Types of Bugs Found on Cats

By Mary Lougee

External parasites, or bugs found on cats include fleas, ticks, mites and lice. All four of these can cause intense itching, hair loss and aggravation for your pet. Untreated pets can scratch enough to have secondary infections that need veterinarian treatment. The best approach is to be proactive and use monthly treatments for fleas, ticks and mites on your feline friend.

Feline Fleas

Fleas are the most common external parasite on cats. An adult flea is brown, wingless, has eight legs and a hard body. Flea dirt, or feces, are small black spots on a cat's skin and flea larvae are small, white specks in a cat's hair. The most common areas to see fleas are on the back, around the tail and the hindquarters. Fleas cause hair loss, a red rash and thick skin on the areas they bite. Young cats can die from a flea infestation caused by severe blood loss as the fleas feed. Severe secondary infections occur when a cat is allergic to flea bites, which necessitate antibiotics.

Monthly applications of a spot-on treatment either prescribed or over-the-counter products will kill fleas on a cat. Applications must be made year round to be the most effective.

Feline Ticks

Ticks are either hard- or soft-bodied and vary greatly in size. When a tick feasts on a cat's blood, its body becomes enlarged. When a tick jumps onto a cat before it has a blood meal, it is smaller. Ticks may be brown, black or have white markings on their back. Ticks can cause paralysis or seizures in some cats. Ticks can transmit rocky mountain spotted fever to both animals and humans.

Monthly spot-on flea treatments can include a product to kill and prevent ticks on a cat. Even if your cat rarely goes outside in wooded or weedy areas, it is a good idea to use a monthly product for fleas and ticks to protect your feline friend.

Feline Mites

Mites on a cat are microscopic, live under the skin, and are diagnosed by your veterinarian by looking at a skin scraping under a microscope. Mites have elongated bodies and eight short legs. A mite infestation leads to mange on a cat with symptoms of patches of lost hair on the trunk, forelegs and head, but it may cover the entire body. Your cat's skin will be red from the disease; he may develop crusts on his entire body.

Cat mange can be transmitted to humans in the form of scabies. Medical treatment is needed to rid humans of the intense itching. Scabies in humans results in a red, itchy rash, but the scabies mites cannot complete their life cycle in human skin, so the disease may resolve itself.

A cat with mites or mange needs veterinarian treatment to kill the mites. Usually a dip and a prescription medication are needed for eradication. Afterward a monthly treatment works to prevent future infestations. Prescription flea and tick spot-ones with heartworm prevention in them will keep mites from causing havoc on your cat's skin.

Feline Lice

Lice are parasites about 2 millimeters long; they attach to your cat's hair follicles. Nits, or lice eggs appear like tiny, white sand grains on a cat. Lice feed on dry skin cells and can be mistaken for dandruff. Infestations cause intense itching, hair loss and white dots in the fur.

Lice treatment is needed from your veterinarian and is likely in the form of a topical dip or solution. Topical treatments likely will be repeated in two weeks to kill the lice eggs as they hatch. You also may receive vitamins, special cat food or other oral products to reduce the dry skin in your cat and prevent lice outbreaks.