Parasites frequently affect cats, so much so that the most common flea species is named after our beloved feline companions, despite the fact that they infest dogs and wildlife, too. Flea infestations may cause minor itching in some pets, but others may experience severe allergies or life-threatening anemia. Ticks can infest cats, too, and although cats are resistant to many tick-borne diseases that affect dogs (e.g., Lyme disease), they are susceptible to a few other, more serious tick-transmitted diseases. 

Keeping your cat indoors may reduce their parasite transmission risk, but does not eliminate the risk completely, especially if you have other pets. Fleas can hitch a ride indoors on other pets or people’s clothing, jump through screens, or may be present in a new home when you move in. Thankfully, flea and tick infestations are treatable and preventable with the proper strategies, products, and knowledge from your Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital veterinary team. To help you be your pet’s superhero, here is an overview of flea and tick prevention methods, to keep your pet safe this spring. 

The flea life cycle and your cat

Fleas are tiny parasites that live and reproduce on cats, dogs, and other animals. They can number in the hundreds or thousands on an individual cat, and cause them a great deal of misery. Adult fleas can jump as far as seven feet, which is how they find a new host, where they feed on the pet’s blood, and lay eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae, which take another blood meal, and become cocooned pupae. The pupae fall into the environment, where they are highly resistant to destruction, and can remain dormant for long periods of time. Eggs and pupae in the environment are a constant, and frustrating, source of reinfection for many pets, when pet owners are not counseled on environmental control strategies. 

Flea dangers to your cat

Some cats show only mild itching when fleas are present, while others will be visibly uncomfortable with intense itching and hair loss. Regardless of your pet’s comfort level, fleas should be considered a danger, because they may transmit other diseases. Some complications of flea infestations include:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) — For cats allergic to flea saliva, only a few bites will cause intense itching, scratching, hair loss, and skin wounds. FAD tends to have a characteristic pattern, appearing first on the back near the tail base, but may affect any skin areas.
  • Tapeworm infection — The tapeworm species dipylidium caninum can be transmitted to your cat when they ingest an infected flea during grooming. Tapeworms live in the intestines and deposit tiny segments, called proglottids, into the environment. Cats with flea tapeworms will have dried rice-like proglottids in their bedding, litterbox, and the fur around their hind end.
  • Anemia — Small kittens with many fleas may lose blood and become anemic quickly. Adult cats don’t usually develop blood-loss anemia, but some infections transmitted by fleas may cause anemia because of illness.
  • Bacterial and zoonotic infections — The bacteria Bartonella, murine typhus, plague, and rickettsiosis can all make your cat sick. They can also make you and your family members sick if infected fleas bite you, or with bartonella (i.e., cat scratch fever) should your cat scratch or bite you. 

Tick dangers to your cat

Ticks are more likely to affect your cat if they go outdoors, or if you have dogs that bring ticks indoors. However, ticks can also hitch a ride inside on your shoes or clothing. Tick bites can be irritating and may cause mild allergies or local infections, but the real threats are the severe and life-threatening diseases that ticks may transmit to your cat, so prevention is key. Tick-borne illnesses that affect cats may include:

  • Haemobartonella/mycoplasma — This bacterial agent attaches to red blood cells and causes severe anemia.
  • Cytauxzoonosis — This protozoan parasite may cause fever, lethargy, anemia, and trouble breathing, but is usually fatal.
  • Tularemia—This bacterial infection, which may cause enlarged lymph nodes, fever, and abscesses, may also be life-threatening.

Flea and tick treatment and prevention in cats

Eliminating fleas requires a multi-pronged approach. To address adult fleas, all pets in the household should be treated with a veterinarian-approved monthly preventive medication that kills existing fleas on each pet right away, and continues to kill new fleas that hatch from the environment. To eliminate an existing flea infestation, all pets must remain on a preventive continuously for at least six months. For cats, we recommend NexGard Combo, which controls fleas, ticks, ear mites, roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms, and can prevent heartworm infections, too. 

Complete flea treatment also requires environmental decontamination. Areas that pets frequent should be vacuumed regularly, and the vacuum bag discarded. Bedding should be washed frequently, and dried on high, if possible. These tactics help remove eggs and pupae from the environment as they fall off pets, before they become new adult fleas. For items or areas you can’t wash or vacuum, a flea area spray may be appropriate—ask your veterinarian for recommendations, though, as many of these products are toxic or ineffective.

Fleas and ticks can make your cat miserable and expose them to life-threatening diseases, but you can easily prevent these parasites with monthly prevention medication. If you believe your cat has fleas or has been exposed to ticks, or you have questions about Nexgard Combo or other preventive care strategies, call us to schedule an appointment with your Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital team.