5 Most Dangerous Cat Diseases, Animal Planet

5 Most Dangerous Cat Diseases

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According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are more than 70 million feral and stray cats roaming the streets. Because stray cats often carry dangerous diseases, the best thing that you can do to protect your domesticated cat against serious illness is to keep it indoors. By staying inside, your cat is less likely to fight with other animals and risk the chance of spreading diseases through wounds. You’ll also keep it away from infection-spreading parasites, including fleas and ticks, and prevent the kidney failure that can come as a result of ingesting poisonous substances such as antifreeze.

Outdoor cats and those that live in multi-cat homes have the highest risk of disease. However, indoor cats and «only cats» can get sick, too. The good news about cat illnesses is that most are easily preventable; the bad news is that once your cat contracts an illness, it can be very difficult to treat. It’s also important to keep in mind that even minor ailments can suggest major health problems. But some cat diseases are more dangerous than others. Read on to learn about some of the most serious ones.


Can Apple Cider Vinegar Kill Parasites?

Apple cider vinegar is popular in dressings and other recipes, but many people make claims about its efficacy as everything from a diabetes cure to a weapon in the fight against internal and external parasites. Although it has some effectiveness as a disinfectant, evidence suggests that apple cider vinegar is not really the magical parasite-killing elixir it has been labeled by some proponents.

What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?

As the name suggests, apple cider vinegar starts with apples. Apples destined to become vinegar are mashed into pulp, then allowed to ferment as bacteria and yeast consume the natural sugars present in the fruit. At this stage, alcohol is produced as a byproduct of fermentation. The resulting alcohol is subjected to further fermentation to produce acetic acid, the main ingredient in full-strength vinegar. Since the full-strength vinegar is far too acidic for human consumption, apple cider vinegar is then diluted with water to about 5 percent acidity.

Claims About Effectiveness Against Parasites

Many proponents of apple cider vinegar’s usefulness as a fighter of internal parasites like worms, bacteria and yeast are adherents to the pH or acid/alkaline theory of disease. According to this theory, infections by parasites and other illnesses are caused by an excessively acidic (low pH) diet and are treated by consumption of more alkaline (high pH) foods. Despite the fact that apple cider vinegar is an acidic food, adherents to this theory believe that consuming it has an «alkalizing» effect that restores the body to an environment inhospitable to parasites.

What Happens When We Consume Apple Cider Vinegar?

Dr. Gabe Mirkin, M.D. points out that there is no scientific basis for the acid/alkaline theory, stating: «Dietary modification cannot change the acidity of any part of your body except your urine.» Therefore, claims that parasites are killed by changing pH balance in the body through consuming apple cider vinegar are not credible, and indeed are dangerous if they discourage people with internal parasitic infections from seeking medical attention.

Killing External Parasites and Weeds

Although apple cider vinegar does not kill internal parasites, it acts as a mild disinfectant for killing germs on household surfaces, fruits and vegetables. It does not, however, kill as many germs as common household cleaners. While the 5 percent acidity of household vinegar is too low to effectively kill weeds, horticultural supply shops offer vinegar-based herbicides with a much higher acid concentration that helps control parasites in the garden. Vinegar at these concentrations is not safe for human consumption.


No Sex Please, We’re Sleeping Sickness Parasites

A colored-in microscopic image of the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness (teal) among red blood cells. Georg Gerster/Science Source hide caption

A colored-in microscopic image of the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness (teal) among red blood cells.

The T.b. gambiense parasite is truly a menace. It causes African sleeping sickness — a disease that attacks the nervous system and brain, disrupting sleep, causing rapid mood swings and confusion, essentially driving people mad before it kills them.

Researchers have been studying the parasite for years, looking for leads to help them develop a vaccine or drugs that would wipe it out.

So far, no luck. But now they’ve found a juicy tidbit that could lead to the critter’s undoing: it’s been thousands of years since T.b. gambiense last had sex.

See, sexual reproduction shuffles up an organism’s DNA, creating genetic diversity that helps a species adapt and survive. «But rather than reproducing through sex, this particular parasite has been cloning itself — making carbon copies of itself,» explains William Weir, a bioinformatician at the University of Glasgow who led the research, which was published Tuesday in the online journal eLife.

That makes the parasite especially vulnerable to attack — some good news in the long-running battle against sleeping sickness.

