Most people are familiar with tick-borne illness such as Lyme Disease and the need to protect ourselves and our pets from tick bites. But did you know that fleas have a long history of carrying diseases that can infect humans, not just animals? So how do you keep your cat free from fleas and ticks?
Our mini “survival guide”
Gives you an overview of illnesses caused by fleas and ticks
Explains how to prevent fleas and ticks
Informs you about how to get rid of fleas and ticks
The Dangers of Fleas and Ticks
We can’t emphasize enough that flea and tick prevention is crucial to your pet’s health as well as the health of your home and family. An itchy cat will not only feel miserable, if they carry fleas then your home is at risk for infestation and disease. Likewise, ticks that jump from cat to person can transmit some disease, some of which can have a lifelong effect on a person’s health.
What Diseases are caused by Fleas?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) fleas carry a number of diseases that can spread to both pets and humans.
Plague: Yes, this is the plague. The plague of the mid-1300s was responsible for mass death and devastation; it was brought about by an infestation of fleas. While cases of the plague do still continue to occur in rural areas of the U.S., today we don’t worry as much about a mass outbreak of flea-borne plague because we have both preventive medicines and antibiotics that can help humans recover.
Cat Scratch Disease is a disease spread by cats that are carrying fleas. The disease is typically transmitted to humans after being scratched by a domestic or feral cat (hence, the name). Humans can experience symptoms such as fever and headaches.
Flea-borne Parasites are prevalent in children who play on flooring and carpet where fleas can hide. The disease is transmitted when a person accidentally ingests a flea. A common flea-borne parasite is tapeworm.
Image Source: Centers for Disease Control
What Diseases are caused by Ticks?
There are many types of tick-borne illnesses that can have a devastating effect on cat and human health:
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Colorado tick fever
How to Prevent Fleas & Ticks
Monthly flea and tick control is a must for your cat all year long, but especially during the summer months. By protecting your pet from fleas and ticks, you are protecting both their health and your own.
When it comes to flea and tick prevention, there are a variety of options available for cats (and dogs). The New York Times resource on flea/tick prevention products is a great place to start your evaluation of the product that is the best fit for your pet and for your budget. You’ll find a range of prices, but you’ll need to choose the right product carefully--and in consultations with your veterinarian.
One of the most important aspects of using a flea and tick prevention product is how it is applied. Different products require a different application method including:
– Oral medication
Some of these applications are designed to kill fleas or ticks at different cycles during their lifecycle, such as egg or adult (This usually applies to fleas. With ticks, the focus of prevention is to repel ticks from getting on your cat in the first place).
Unfortunately, fleas and ticks are very resilient creatures and it can be incredibly difficult to get rid of them once your pet tracks them inside the home.
What Does a Flea Bite Look Like?
Flea bites usually turn the skin red, making it irritable and painful for your cat. This leads to scratching, which inevitably makes the situation worse. The best approach, in combination with guidance from your vet, to address flea bites is to give your pet a soothing, medicated bath (Follow directions exactly as indicated). If the infestation is very bad, you will do better if you bring your cat to a professional groomer…and then treat your home for the flea infestation that, no doubt, is hiding in your upholstery, carpet, begging, and so forth.
How to Clean Your House of a Flea Infestation
Flea infestations are physically and emotionally taxing. While fleas will first feast on your pets, they will eventually bite you when they’re in need of a new food source.
The biggest hurdle in getting rid of fleas is breaking the flea lifecycle--from egg to larva to pupa and finally, the adult stage. All stages must be exterminated for the infestation to end.
Vacuum the whole house. Vacuum all corners of your home. If you have hardwood floors, get across the gaps between the floorboards as this is a place where fleas can hide. Also, vacuum the heating vents.
Professionally clean carpet/upholstery. If the infestation is severe, you may need to burn curtains and other fabrics that are infected.
Get Rid of Pet Bedding. It is best to destroy and discard the pet bed and purchase a new one. Washing at home with very hot water might be an option for a mild infestation of fleas.
Wash All Human Bedding using the highest heat setting for both water temperature and on the dryer.
To be sure you kill off a flea infestation in the home, call a professional exterminator. You and your pets will need to be out of the home for several hours while the exterminator will treat the home and you can return within several hours. Your house may temporarily have a strange smell, bit it will dissipate.
Extra Steps for Tick Prevention & Extermination
As noted, tick prevention medication can ward ticks away from your pet. However, it’s best to take as many precautions as possible to prevent bites.
Monitor Outdoor Areas. When you venture outdoors, be mindful of signage indicating “tick infested area.” In general, ticks are found in wooded areas, tall grass, and even in leaf litter. Yes, you can find ticks in your own backyard.
Treat Your Clothing. If you are going to camp, hike, or spend time in a woodsy area, spray your clothing with tick specified insect repellant. Use products that contain 0.5% permethrin. It can be sprayed on boots, clothing, and camping gear. Do not apply these repellants to pets, but be sure they receive their monthly flea and tick treatment before venturing out.
Before Going Back Indoors… Once you are back at home, be sure to do a full body check before you go inside. Check your children and pets (see below) for ticks as well. Check all clothing, including shoes. Check your hair (especially if it’s long), ears, and scalp. Inspect your hands, particularly your fingernails. Leave shoes outside. Once inside, it’s a good idea to remove as much clothing as possible and place in a plastic bag. Immediately after showering, place all clothing and towels in the bag and wash immediately.
For your pets, check in areas including the belly, groin, ears, and armpits. Ticks like to hide in these areas.
If you find a tick, on your pet or yourself…
How to Remove a Tick
It can be alarming to find a tick in the process of burying itself into the skin, but there are safe ways to remove them.
The CDC outlines the most effective way to remove a tick:
Find a pair of fine-tipped tweezers
Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. This is because the head is buried under the skin, and you’ll need to be careful to not break the head off while it’s still in the skin
Once you have a hold of the tick, pull the tweezers upward with a steady pressure
It’s important to remain consistent with pressure so the ticks head doesn’t break off.
Refrain from making twisting or jerking motions.
If you are unable to remove the mouth and head, leave it alone and allow the skin to heal
Once you are done, thoroughly wash the skin where the tick was located
Get a Handle on Flea and Tick Season in Delaware
If you have questions about fleas and ticks, the best source of information is your veterinarian. Similarly, a professional groomer can suggest the best products to use to help prevent and remove fleas or ticks from your cat.