Summer is here and the staff at Mobile Pet Vet is seeing the population of fleas and ticks rise with the temperatures. As a Tulsa mobile veterinarian, I see my fair share of dogs and cats who are struggling with fleas and ticks. I always like to remind my clients preventing fleas and ticks is very different for cats than it is for dogs. It’s really important to never use dog products to prevent fleas and ticks on your cat — you could seriously harm your pet without meaning to.
Flea Facts for Cats
The most universal feline pest—and the most irritating—is the common cat flea, with its siphoning, vampire-like behavior. Cat fleas are suspected of transmitting murine typhus and Bubonic plague to humans and also can serve as an intermediary host for tapeworms, which cats can acquire while grooming and inadvertently swallowing an adult flea.
Signs of a flea problem include excessive itching around your cat’s head, neck, ears, and tail head (the area just above the base of the tail), and the presence of “flea dirt” (feces soaked in undigested blood excreted by adult fleas that feed on your cat). One bite can cause an allergic reaction in a flea-allergic cat, and the subsequent itching can last up to five days. Scratching that itch can lead to hair loss, inflammation, dermatitis, and secondary skin infections. Massive infestations can cause anemia from blood loss, which can be fatal in kittens. Pale gums are warning signs for anemic kittens.
Unlike dog fleas, adult cat fleas remain attached to their hosts, and the female demands constant fresh blood meals to crank out one egg per hour throughout her entire adult life of 30 to 40 days (720 to 960 eggs). At room temperature, worm-like larvae emerge from the egg within two days. Although the larvae can feed on organic debris on the floor or carpet, “flea dirt” is its dietary mainstay.
Within 15 days, the larvae spin sticky silk cocoons, which dirt and debris stick to, making the final pupal stage a camouflaged shelter that can hide among dusty floors and piled rugs for up to 12 months. Ironically, although vacuuming rugs and floors is necessary to rid the room of eggs and crawling larvae, the vibrations from the machine can stimulate the adults to emerge from their pupae to begin the cycle anew.
Controlling flea infestations requires an integrated pest management approach by eliminating the fleas on your cat and by cleaning and treating infested indoor and shaded outdoor locations where your cat likes to rest.
Simple Remedies for Fleas
There are several over-the-counter (OTC) products sold in pet and grocery stores or online and many prescription products available from your veterinarian for battling the fleas that attack your feline friend. Here are a few, for starters:
- Internal growth regulators (IGRs), such as methoprene and pyriproxyfen, are available as topical formulations and in flea collars and can prevent flea larvae from becoming adults.
- Insect development inhibitors (IDIs), such as lufenuron, are administered orally and can prevent egg hatching. Lufenuron accumulates in your cat’s body fat and is transferred to the adult flea when it bites your cat. Lufenuron then is absorbed into the flea egg, either preventing it from hatching or preventing larvae from developing into adults when they feed on pre-digested blood.
- Topical medicines, such as imidacloprid, fipronil, and selamectin—not for use on kittens under the age of 6 weeks—can kill adult fleas within hours of landing and can provide effective flea control for one to two months.
- Always follow the directions for safe dosage and application methods.
- • Never use a dog product on or near a cat. Cats are much more sensitive to insecticides than dogs and can die from certain ingredients in dog products, such as permethrin. If you treat a dog for fleas, keep the dog separated from the cat until the product has completely dried.
- Pyriproxyfen and methoprine also can be applied to carpets, cat bedding, and other favorite indoor feline spots to prevent flea larval development for up to 18 months.
- For yard sanitation, natural products that contain nematodes (microscopic worm-like creatures that feed on flea larvae and pupae) can control fleas in the environment. One application of methoprene and pyriproxin sprayed in shaded areas, where they rapidly break down under ultraviolet light, can incapacitate fleas for six to twelve months.
Ticks lay their eggs in various places but not on their hosts; the young seek out hosts after hatching. Fortunately, most management recommendations for fleas also apply to ticks, with one exception: Careful tick removal from the cat is essential. Ticks have barbs on their mouth parts (places of attachment) that penetrate and attach to the cat’s skin. They also secrete a cement-like substance that helps them adhere to the cat’s skin.
To remove ticks, use fine-point tweezers rather than your fingers. Don’t prick, crush, or burn the tick—these actions can cause the tick to vomit into the wound. Contrary to popular belief, smothering the tick with petroleum jelly or nail polish does not interfere with the feeding process. When removing a tick, grasp its mouth parts as close to your cat’s skin as possible. Gently pull the tick straight out with steady pressure. Try to save the tick in alcohol so it can be identified and the cat can be properly treated. Wash your hands and disinfect the tweezers and the bite site.
Using IGRs or IDIs in conjunction with insecticides effectively can control all life stages of the flea or tick. Acoustic devices, herbal collars, and doses of vitamin B1 and brewer’s yeast have no effect on flea and tick behavior or control, although special combs can remove10 to 60 percent of adult fleas from short-haired cats and area a way to monitor flea populations on your cat’s body. Before implementing any control measures, remember to always consult your veterinarian (call the Mobile Pet Vet for an appointment!). Be sure to read the product labels for the active ingredients, follow the directions for safe use, and never use dog products on your cat.
If your cat or dog is suffering from fleas and ticks this summer, contact The Mobile Pet Vet and let us help you treat these pests appropriately.