Goats and Soda

In The Fight Against Tsetse Flies, Blue Is The New Black

Efforts to control tsetse flies — whose bites are responsible for transmitting the parasite to humans — have helped cut down the number of cases since the last sleeping sickness outbreak, which subsided in the 1990s. Around 7,000 cases were reported in 2012, but the World Health Organization estimates that the actual number is closer to 20,000.

In their research, Weir and a team of researchers collected and analyzed the blood samples of 75 people across sub-Saharan Africa. They found that the parasites in all the samples were genetically identical. «In fact they can all be traced back to a single parasite that lived thousands of years ago,» Weir says. «There’s no parasite that I know of that operates quite like this one.»

See also:  Where fleas in the house and how to get rid of folk remedies?

The parasite that causes sleeping sickness, just like the parasite that causes malaria, is a single-celled protozoan capable of reproducing sexually and asexually. «What happens with these sorts of organisms is if they find a niche they’re particularly well adapted to, they will suddenly go crazy and make clones very fast,» Weir notes.

The malaria parasite continually switches back and forth between asexual multiplication (which is quicker and easier) and sexual reproduction (which drives evolution). But the sleeping sickness parasite seems to have found its ideal environment in human hosts — it hasn’t needed to evolve.

The cloning process isn’t perfect, so tiny but potentially harmful mutations have been accumulating in the parasite’s population over the years, Weir says. And if the parasite carries on its celibate lifestyle, the mutations will build up and eventually lead to its extinction.

«That could take forever, and I don’t think we can really sit and wait for that to happen naturally,» says Marilyn Parsons, a microbiologist at the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Seattle, who was not involved in the research.

«But this discovery makes me hopeful,» she notes. «If we get develop a good drug, it’s more likely to work against all the parasites.»

There are currently some treatments for the disease, but the chemicals used have dangerous side-effects. Early stages are easier to treat, but difficult to diagnose. The infection can lie dormant for years before symptoms start to develop.

So with the recent insights into the parasite’s sex life (or lack thereof), scientists have a golden opportunity develop a drug that can defeat it for good — as long as the bugger sticks to no sex.

Correction Jan. 30, 2016

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Marilyn Parsons worked with the Center for Infectious Diseases. In fact, the name of the organization is Center for Infectious Disease Research.


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Roundworms are the most common type of parasitic worm found inside our pets: up to 30% of dogs and 70% of puppies are infested with Toxocara canis. 1,2

Roundworms are highly prolific and females can lay up to 300 000 eggs per day. Infested dogs shed these microscopic eggs via their droppings into the environment, where they become infective after 2 to 3 weeks. The eggs can stay alive and remain infective for up to 5 years, as they are resistant to hot and cold temperatures, as well as disinfectants. Other dogs become infested as they swallow these eggs when they sniff or lick soil or other substances soiled by faeces. Dogs may also get infested if they eat rodents or other small mammals that can carry roundworm larvae.

Puppies can be infested with roundworms from birth as the mother can pass worms to her puppies during pregnancy, and via her milk when nursing.


Adult roundworms live in the dog’s intestines and many dogs do not show any sign of illness. However, dogs that have a major infestation, particularly puppies, can show digestive signs such as a potbelly, diarrhoea and vomiting. They may also have respiratory signs as the immature worms pass through their lungs, leading to coughing and pneumonia.


  • Humans can be infested with pet roundworms too. In infested people, the worms can cause a variety of health problems, one of the worst being blindness.
  • Children are particularly at risk as they often play on the ground or in soil where worm eggs may be present (in parks, sandpits etc.). Adults may be exposed during activities such as gardening. In one study 66% of soil samples from parks in a major city were positive for Toxocara eggs 3
  1. Overgaauw et al., Veterinary and public health aspects of Toxocara spp. Veterinary Parasitology 2013, 398–403.
  2. Beugnet. Helminthoses digestives des carnivores domestiques. EMC, Veterinaire, Gastroenterologies, 0300, 2010.
  3. Fisher. Toxocara cati: an underestimated zoonotic agent. Trends in Veterinary Parasitology 2003, 19 (4) 167-170.



Similarly to roundworms, hookworms are parasites that live in the dog’s digestive system. The hookworm attaches to the lining of the dog’s intestinal wall and feeds on tissue and blood. Its eggs are laid in the dog’s digestive tract and pass into the environment via the faeces.

