Do Mosquitoes Bite Cats? How to Protect Your Feline Friend

cat itching on its face

A mosquito bites you in your yard. They’re itchy and scratchy and can cause serious diseases. But do mosquitoes bite cats? Yes, mosquitoes do bite cats and can also cause some serious mosquito-borne diseases in kitties. Here’s how to protect your feline friend.

How Can I Tell if my Cat Has Been Bitten by a Mosquito?

Cats’ fur guards them against mosquito bites on their bodies, but they can be bitten on the ear and nose. Bites on a cat’s body tend to be harmless. They might swell, become red, and itch, resulting in sudden licking, chewing, or scratching. However, small bumps that form on the nose or the tips of the ears could become scabby or develop into sores.

Treatment of everyday mosquito bites can include the following:

  • For ear and nose bites: Antibacterial creams (Talk to your veterinarian first to ensure the brand you plan to use won’t harm your kitties, especially if they try to groom it off.)
  • For significant skin lesions: Vet-prescribed corticosteroids and/or antihistamines

Because some mosquito bites are more ominous than others, take your cat to your vet if the mosquito bites do not heal or look like they’re getting worse. Such bites can result in an allergic reaction in your cat, or the mosquitoes can transmit harmful larvae to your cat, just like they can in dogs.

What Conditions in Cats Are Caused by Mosquitoes?

Photo Credit: Vannie / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Mosquito Bite Hypersensitivity

Your cat can have an allergic reaction to mosquito saliva from bites. Feline mosquito hypersensitivity can be fairly common in cats and occurs mostly during mosquito season. 

Signs and symptoms: Ulcered and crusted lesions appear on the ears and nose, and, less commonly, on the footpads, eyelids, chin, and lips. Hair loss can occur. Hypersensitivity can affect extensive areas. The cat scratches the lesions and may have swollen lymph glands. In severe cases, fever can occur.

Diagnosis: The diagnosis is made by a vet, who must rule out food allergies, ringworm, lupus, cancer, and bacterial infection, as well as herpesvirus, dermatitis, and mange. The vet also considers the season; mosquito bites are unusual during a cold winter. The vet may also take a skin biopsy of the affected area to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment: Mild cases often self-resolve if you protect cats from additional bites by keeping them indoors and using a vet-prescribed cat insect repellent. Vets treat severe hypersensitivity with oral or injected corticosteroids.

Heartworms

Dogs, rather than cats, become the usual hosts for heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis). Although cats are less prone, they can still get heartworms, which don’t live or grow as long as in dogs. The lifespan for the worms in cats is 2 to 4 years. Because of their size, cats with just a few worms (1 to 3) are considered heavily infected.

Mosquitoes receive heartworm larvae (microfilariae) by biting infected animals and then transmitting them to cats by biting. It takes months for the larvae to grow into adults; they live in the blood vessels leading from the heart to the lungs. The heartworms may enter the heart in serious infections.

Signs and symptoms: Not all cats experience symptoms, but they can have weight loss, lethargy, coughing, vomiting, and fainting. If a cat does show symptoms, it’s usually breathing difficulty (heartworm-associated respiratory disease, a serious symptom caused when the worms die in the lungs).

Sudden death can occur in heartworm infections, even in asymptomatic cats. Cats seem to be more susceptible than dogs to death caused by heartworms.

Diagnosis: Vets generally use two blood tests to check for heartworms. However, both can cause false-negative and false-positive results; even so, these results, with the cat’s symptoms, can be used to determine whether heartworms live within your pet. The vet may also use chest X-rays and echocardiography to help make the diagnosis.

Treatment: Get your cat to the vet ASAP. In cats, heartworm disease cannot be completely eliminated but it can be controlled with pills and/or injections. It can also be prevented with the same. Surgical removal of adult heartworms could work but can be very risky.

Prevention: Year-round preventive medication, which should always be prescribed under the care of your vet, is available for indoor and outdoor cats, including kittens. Give your cat the once-a-month medication for its entire life. The heartworm-prevention medication must be given at the same time every month to be most effective.

Never use dog heartworm-prevention medicine for your cat.

