Fleas and ticks can cause a variety of health problems for our feline companions. The best thing you can do is to take regular preventive measures to protect your cat from these pesky parasites.
Signs your cat may have fleas include flea dirt (small dark flakes), excessive itching or scratching, dermatitis, hot spots, tapeworms and pale gums. You may also see adult fleas on your cat’s coat and skin.
Adult ticks are often visible to the naked eye, so you may spot them on short-haired cats. But with longer-haired cats, it’s best to do a thorough inspection with a flea comb.
Fleas transmit bartonella, the causative organism of cat scratch fever in humans. Tapeworms use fleas as an intermediate host for transmission between cats.
Ticks transmit myriad diseases that are extremely dangerous to cats. Hemobartonellosis is a relatively common disease that causes a life-threatening form of anemia that typically results in pale gums, lethargy, poor appetite and rapid, open-mouth breathing. Cytauxzoonosis and tularemia are less common but are equally harmful. Cytauxzoonosis causes severe anemia, fever, lethargy, liver disease, compromised breathing, and is usually fatal. Tularemia causes fever, lymph node enlargement, and abscesses. Ticks also cause Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, babeseosis, hepatozoonosis or anaplasmosis, all of which cause fever, anemia, lethargy, weight loss, bruising, joint pain and lameness, difficulty breathing, vomiting or diarrhea. While uncommon in cats, each can be lethal. If you suspect your cat has any of these diseases, it’s critical to get him or her to a veterinarian immediately.
Fleas are insects that can start your cat scratching with one bite. They have exceptional jumping skills, leaping vertically up to seven inches to hop on a host to feed and lay their eggs. Females can lay up to 5,000 eggs (that’s a lot of fleas!) in a lifetime. Depending on weather conditions (they thrive in warm, humid climates), the eggs take about three to five days to hatch. Fleas then enter their larval stage, during which they are so small they that are invisible. Larvae feed on flea dirt and other organic debris. Once fully fed, larvae spin cocoons, thus entering the pupal stage. Pupae usually hatch within eight to nine days, but can remain dormant for up to six months. When they hatch from their cocoons, they are adult fleas. The entire lifecycle is anywhere from 16 days to 12 months.
Ticks are parasites that belong to the arachnid family (like spiders and mites) and live in wooded or grassy areas, where they attach themselves to cats walking by. Female ticks find hosts to feed, mate, and lay eggs upon, while the males generally occupy hosts for mating purposes. Females can lay up to a 1,000 eggs at a time. Once hatched, ticks enter their larval stage and feed on their first host. When full, they drop off and molt into their nymph phase, during which they look for a new host. With the onset of adulthood, they lie in wait in grass or bushes, seeking to attach themselves to a new host happily trotting past. Like their flea counterparts, they prefer warmer climates, and they generally require three hosts to complete a lifecycle.
Both fleas and ticks are small but dangerous. Fleas are ravenous and can consume 15 times their own body weight in your cat’s blood. A serious infestation can cause your cat to become anemic. It’s also common for cats to have sensitivity to flea saliva, and just one bite can cause a severe allergic reaction, leading to painful and intense itching. Fleas also transmit a variety of diseases such as bartonella and typhus, as well as tapeworms.
Female ticks can consume more than 100 times their body weight in your cat’s blood, which can lead to anemia. Their bites may trigger allergic reactions, but even more dangerous are the diseases they can transmit.
Taking steps to prevent your cat from getting fleas and ticks is the best thing you can do to spare your cat severe discomfort and potentially serious illnesses. A regular monthly preventive regimen, using PetArmor®, is a great way to keep your cat free from flea and tick infestations.
Should you see that your cat has fleas or ticks, PetArmor recommends: PetArmor® Flea & Tick Shampoo or PetArmor® Flea & Tick Spray to immediately eliminate fleas and ticks that you see. To protect your pet going forward, we recommend applying PetArmor® squeeze-on once a month. Wait one week after treating with shampoo or spray to treat with a squeeze-on.
An example of a flea infestation, which can cause anemia, intestinal tapeworms and stress. Outdoor cats are particularly high risk.
Fleas are intruders who can hitch a free ride into your home on your pet or even on you.
Here we’ll give you insider tips on how to kick fleas to the curb for good.
Just follow this checklist to turn your home into a flea free zone.
Many ticks are as small as a pinhead so they’re difficult to see. Don’t assume they’re not present if they’re not visible. Ticks prefer to attach close to the animal’s head, neck or belly. Start with the head, being sure to check the whisker area, alongside and under the snout. Then check in and around the ears before examining its belly, back and paws, including between the toes and tail. Gently comb the hair. If you come across a snag, it might be a tick. Do this gently so as not to pull the tick out with the comb and leave pieces behind.
If you find a tick attached to your skin, there's no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.
How to remove a tick
Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible--not waiting for it to detach.
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Even the very tiny three-legged larval and four-legged nymph stage of ticks can create health hazards for cats including several fatal diseases.
All ticks feed on blood and can spread disease. The important thing to know is that ticks live all over the country, so wherever you are, ticks are there, too.
American Dog Tick or Wood Tick: This tick is brown to reddish brown and is relatively easy to see from late March through early September, depending upon temperatures. It’s responsible for transmitting Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and canine tick paralysis.
Deer Tick or Blacklegged Tick: The deer tick is very small, resembling dark brown to black pepper grains and is primarily responsible for spreading Lyme disease. This tick is most active during summer, but adults can be active during the winter when temperatures rise above freezing.
Brown Dog Tick: This tick is found throughout the U.S. It’s unusual in that it can lay its eggs indoors. It’s responsible for causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Lone Star Tick: The female Lone Star tick is characterized by a white spot. These ticks can carry ehrlichiosis and tularemia.
While ticks can be found anywhere in the U.S., different species of ticks inhabit different geographical areas. Ticks are most prevalent in the spring, especially after a wet and mild winter. Deer ticks are so hardy, they’ve been found active in the winter when temperatures rise above freezing.