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.
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.
- Unsteady gait (ataxia)
- Loss of muscle control
- General weakness
- Unusual head or neck position
- Unexplained aggression
- Lack of appetite
- Inability to eat or drink
- Inflammation of the brain
- Breathing trouble
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brain Parasites Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
About a year ago I was given a stray injured kitten. The injury was on the neck, we had assumed it was a bite of some sort, long story short it was a bottfly. After being advised by our vet and friends I decided to remove the maggot myself. Removal of the maggot, & recovery seemed to be quick. I used tweasers to pull it out, made sure the maggot was fully intacted and didn't break off inside the kitten. I used organic WitchHazel once a day to keep open wound clean and a warm wet wash cloth repeatedly throughout the day. The kitten acted perfectly normal after fully recovered. But now I am wondering if the bottfly being so close to his brain ( it was burrowed in his neck/jawline) and not for sure knowing how long the maggot had been burrowing inside the little guy, has caused him long term problems. He's about a year old now and he is quite the character. The older he got I noticed some odd behavior. A few months ago he never wanted to be alone always had to be cuddled up on someone's lap but now he prefers to be alone, he has become aggressive randomly with anyone out of nowhere (not just certain people or just during play), his tail is constantly twitching severely twitching side to side not minor little shakes (it reminds me of a rattle snake almost), I noticed his body shaking/trembling most the time he is resting. I guess my question really is; does it sound like he may have long term brain damage or damage to his nervous system? Is there anything I can do to help him or prevent further problems?
Botflies may migrate to the brain and cause neurological symptoms; although the symptoms you are describing are quite vague and may be attributable to a cat's temperament. Treatment with ivermectin wouldn’t be harmful and may show some positive results. Vestibular disorders, liver and kidney disease, poisoning and congenital disorders may cause these symptoms; have your Veterinarian check her over to make sure there isn’t any serious problems. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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my cat has had unusual behavior for the past three weeks meowing when he has always been quiet. This week he drastically worsened became very weak we took him to the local vet twice and did blood work, they said he seemed fine and was healthy that night his breathing became very weak and he look as if he would not make it. his head was tilted and was circling and very unsteady and disoriented and weak. He hasn't eaten on his own in two days but i have been feeding him and giving him water through a plastic syringe. in the past day and a half or so he seems to be doing a little better walking straighter and more alert and better breathing, but he still wont eat on his own. What should i do??
There are a few different conditions which may be causing these symptoms, especially in an older cat. Usual suspects like hepatic encephalopathy would show up on blood biochemistry. Dehydration, poisoning, brain tumour, trauma, parasites, immune mediated disease and dietary deficiencies are all possible causes; it is difficult to say the actual cause without performing an examination, but continue to feed via syringe (mix wet food with some water to help feed and hydrate) and see if the symptoms continue to improve. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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my cat has a fever, ataxia, facial paralysis, head tilt left, slow moving for 3 mths. She originally had an undiagnosed case of Vestibular disease (1 1/2 yrs ago), it never really got better but she adjusted. She is seeing a neuro surgeon but cannot figure out whats wrong. She has had mri's, 2 spinal taps, bone marrow, more than 50 plus tests pcr 's for fungal, lyme, FIP, Felv, bartonella, toxoplasmosis, etc. SHe is only being treated with prednisolone 5 mg twice a day. Everyone is stumped and im worried sick. Any ideas. All the dr's are saying lymphoma would have appeared quicker. Im thinking what if she had something a 1 1/2 yrs ago and it was at bay till now and it came back with vengenace. Is there such a disease? Because 1 1/2 yrs ago she had similair symptoms except (the fever) ...I've researched, written people on yahoo groups, seen numerous doctors. They have nothing. any suggestions. every vet has said this is crazy and doesnt make any sense. look forward to hearing back. Oh the MRI did show something but not a tumor just inflammation in an area (only seen with a contrast) if u need the location i will get back to u. thanks so much
From the symptoms that you describe there a few conditions that are probable candidates for the underlying cause, these are traumatic brain injury, tumours, infections, immune-mediated disease, toxins and nutritional deficiencies; this list is more of a line of best fit of causes as none of them fulfil all the symptoms that Sweetie is presenting. With the comprehensive diagnostic work up already taken place, I am unable to think of another diagnostic test which may shed more light on Sweetie’s condition. If I was presented with Sweetie as the first Veterinarian who examined her, I would have started diagnostic tests for some type of brain injury (traumatic or ischemic). I am sorry I couldn’t help shed light on this problem. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
My cat had the same symptoms I also did a MRI and there was inflammation but we did a toxoplasmosis tiger and confirmed a diagnosis of cerebral toxoplasmosis .my cat was put on clindamycin and a special parasite deworming pill . My cat lived he's ok now. But at first they thought stroke,brain trauma,vestibular disease,raccoon diseasee, but it turned out to be cerebral toxoplasmosis I hope this helps some one. Oh by the way a 3500 cat scan is not necessary for this diagnosis. Sincerely Tini
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