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What are Brain Parasites?

The term “brain parasite” is used to describe any of a number of different parasitic creatures that can affect the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Cats are susceptible to several different types of parasites that can potentially make their way into the brain and related tissues. Symptoms can range from non-existent to severe and may be fatal in some cases. Parasites in the brain often cause encephalitis or brain inflammation, which causes the majority of symptoms. Cats suffering from a brain parasite may experience behavior changes and issues with muscle control. Parasites are more likely in cats that are allowed outdoors, eat food they catch or raw meat, have immune disorders, or live in cramped conditions with other animals.

Brain Parasites Average Cost

From 438 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$500

Symptoms of Brain Parasites in Cats

Symptoms of brain parasites can vary, and some cats with parasite activity in the brain and related tissues will never present any symptoms. Most symptoms relate to activity controlled by the central nervous system including muscle control, behavior, and occasionally hearing or vision issues. The cat may also exhibit signs related to parasite infestation in other parts of the body. Parasites in the lungs, gastrointestinal system and urinary tract may have localized as well as neurological symptoms. 

Symptoms Include:

  • Unsteady gait (ataxia)
  • Loss of muscle control
  • General weakness
  • Listlessness
  • Circling
  • Unusual head or neck position
  • Fearlessness
  • Unexplained aggression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to eat or drink
  • Emaciation
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Inflammation of the brain
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Breathing trouble
  • Death

Types

Various types of parasites can make their way into the brain and related tissues. Parasites that can be found in the central nervous system include:

  • Flukes – two types of these parasitic creatures can make their home in the brain. Schistosomes, or blood flukes, and Paragonimus, or lung flukes, have both been found in the central nervous system.
  • Roundworms – this common type of parasite affects various regions of the body, including the brain and spinal column. Varieties that can infest the brain include, Baylisascaris procyonis which can cause brain and eye damage, Dirofilaria immitis or heartworm, and Gurlita paralysans, which causes paralysis. 
  • Myiasis – these are infestations related to insect larvae, and include Cuterebra or botfly larvae, which pets are susceptible to in the summer months in regions where the botfly is found. 
  • Toxoplasma gondii – this single-celled parasite can also infest brain tissues, causing issues. It is commonly present throughout the world and can be passed from cat to human and vice versa. 
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Causes of Brain Parasites in Cats

Brain parasites enter your cat’s system much the same way as any parasite. The most common cause is ingestion, usually through a food source like raw meat or wildlife. Risk factors include spending time outdoors, living in cramped quarters with other animals, and unmonitored eating habits. Once inside your pet, the parasite takes full advantage of its host, growing to maturity and laying its own eggs, which further the infestation. When the adult parasites, larvae, or eggs find their way through the bloodstream or nasal passages into the central nervous system, they can cause damage to the brain and other related systems. In some cases, the eggs form cysts that put pressure on brain, eye, and ear structures causing symptoms.

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Diagnosis of Brain Parasites in Cats

A veterinarian can diagnose brain parasites by confirming the presence of the parasite, its larvae, or its eggs in your pet’s system if clinical signs point to the condition. Other diseases and disorders can cause similar symptoms, so your veterinarian may need to conduct several tests to rule out other potential issues. Be prepared to discuss your cat’s history, eating habits, and all symptoms you have observed. A physical examination will be followed up with a blood, urine, and fecal analysis. In many cases, spinal fluid will also be obtained and analyzed. Your veterinarian may use additional methods to check for parasites, including imaging technology and contrast dyes.

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Treatment of Brain Parasites in Cats

The treatment plan for your pet will vary based on the type of parasite and severity of the symptoms. Many pets will not require any treatment, as some brain parasites have short life cycles and will not continue to cause harm to your cat. If treatment is required, your veterinarian may choose one or more of the following treatment methods:

  • Antiparasitics – This family of drugs may be used to kill off the adult parasites and prevent further damage. There are several versions available that can treat worms and related parasites. Your cat may receive oral or injectable versions. 
  • Analgesics – A type of painkiller, this may be prescribed to your pet if they are experiencing severe pain related to their condition. Your veterinarian will select the safest dose based on your cat’s size and pain level. 
  • Intravenous (IV) Fluids – Lack of appetite and loss of muscle control can make it difficult for your pet to take in food and water. If your cat is experiencing these symptoms or is being hospitalized, IV fluids will likely be provided. 
  • Oxygen Therapy – In the case of respiratory trouble, oxygen may be given to your cat using tubes, masks, or oxygen cages. This will help support your pet’s breathing and blood oxygen levels.
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Recovery of Brain Parasites in Cats

Many cats with a brain parasite will make a full recovery. Continue to follow the directions of your veterinarian, providing the full course of prescribed medications and returning for follow-up visits as needed. Seek assistance immediately if symptoms appear to worsen or don’t get better after several days. It is also a good idea to thoroughly clean your cat’s living area, including all food and water dishes and their litter box. Scoop the litter box daily and wash your hands.

In severe cases, your pet may lose some of its abilities. Vision or hearing loss caused by the brain parasite may be permanent. Even if your cat experiences loss of vision or hearing, they can still lead a full life. Provide your pet additional support and time as they adjust to their new ability level and learn to compensate with their other senses.

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Brain Parasites Average Cost

From 438 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$500

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Brain Parasites Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Not sure

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3 or 4 yrs old

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Attacking Other Pets An People Out Of The Blue.

Why would out cat out of no where start attacking us when we haven't done anything wrong.. she had kittens almost 9 weeks ago was acting strange in the kennel so we let her out to walk around an she just started to attach everyone she was biting and scratching my 7 yr old son for no reason.

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. There are a number of reasons that may have happened, and it is difficult for me to say over an email. There may have been something that scared her, she may have had some hormonal changes related to being in heat again, or she may have had something happen that made her angry. Having her spayed might be the first step in controlling any hormonal changes that she goes through, as that can alter a cat's personality quite dramatically. I hope that everything goes well for her.

Oct. 6, 2020

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Max

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Ginger moggy

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15 Weeks

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Not Eating For Ages
Fleas
Blindness
Seizures
Circling

I’m not sure really if this is part of this. But my 15 week kitten has been having seizures since he was 10 weeks. Went vets twice they don’t know what is wrong. We have stuff to help him just incase it’s hyperglycaemia or epilepsy but he’s just thrown up and turns out he also has tapeworms, can these cause seizures?

Sept. 7, 2018

Max's Owner

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Brain Parasites Average Cost

From 438 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$500

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