By Dr. Bronwyn Atkinson & Jennifer Council of Barrett Veterinary Practice
Barn cats are an integral part of a farm/acreage environment and play an important role in rodent population control. Hardworking barn cats can be very useful to keep rodent populations in check as well as a pleasure to have around. So, how can we keep these kitties healthy and best equipped to do their jobs? In this blog, we will go into more detail about diseases that commonly affect barn cats and the different ways we can keep them healthy and performing at their best.
Internal Parasites in Cats
Roundworms: Roundworms are the most common internal parasite found in cats – kittens often carry more due to their age and young immune systems. Adult roundworms are about 3-5 inches in length, off-white in colour and live in the cat\’s intestines.
A mature worm lays its eggs in the intestines where they can be passed in the cats’ feces. Once out in the environment the eggs mature into larvae and infect new cats. Rodents also carry these larvae in their tissues – infecting cats, which are hunting. Roundworms can cause disease in people, especially those with weaker immune systems. It is rare, but if there are numbers of larvae in the environment and they are ingested, they can migrate around human tissues trying to find a good place to settle, causing serious health problems.
Hookworms: Cats can be infected with hookworm larvae when they burrow through their skin – usually the paw pads. Infestation also occurs when a cat eats a rodent that is carrying hookworms in its tissues. These worms are about 1/2-inch in length and live in the intestines. Young worms burrow into the lining of the intestine, whereas adult worms use their hooked mouthparts to anchor into the intestinal lining where they suck blood. Heavy hookworm infection can cause cats to have poor growth, poor hair coat, diarrhea, anemia and even death from blood loss. Hookworms can also migrate into human skin, causing irritation and need for medical attention – luckily, this is rare as humans are not the hookworm\’s preferred hosts.
Tapeworms: These are long, ribbon-like worms with bodies made up of egg-containing segments. These worms live in the cat’s small intestine and use their heads to hook onto the lining of the gut. The segments at the worm’s tail end mature first, break off and are passed in the cat’s feces. These segments can also sometimes be seen around the cat’s anus or tail area and look like rice grains if they are fresh, or sesame seeds if they are dried. Cats can pick up tapeworms by eating rodents that carry them, or by ingesting fleas that can also carry tapeworms. Adult tapeworms in the gastrointestinal tract are usually harmless to the cats. However, the younger tapeworm life stages that is shed by cats can cause cysts in organs such as the liver of horses, cows and pigs.
Echinococcus multilocularis is one specific kind of tapeworm that lives like the others, spending part of their life cycle inside a rodent, often being eaten by carnivores along with its host. They mature to an adult tapeworm in the carnivore\’s gut and if ingested by people can cause significant disease by causing cysts that multiply and damage internal human organs.
Combating Feline Parasites
If you\’re concerned about parasites your barn cats may be carrying, here\’s a list of things you can do:
• Wash your hands after touching barn cats.
• Clean up any feces as well as dead rodent carcasses, to keep the environment as clean as possible.
• De-worm your cats routinely.
There are 2 types of de-wormer that Barrett Veterinary Practice prescribes; Profender, and Advantage Multi. Both are liquids that are applied to the back of a cat\’s neck. This application is much easier than trying to pill a shy, barn cat that may not be used to handling!
Profender works to kill roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms.
Advantage Multi kills hookworms, roundworms, fleas and ear mites.
As these products have action against different internal parasites, it is a really good idea to alternate using them. Cats that are actively mousing need to be dewormed every three months. Good parasite control is key to ensuring a healthy barn cat and preventing disease in other species as well.