Larvae hatch out from hookworm eggs after about 10 days and live in the soil. These larvae can infest your dog by means of contact and penetration of the skin or through swallowing after sniffing or licking contaminated areas.


Through their feeding activity, hookworms cause internal blood loss. They are a serious threat to dogs, especially to young puppies as they can induce bloody diarrhoea and severe anaemia which sometimes leads to death. In older dogs the blood loss may be more chronic, and the dog may additionally lose weight.


  • Humans can be infested with hookworms too, when coming into contact with soil that contains hookworm larvae. These larvae may penetrate the skin and cause skin condition, including an itching sensation at the point of entry and visible tracks on the skin where the worm is burrowing.
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Whipworms live in the dog’s large intestine.

Whipworms are named for their characteristic whip-shaped body. The body is composed of a thin end (the lash of the whip) and a thick end (the handle). They attach themselves to the walls of the large intestine and feed on blood.

Your dog may become infested with whipworms by swallowing infective eggs in soil or other substances contaminated by dog faeces. These eggs are particularly resistant in the environment, surviving for at least 5 years. An infestation can happen any time your dog sniffs the ground, roots in the dirt, or plays with toys that have been in contact with contaminated soil.


Dogs infested with a few whipworms may not show any sign of infestation. However, a severe whipworm infestation will cause bloody diarrhoea and severe anaemia, and could lead to death in the absence of treatment. Chronic infestation causes progressive weight loss.


Heartworms are not generally found in the UK or Ireland. However, they may be a risk for any dog that travels abroad.


Heartworms are an emerging risk for dogs throughout southern and eastern European countries. 1 Climate changes are favourable to these parasites as heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes.

Once mature, heartworms live in the heart and large blood vessels of the lungs. Adult heartworms can measure up to 30 cm in length.


Heartworm larvae deposited by the feeding mosquito migrate in 5-6 months to the heart chambers or into the vessels of the lungs. Once matured, those worms affect the blood flow. The right side of the heart has to work much harder to push blood towards the vessels, which progressively causes heart failure.

Clinical signs of heart or lung problems are commonly present and these symptoms develop and progress slowly over weeks or months. Initially your dog will tire easily, show shortness of breath or coughing after exercise. In the later stages coughing and fatigue will be observed at rest as well. If left untreated, heartworm disease can be fatal.


  • If you are travelling with your dog it is important to check whether you will reside in a heartworm area, and to ask your vet about preventative treatment before you start your travel.
  1. Morchon et al., Heartworm disease (Dirofilaria immitis) and their vectors in Europe – new distribution trends. Frontiers in Physiology, June 2012.



Lungworms are small worms that live in the blood vessels of the lungs. The larvae pass through the walls of the lungs, are coughed up and passed out via the faeces. They enter a slug or snail and the dog is infested by swallowing this, or by swallowing larvae left in a slime trail.

Young dogs (under 18 months) are most at risk of infestation.


Lungworm infestation causes respiratory signs such as coughing and tiredness at exercise. Infestation may also cause blood clotting problems, leading to a wide range of signs associated with bleeding. Most worryingly, in more than 10% of cases, lungworm can cause death. 1


  • Foxes can also carry lungworm
  • Lungworm is spreading rapidly across the UK, with an increased prevalence in foxes from 7% to 18% in less than 10 years 2,3
  1. Chapman et al., Journal of Small Animal Parasitology 2004, 45, 435-440.
  2. Morgan et al., Veterinary Parasitology 2008, 154, 48-57.
  3. Taylor et al., Parasitology 2015, doi:10.1017/S0031182015000463.



Fleas are a year round problem and the most common external parasites to affect our dogs.The adult fleas found on our pets represent only 5% of the flea population. The rest are lurking as eggs, larvae and pupae (cocoons containing pre-emerged fleas) in the environment. This may be outside in the garden, park or woods or may be within our homes either in carpets, between floorboards, in sofas, or in your pet’s bedding.

In the environment eggs hatch to larvae and then develop to pupae (cocoons containing pre-emerged fleas). When your cat passes by, this stimulates the young adult fleas to emerge from their cocoons and jump onto your pet. But beware, pre-emerged fleas in cocoons can stay alive for 10 months or more!

