Check Your Cat for Fleas and Ticks Daily

Check Your Cat for Fleas and Ticks Daily

By Denise Fleck

“My cat can’t have fleas! Ticks? Absolutely not! She’s an indoor kitty!”

A common, yet wrongly assumed tale told by many a feline parent. Even though your cat doesn’t adventure into the great outdoors, she could still have parasites nibbling away on her. It only takes a moment for these parasites to barge into our homes on clothes, other pets or across thresholds. They can cause her distress and disease, so it’s up to you to check your cat for fleas and ticks daily whether she is indoor, indoor-outdoor, or especially, an outdoor pet. Look and feel between the toes, behind the ears, in the pits and groin – everywhere! Get your cat, especially if it’s a kitten, used to this head-to-tail exam. The sooner you learn how to socialize a kitten, the better it will be when you have to take them to the vet. If you don’t actually see fleas in your cat’s fur, yet she is scratching, get out your flea comb with its tiny, close-together teeth and comb the kitty down her back to the base of her tail. Next, dump any debris you pick up onto a dampened paper towel. If the specks just sit there, you’ve probably combed up dirt and dander, but if the paper towel turns pink, that is your cat’s dehydrated blood (aka flea dirt), so you must help alleviate her itch along with preventing more of those critters from making a feast out of her

Fleas

More than 2,000 species of fleas exist, but the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is the one most responsible for the relentless itching suffered by both cats and dogs. To some pets, fleas are an annoyance, but to others…a bite or two can make your cat down right miserable! When a flea draws blood, it injects saliva into your cat’s skin. Flea saliva contains an anti-coagulant so that the flea can continue to feast, but this and other components in the saliva can trigger an allergic reaction know as Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) resulting in severe itching that lasts for weeks. It can quickly turn into a rash or even raw, irritated patches of skin on your cat. Your cat grooms and chews to alleviate the discomfort which then allows bacteria and yeast to get under the skin causing a secondary infection. Only your veterinarian can then help you help your cat by prescribing medications that will ease the itching, inflammation and infection, so…before it gets to this point, it is up to YOU to keep your house, yard and cat, flea-free!

Ticks

Another pest that can wreak havoc on your cat’s system is the tick, and there are more than 800 species of these tiny arachnids crawling around that, like the flea, feast on the blood of mammals, birds and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. Ticks attach to animals because they need to ingest blood to survive and develop from the larvae stage into adulthood. If the tick also happens to be carrying an infectious disease, it will be transmitted to your cat. The good news is that most cats are highly aware of even the tiniest pests on their bodies, and often will remove a tick before it has a chance to attach. In most cases, ticks need to feed for 24-48 hours to transmit disease, but it’s just a ballpark. That is why it is imperative you check your cat for fleas and ticks daily. If you find any, comb out fleas as mentioned above and drop into a soapy bowl of water to kill. Ticks should be grasped with tweezers, as close to kitty’s body as possible without pulling her skin, and then dropped into a small bottle of rubbing alcohol to kill. It is wise to keep the deceased tick for veterinary exam. Never pull with your fingers or try to suffocate a tick with petroleum jelly or other products as these methods will cause the tick to regurgitate his stomach contents into your cat!

Below is a chart outlining diseases your cat may get from these parasites. As with any infection, realize symptoms can be attributed to a number of causes. Just because your cat presents with one or more symptoms, does not mean she has the disease. Many tick-borne diseases have the same symptoms but outcomes and treatment may differ. Only your veterinarian, through proper testing (many target either red or white blood cells) and tick identification, can tell for sure.

Tick-borne Diseases Affecting Cats

DISEASE

PARASITE

SYMPTOMS

TREATMENT

OTHER INFO

Anaplasmosis

Deer ticks (aka black legged tick)

Limping/difficulty walking
Weakness/lethargy
Fever
Loss of appetite
Weight loss

Antibiotics & IV fluids

 

Babesiosis
(aka Piroplasmosis)

Deer Tick

Lack of energy
Loss of appetite
Pale or jaundice

Anti-malaria drug Primaquine phosphate to kill of protozoa; supportive care, blood transfusions.

Also transmitted via animal bite or in the womb.  

Cytauxzoonosis
(aka bob cat fever)

Lone Star tick &
American Dog tick

High fever
Loss of appetite
Dehydration
Pale or jaundice
Difficulty breathing

Specialized drugs, IV fluids, supportive care

Can result in multiple organ failure & death.  Those who survive may become carriers for life.

Erlichiosis

Lone Star tick yet also unknown pathogen in many cases

Lethargy
Loss of appetite
Weight loss Vomiting/diarrhea
Fever
Pale
Difficulty breathing
Swollen lymph nodes and joints
Eye discharge

Anti-rickettsial drugs as tetracycline, doxycycline, fluid therapy and supportive care

 

Haemobartonellosis
(aka Feline Infectious Anemia)

Fleas & ticks

Loss of appetite     Weight loss   Dehydration       
Pale/jaundice
Weakness
Accelerated heart rate & respiration

Antibiotics
Blood transfusion

Also transmitted via cat bites.  Cats with FeLV more likely severe.  May carry for life.

