You keep your Kitty indoors at all times. Then you get a call from your vet — she tested positive for worms and fleas.
You think, “Really? Can an indoor cat get fleas and worms? How is this possible?”
The bad news is that even an indoor only cat can get fleas and worms, says Dr. Travis Arndt, the medical director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America.
“[Fleas and worms] do impact a cat’s quality of life,” says. Dr. Arndt.
Dr. Arndt discusses everything you need to know about indoor cats, fleas and worms.
Though indoor cats are secure indoors, they can still indirectly get exposed to outdoor elements. Not to pile on the cat-parent guilt, but humans are often to blame for indoor cat flea problems.
“They’ll hitchhike on people and dogs,” says Dr. Arndt, noting that there’s a specific flea, the cat flea, that particularly loves to feed on kitties.
Dr. Arndt has also seen issues with flea infestations in apartment complexes.
“If there’s an apartment a couple of doors down [from the flea infestation], the fleas will leave one area, migrate and go to the apartment with a cat,” he says.
Sometimes, fleas can start a ripple effect that also leads to worms.
“Fleas are also the intermediary host for tapeworm,” says Dr. Arndt.
Dogs and humans are also intermediary hosts for worms, as are any new cats you bring into the home.
“That kitten may have an intestinal parasite,” says Dr. Arndt. “Then the cat gets exposed from grooming the kitten or the litter box.”
Quality of life is the biggest concern vets have about cats with fleas and worms.
“Their skin will become raw from the flea bites and can lead to secondary infections,” Dr. Arndt says. “They’ll become miserable.”
Fleas aren’t typically fatal, though they can cause anemia, which could be deadly, particularly in kittens.
Worms aren’t fun, either.
“It robs the cats of nutrients,” Dr. Arndt says. “It can lead to gastrointestinal issues. Roundworms and hookworms can be transferred to people.”
Indoor cats can get fleas and worms, but knowing the signs can help prevent these issues from becoming bigger problems.
“The cat [with fleas] is going to be excessively grooming, especially the areas around their rump,” Dr. Arndt says. “You’ll see short, broken hair and red-inflamed skin, bald patches and scabs.”
Symptoms of worms include diarrhea, vomiting and trouble gaining weight. Tapeworm may present around the cat’s rear or in stool.
Dr. Arndt suggests calling the vet right away if you suspect your indoor cat has fleas or worms. Your cat’s doctor can prescribe a medication to nix the problem. He encourages people not to spring for over-the-counter remedies without contacting the vet first.
“Most people overestimate how much medication to give,” he says.
Also, not all worms are treated the same, so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis first.
Even if you don’t think your indoor cat has fleas or worms, it’s best to have an annual parasite and fecal test every year.
“That way, if they have any intestinal parasites, you can treat it quickly,” Dr. Arndt says.
You can’t protect your feline friend from everything, but one simple step can reduce your indoor cat’s risk of getting fleas or worms.
“Set up a good parasite protection program with your veterinarian,” Dr. Arndt says. “There are monthly and every-other-month treatments to protect against fleas and worms.”