Fleas and ticks are very common in animals with fur. They hop onto your cat and make their way to the skin of the animal, where they proceed to feed on your pet’s blood. They also find your cat’s warm, soft fur to be the perfect breeding ground.
Fleas can be obtained when cats go outdoors or come into contact with dogs that have fleas, and they are often found around the neck and base of the tail, or even on the belly.
Detecting fleas, in particular, is not very difficult. If you pull back your cat’s fur or sift through its fur, you may see small dark spots that move. You may too notice their droppings, which to the eye look like specks of dirt. If there are not tell-tale signs, when a feline has fleas, he or she often scratches incessantly and as a result, may experience hair loss.
Ticks are even easier than fleas to identify. They are much larger—making them easily visible—and can be felt when you pet your cat. They can attach near the neck, paws or head, but are most often found around the ears and eyes of cats.
Like fleas, ticks love warm environments and can be found outdoors in tall grass and shrubs. When your cat passes by, they hop on and burrow themselves into your pet’s fur until they reach the skin. This is when they attach themselves.
Conditions Associated With Fleas and Ticks
Fleas may be small, but they can take in 15 times their own weight in blood. Depending on how many fleas are feeding on your cat, he or she may develop anemia due to the loss of blood and can experience an extreme drop in red blood cells. Anemia can come with its own signs, including lethargy and pale gums.
Skin disease is another common condition associated with fleas. As the flea bites, it infuses saliva into your cat’s skin, which can prompt an allergic reaction that leads to extreme itching, loss of fur, irritated skin and scabs. All of this can cause skin infections.
Ticks, on the other hand, are much more invasive and hazardous. They carry diseases that can easily be contracted by your pet, the most dangerous of which is Lyme disease. Lyme disease and a bacterial infection known as ehrlichiosis causes:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Swollen lymph nodes
- In some cases, kidney disease
These tick-borne diseases are not common in cats, but can occur. One that should be paid close attention to, however, is called cytauxzoonosis. It occurs when ticks spread a one-celled parasite known as Cytauxzoon felis. The disease is often fatal.
More commonly found in felines, cats with cytauxzoonosis start to show signs within one to three weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. The parasite invades the blood cells and cells of the spleen, lungs, liver and lymph nodes. When this occurs, the cat may:
- Lose their appetite
- Become anemic
- Have trouble breathing
- Develop a high fever
- Present with jaundice
- Become listless all of a sudden
Without treatment—which may consist of diminazene aceturate and imidocarb dipropionate, or a combination of atovaquone and azithromycin—an infected cat often dies within 14 days from the time these symptoms begin. Even with prompt treatment, it may not be effective.
Prevention and Treatment
It doesn’t take long for an infestation to occur—female fleas can lay up to 50 eggs per day. Fleas are not just a problem for your cat, they can leap from your cat’s fur and onto your skin. Like your pet, when fleas attach to your skin and bite you, the saliva they inject into your skin causes immense itches, and scratching the affected area can then lead to skin infections. This is why it’s important to prevent flea infestations or, when they arise, act quickly to treat the problem.
So, how can you do this?
Because fleas are attracted to not only your cat’s fur, but carpets and humid areas, conservative measures should be taken. This includes:
- Removing your carpet or replacing it
- Keeping your home dry and cool
- Vacuuming your carpet frequently and using a rotary brush or beater bar. After you have vacuumed, toss the vacuum bag
- Mopping hardwood floors with detergent every week
- Trimming your lawn/grass and treating it with pet-safe pesticides
Flea and tick shampoos, while they do not do well at preventing ticks, can be effective when it comes to killing the ones that are already using your pet as a host. For those who find that the products they have purchased do not work well, a veterinarian can give you one that is prescription-strength.
Ticks, if found, should be removed immediately to prevent disease. While you may have heard that gasoline, alcohol, hot matches, nail polish and petroleum jelly are effective ways of removing ticks, they can actually do more harm than good—these tactics can cause infected fluids to be injected into your cat’s skin. To prevent spreading disease that the tick(s) may carry, it is wise to see your veterinarian or local groomer to have it/them removed professionally.
Other treatment and prevention methods include:
- Flea collars. Collars works by warding off fleas and ticks
- Oral medication. Often in tablet form, they are taken by mouth either daily or monthly. They work by killing adult fleas and eggs, and keep flea eggs from hatching.
- Topical medication. These are in liquid form and are frequently applied to the back of your cat’s neck. They can be left on for a month and are intended to kill fleas and their eggs; although some kill both fleas and ticks.
- Flea combs. This is a nontoxic way to rid fleas from cats that cannot take medication.
- Insect foggers. These canisters release pesticides that kill fleas and ticks in your home. This method is only for severe infestations, and it is not safe for you or your pet to be in the home when the fogger is activated, nor shortly thereafter.
Before trying any of these techniques, speak with your veterinarian to determine which is safest and best for your beloved feline.