Lyme Disease

Deer tick

Lameness that gets better than shifts to another limb
Stiff walk with arched back
Loss of appetite
Lethargy
Swollen lymph nodes

Antibiotics & keeping kitty warm

Symptoms don’t always resolve.

Tick Bite Paralysis

Female ticks:  American Dog tick,
Rocky Mountain Wood tick

Vomiting
Unsteadiness
Fast heart rate
Hind limb weakness
Poor reflexes
Loss of muscle tone
Difficulty breathing

IV Fluids, Oxygen Therapy in some cases along with meds to counteract effects of toxin on nervous system and relax muscles for breathing

Symptoms present 6-9 days after tick attaches.

Tularemia

Fleas,
Rocky Mountain Wood tick,
American Dog tick.
Pacific Coast tick
and Lone Star tick

Swollen lymph nodes
High fever
Abscess at site of tick bite; rash
Loss of appetite, Lethargy
Eye/nose discharge
Tender abdomen
White patches on tongue
Jaundice

Antibiotics

 

Where you and your cat live will help you determine the best methods of flea and tick prevention to use. Searching on the internet may put great fear in you regarding preventatives as almost every brand is connected to a horror story about the product causing harm to some pet. Do realize, a potentially bigger risk exists in NOT preventing these pests from biting your cat, so speak to your veterinarian who knows your cat and what tick diseases exist in your neck of the woods.

“Monthly preventative is a must for ALL cats, even those who live entirely indoors,” says Liz Kozkenmaki, DVM in Burbank, California. “A monthly oral or topical works best, but be sure it is cat-specific.”

Ticks

Julie Buzby, DVM, CVA, CAVCA, Founder of Dr. Buzby’s Innovations who hails from South Carolina shares, “I am strictly using oral products however…with ANY medication, there are risks, but they are low for these classes of drugs when used as directed however, the risks associated with your pet not being protected can be very high, depending upon where you live.”

Farther north in New Jersey, Judy Morgan, DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT and owner of two integrated award-winning veterinary clinics, is a big fan of natural products. “If your cat ventures outside regularly, I recommend using a safe tick repellent such as geranium oil designed to deter ticks on cats. You can also consider sprinkling your kitty with diatomaceous earth, avoiding the face and head while coconut oil can be used for killing and repelling fleas due to the lauric acid. I use 1 teaspoon per 20 pounds of body weight twice daily in the food. Coconut oil melts at 76 degrees, so rubbing it between your hands will make it into a liquid that you can rub through your pet’s coat. It moisturizes skin and helps kill yeast too.”

Should your cat get fleas, “an over-the-counter treatment such as Capstar® can help kill the pests in about a day,” says Dr. Koskenmaki, “but then bathe your cat with a gentle flea shampoo and rinse thoroughly since your cat could ingest any chemicals left behind when grooming. Repeat baths weekly until fleas are gone for good.”

Adding to Dr. Buzby’s advice, read directions, make sure medications have not expired and that they have been properly stored. It’s imperative that you use weight-specific and species-specific doses, and if you have a multi-pet household, you make sure the cat doesn’t lay on the dog’s bed after a topical has been applied, rub against another animal or vice versa.

If you have carpets, vacuum daily during flea and tick season, treat your yard, bathe pets regularly and check your cat for fleas and ticks daily and remove any parasites found. Beneficial nematodes kill flea larvae but will not survive in hot, sunny areas of the lawn. Spread them in moist, shady areas where fleas and ticks are most likely to be found. Keep your lawn short to deter infestations and plant deer resistant plants in your yard so deer (who carry fleas and ticks) will not be as tempted to come around. Lavender, sage, mint, wormwood, rosemary and marigolds are not favorites of fleas and ticks, so plant them everywhere, and if permissible in your municipality, chickens and new guinea hens keep the tick population at bay.

Fleas and ticks can cause great harm, disease, and even death to cats. It is important however, that you discuss and understand the risks and benefits of flea and tick preventative with your veterinarian who is familiar with your kitty’s health and medical history. Your pet’s medical professional will also be privy to what methods and brands work best at killing and/or repelling the particular pests in your neighborhood. When applying any type of medication, always stay with and observe your cat for several hours to make sure there are no immediate ill effects and then continue to monitor. Every medication has its risks, so seek out the best way to keep parasites off your cat, but don’t risk her getting a fatal disease by not being protected, and…check your cat for fleas and ticks daily!

Denise

Denise Fleck is the Pet Safety Crusader™ having personally taught 20,000 humans to rescue Rover or help Fluffy feel better. Her mission is to help YOU make a difference in the life of an animal through Pet First-Aid, Senior Pet Care and Disaster Preparedness classes and books. You can also find her sharing her pet care expertise at www.crazyrichpets.com

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