Fleas are prolific breeders, and flea numbers can explode in the warm spring and summer months when one female flea is able to become 1,000 fleas in just 21 days. But that’s not to say that fleas are only a problem in warmer weather. Milder, wetter winters and heated homes allow these parasites to thrive throughout the year.

You might think you have cleared a flea infestation after treating your pet, only to see new fleas appearing in the weeks after administering the treatment. This is actually normal, as flea products do not repel fleas and re-infestation of your dog is due to the continued emergence of adult fleas from cocoons in the infested environment. As fleas readily survive both indoors and outdoors and there are many possible sources of flea eggs, including wild and feral animals, or just untreated neighbouring cats and dogs, the source of new fleas is a never-ending story.

To really get rid of fleas, you have to disrupt their life cycle – adult fleas must be killed before they can start laying eggs. Regular treatment of your pet will help to control the reservoir of adult and immature stages of the flea lifecycle in your home. But, if your house is heavily infested, it is recommended to use a home environmental spray.


Fleas can cause itching and scratching when they bite our dogs to feed on blood. Some dogs can develop Flea Allergy Dermatitis, an allergic reaction to flea saliva resulting in intense itching, scratching, hair loss and skin thickening, which can be very distressing.

Puppies can become anaemic due to the amount of blood sucked out by fleas when feeding — as their bodies are so small they are unable to tolerate this amount of blood loss. Fleas also transmit the main tapeworm species that infests dogs and cats.



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Flea and Tick Prevention

Fleas and ticks are external parasites that can cause a wide range of health issues in cats and dogs. Bites from these pests can be extremely painful and uncomfortable. They can also put your pet at risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

Fleas can cause illnesses such as flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), anemia, cat-scratch disease, and tapeworms. Ticks can also cause dangerous and potentially fatal conditions, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Many of the diseases spread by fleas and ticks can also be transmitted to humans. For this reason, it is vital to protect your pet from parasites year-round to prevent an infestation in your home.

Protecting Your Home and Garden from Fleas and Ticks

The first step in the fight against pests is to protect your home and garden. Inside the home, it’s important to keep things clean and tidy. Regularly vacuum furnishings and carpets to eliminate possible hiding places for fleas and ticks.

See also:  Dengue fever outbreak risk for Brisbane residents from unsealed water tanks - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Keep bed linens and pet beds pest-free by routinely laundering them at a high-temperature setting. Pests love hiding places, so be sure to de-clutter your home and avoid letting items such as dirty laundry pile up on the floor.

In the garden, make sure to cut back areas of long grass or vegetation that can harbor pests. Fleas and ticks like to hide out in warm and shady places, so it’s best to eliminate any obvious hiding places such as piles of wood or dead leaves.

Checking Your Pet for Fleas and Ticks

It is also important to check your pet regularly for fleas and ticks. We recommend using a fine-toothed flea comb that’s designed to remove fleas and their eggs from your pet’s fur. If you find fleas on your pet, make sure to bathe them thoroughly using a medicated flea shampoo.

To identify ticks, run your hands along your pet’s body after they return from outside. If you locate a tick, it’s vital to remove it gently with tweezers or a specialized tick-removal tool to prevent infection.

Flea and Tick Preventatives

There are a wide variety of safe, veterinary-approved flea and tick preparations on the market that offer year-round protection against parasites. These include spot-on treatments, oral medications, chewable tablets, medicated collars, and natural flea and tick preventatives.

It is important to choose a flea and tick preventative that’s safe, effective, and long-lasting. Modern pest preventatives that contain isoxazolines are considered safe for most animals and offer excellent protection for a period of three months. However, it is vital to consult with your veterinarian before deciding on the best flea and tick control solution for your pet


Parasitism: Ectoparasites, Endoparasites, Symbionts, Defenses

Symbionts: Organisms that live in or on other organisms. More than half of Earth’s species are symbionts. Our own bodies can be a home to many other species.

A parasite consumes the tissues or body fluids of the organism on which it lives (the host).

Enslaving parasite: control the host in a way to aid in its dispersal (i.e drowning grasshopper)

Pathogens are parasites that cause diseases (an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism).

Parasites typically harm, but don’t immediately kill, the organisms they eat (unlike predators).Degree of harm varies widely.

Parasites typically feed on only one or a few host individuals.

Include herbivores such as aphids or nematodes that feed on one or a few host plants.

