is living on the cat – the rest are lurking around the house! However, it’s this 5% that causes all the problems (at least, until the next wave hatches). They suck blood, and in young kittens can even cause anaemia from blood loss; they also carry tapeworms, and may be able to spread Feline Infectious Anaemia. Above all, their bites are itchy even for a normal cat. However, many cats overreact to this – they become allergic to fleas. We call this Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD). Flea infestations and FAD are the most common causes of skin disease in cats.
Fleas aren’t the only critter lurking out there to chomp on your pussycat… There are also Ticks, and a wide range of different Mites. A well chosen parasite control plan can minimise the risks from all three groups of parasites.
The last part of the “preventative treatment triad” is vaccination. This is essential to protecting your cats from a range of unpleasant and potentially deadly diseases. The Big Four that we recommend all cats be protected against are:
Feline Herpesvirus and Feline Calicivirus, the two main causes of Cat Flu. This disease is rarely fatal (although there are lethal strains of calicivirus that crop up from time to time) but does cause untold suffering to infected cats. They sniff, and sneeze, and have sore runny eyes. Sometimes, they may get sore or ulcerated gums, and it can (rarely) lead to pneumonia. Unfortunately, any unvaccinated cat that contracts Feline Herpesvirus will carry the infection for life – they become a “latent carrier”. If they become stressed, or ill, later in life, the disease may re-emerge. The vaccines against Cat Flu don’t always prevent infection with the viruses, but they are very good at limiting disease – so a vaccinated cat is much less hard hit than an unvaccinated one.
Feline Panleukopenia is a whole different ball game – this virus is a true killer (outbreaks may have a mortality rate of up to 90% in kittens). The virus attacks the intestinal lining (causing severe vomiting, diarrhoea, and total loss of appetite) and the immune system (making the cat more vulnerable to other infections as well as impairing the immune system’s ability to fight off the virus). It can even cause brain damage (cerebellar hypoplasia) and eye problems in young kittens. Even indoor cats are at risk from this disease – the virus particles can survive for a long time in the environment and can be carried into the house on shoes or clothing without ever knowing it. Vaccination is over 98% effective against this disease, and once fully vaccinated, lasts for 3 years (unlike the other components). It is our belief that EVERY cat should be vaccinated against Panleukopenia.
The last infection is Feline Leukaemia Virus of FeLV. This is quite similar in some ways to HIV, in that it attacks the white blood cells. However, unlike HIV (or its “cat cousin”, FIV) it can be transmitted through saliva by mutual grooming or even sharing food bowls, as well as fighting or mating. Once infected, it is thought that up to 50% of cats will be able to fight it off. The vast majority of the other 50%, however, will be dead within 3 years – from anaemia, immune suppression (allowing other diseases to take hold), or from cancers of the white blood cells triggered by the virus. The vaccine is very efficient, and we strongly advise it!
We advise all our clients to make sure their cat is protected against all these conditions – you can even save money by doing so on our Active Health Club! However, if you want to know more or are concerned about your pet’s health in any way, make an appointment to see one of our vets.