Life Cycle of Mosquitoes

graphic showing a mosquito life cycle

Knowing the life cycle of mosquitoes allows you to focus on the most effective mosquito-control efforts around your home. Their life cycle generally lasts 4 to 30 days, depending on the species and environment:

  1. After a blood meal, female mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water; the eggs generally hatch within 48 hours.
  2. The eggs become larvae, which live in the water.
  3. The larvae become pupae.
  4. Adults emerge from the pupae to start the process again.

How to Keep Mosquitoes Out of Your Yard and Protect Your Cat

graphic for How to Control Mosquito Populations vertical
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

Any cat spending any time outdoors, even on a balcony, can get mosquito bites. But how can you protect your fuzzy friends when they go outside? Doing so can be a bit difficult. You can start by not letting Fluffy out when mosquitoes are at their most active: the early morning and early evening hours (dawn and dusk). 

If your cat insists on going outside, then you might try a cat tunnel or run covered with netting or screens to prevent mosquito entry, especially if you have a cat sensitive to mosquitoes or the diseases they can transmit, such as a kitten. You might also try other methods of getting rid of mosquitoes, such as the following:

  • Get rid of standing water. Mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water, so if you have standing water on your property, you’ve unwittingly set up dozens of mosquito nurseries in your yard!
  • Encourage birds, bats, dragonflies, and other critters that eat mosquitoes to visit or even live in your yard by putting up bird and bat houses and growing plants that attract these mosquito warriors.
  • Add mosquito dunks (Bti) to pools and other places with standing water (bird baths, rain barrels) to kill mosquito larvae before they turn into blood-sucking adults.
  • Use carbon dioxide mosquito traps.
  • Grow certain plants that may repel mosquitoes, but these plants’ leaves must be crushed or burned to work. Check with your vet before rubbing the leaves on cats, since some plants may cause respiratory irritation when inhaled and gastrointestinal complications if ingested by cats.

FAQ

How Can I Keep my Cat Safe from Mosquitoes?

First and especially if Fluffy enjoys the outdoor life, place your cat on heartworm medication and ensure you administer it at the same time every month. A 12-month supply of medication costs around $100, but treating this disease costs up to $1,000. Here are some other pet-friendly ways to protect your cat:

Never use DEET on your cat. It can cause tremors, seizures, or even death.
Never use mosquito products for any other animal, especially dogs, on your cat. These can cause eye conditions, gastrointestinal upset, difficulty breathing, disorientation, tremors, and seizures.
Check with your vet before using any essential oils on your cat. Cats are sensitive to these oils, which can cause upset stomach, central nervous system issues, and even liver damage.
Don’t use citronella; the plant can be toxic to cats. Be cautious when using citronella products and ensure cats cannot get near citronella plants in your yard.
Do use citrus juice and some other essential oils, but check first with your vet.
Grow plants that won’t hurt your cat, such as basil, catnip, lemon balm, and rosemary, around your yard. The leaves must be crushed or burned to be effective against mosquitoes. Avoid any plants toxic to cats.
And as always, dump out any standing water on your property, keep it covered, or clean it often. Don’t forget water bowls.

What Can I Do if my Cat Is Exposed to a Toxic Mosquito Repellent?

Immediately call your vet or your emergency vet if your cat is exposed to any poisonous mosquito repellents. You can also call the Animal Poison Control hotline of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The number is (888) 426-4435, but there may be a consultation fee.

What Are Some Don’ts for Mosquito Control and Cats?

The most important “don’t” is to never apply to cats any product made for another animal, even dogs. Dog products contain permethrin, which builds up in a cat’s liver, causing toxicity or poisoning. It’s critical to use only products labeled and approved for cats.

Don’t apply human mosquito repellent to cats, who can be highly sensitive to N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET). DEET can cause neurologic changes and seizures, which can be fatal. Beware of cat mosquito over-the-counter products, which “may do more harm than good.” Always ask your vet about any treatment.

Call the Pros

Don’t want to mess with mosquito control all by yourself because Fluffy wants to nap rather than help? Or maybe you just want to nap too. Pest Gnome connects you to the best pest control experts near you.

Main Image Credit: Pexels

Pat Joiner

Pat Joiner has been working with words for 35+ years. In fact, playing with words is her greatest passion. Pat despises the bugs that pester her when she spends time outdoors gardening and enjoying her patio. She lives in her little condo and has two adorable cats named Mona and da Vinci.