Parasitoids : Insects whose larvae feed on a single host and almost always kill it.

Macroparasites: Large species such as arthropods and worms.

Microparasites: Microscopic, such as bacteria.

Ectoparasites live on the outer body surface of the host. (Many fungi are ectoparasites) [ex. Aphids, whiteflies, scale insects, nematodes, beetles, and juvenile cicadas] They can be thought of as both herbivores and parasites.

Animals also have many ectoparasites.


  • Athlete’s foot fungus, fleas, mites, lice, and ticks.
  • Some of these parasites also transmit disease organisms.

Endoparasites live inside their hosts, within cells or tissues, or in the alimentary canal.

Many disease organisms are endoparasites.

  • The alimentary canal is excellent habitat for many parasites. Most do not eat host tissue, but rob the host of nutrients. Tapeworms attach to the host’s intestinal wall and absorb digested food.
  • Many endoparasites live in the host’s tissues or cells.
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.
  • Plants also have endoparasites.
  • Ectoparasites can disperse more easily than endoparasites.
  • Ectoparasites are more exposed to predators, parasites, and parasitoids.
  • Endoparasites are protected from the external environment, and have easy access to food. But they can also be attacked by the host’s immune system.

Defenses and Counterdefenses

Hosts have adaptations for defending themselves against parasites, and parasites have adaptations for overcoming host defenses.

  • Parasites exert strong selection pressure on their host organisms, and vice-versa.
  • Host organisms have many kinds of defense mechanisms.
  • Protective outer coverings include skin and exoskeletons.
  • Many parasites that do gain entry are killed by the host’s immune system.
  • Vertebrate immune systems have “memory cells” that can recognize microparasites from previous exposures.
  • Plants also have defense systems: Resistance Genes, Nonspecific immune response, checmical signals that “warn” nearby cells of attack, chemicals that stimulate deposition of lignin (barrier to stop invader’s spread).
  • Hosts can regulate biochemistry to deter parasites.
  • Plants have many chemical weapons called secondary compounds.
  • Some animals eat specific plants to treat or prevent parasite infections
  • Some hosts can encapsulate endoparasites, or their eggs, to make them harmless.
  • Some insects have lamellocytes—blood cells that can form multicellular capsules around large objects such as nematodes.

Parasite–Host Coevolution

Host and parasite populations can evolve together, each in response to selection imposed by the other.

When parasite and host each possess specific adaptations, it suggests that the strong selection pressure they impose on each other has caused both populations to evolve.

The rabbit and myxoma virus illustrate coevolution: When populations of two interacting species evolve together, each in response to selection imposed by the other.

  • Some plant genotypes have resistance genes to specific parasite genotypes: gene-for-gene interactions.
  • Wheat has dozens of different genes for resistance to fungi such as wheat rusts.
  • Different wheat rust genotypes can overcome different wheat resistance genes.
  • Ever-escalating “arms races” rarely occur.
  • As with the snails and trematodes, common host genotypes decrease in frequency because they are attacked by many; leading to an increase in previously rare genotypes.
  • An arms race may stop because of trade-offs: a trait that improves host defenses or parasite counterdefenses may reduce some other aspect of growth, survival, or reproduction.
  • Some rust genotypes are more virulent (can overcome more plant resistance genes).
  • Virulent rust genotypes were common only in host populations dominated by plants with many resistance genes.
  • The trade-off: virulent rust genotypes produce fewer spores than other genotypes

Ecological Effects of Parasites

  • Parasites can reduce the sizes of host populations and alter the outcomes of species interactions, thereby causing communities to change.
  • Parasites can reduce survival or reproduction of their host.
  • Experiments with a beetle and a sexually transmitted mite showed a decrease in egg production by infected females.
  • At the population level, harm done by parasites translates into reduction of population growth rates.
  • Parasites can drive local host populations extinct and reduce their geographic ranges.
  • Parasites can impact host population cycles.
  • Parasites can alter the outcome of predator–prey interactions by decreasing the physical condition of infected individuals.
  • Predators may be less able to catch their prey, or prey less able to escape predation.

Physical Environment:

  • Ecosystem engineer species can change the physical character of the environment, as when a beaver builds a dam.
  • The amphipod Corophium is an ecosystem engineer in tidal mudflats.

Author: Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team

Article last reviewed: 2019 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2020 | Creative Commons 4.0


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