While parasites can be a problem for pets at any time of the year, during March and April we see an increase in the numbers of fleas and ticks in the UK. It’s time to make sure your cat is adequately protected by giving them a spring clean with preventative parasite control.
If your cat spends any time outdoors it is likely they will come in to contact with fleas at some point. These little insects are incredible jumpers and they like to make themselves at home on a host animal’s body and feed on their blood through biting.
Flea bites can cause skin irritation and result in constant scratching if not treated, which can make a cat very miserable. There is also a chance that a flea could transmit disease through its bite and this has the potential to make a cat very ill, especially if they are allergic.
Fleas are tricky little critters to get rid of, partly due to the rate at which they reproduce. A female flea can lay as many as 40 eggs every day and it is believed that a cat could support up to 300 fleas at any one time.
Fleas will hop on and off a host animal and it is thought that 95% of the fleas in an infestation will be in your home, not on your cat. This makes getting rid of them even more problematic as it means that as well as your cat being treated, your home and any other pets you have will have to be treated too. If not, you will never be able to break the lifecycle and fleas will keep coming back.
Unlike fleas, spider-like ticks don’t jump but instead lie in wait (usually in long grass) for a host animal to pass by before dropping or climbing on to them for a blood meal. Ticks bite and bury their heads under the skin of a cat to feed and can be attached for as long as a few days before dropping off. Ticks start off at about 1mm in size but gradually increase in size as they fill with blood and can become as big as a baked bean by the time they have completed their meal.
Ticks are dangerous to cats because they can transmit nasty diseases, such as Lyme disease, and pass on infections when they bite. While tick-borne illness is less common in cats than dogs, it is not something that should be ignored. Research has shown that tick numbers in the UK are increasing rapidly. This is thought to be due to climate change and increased movement of people and pets between countries.
Routine preventative treatments for fleas and ticks ensure a cat is protected from picking up any unwanted nasties. There are lots of different options available and the best approach will consider your individual cat, their lifestyle and their environment. You should speak to your vet if you are unsure what would best suit your cat.
- Vacuuming and washing bedding – Frequent vacuuming and the regular washing of bedding and soft furnishings at a high temperature will help to reduce the number of fleas in your home, but it is not enough on its own to eliminate them completely. Your cat and any other pets in the home need to be treated too.
- Spot-on treatments – These preparations come in small pipettes, which need to be squeezed on to an area of skin at the back of a cat’s neck where they cannot reach to lick it. The liquid is absorbed into the skin where it is distributed around the body and kills fleas and ticks either on contact or when they bite. Vets recommend that spot-ons are given monthly.
- Tablets – Parasite control can be delivered by a pill, which some owners find easier to administer. However, cats are generally not the most obliging when it comes to oral medication.
- Flea collars – These collars are impregnated with an insecticide and are worn around a cat’s neck to kill fleas on contact. Unless this form of parasite control has been specifically recommended by your vet it is usually better to opt for a different solution. Flea collars are generally less effective at killing fleas than other treatments, can cause skin irritation and do not usually incorporate safety-release clips.
- Coat spray – These products are sprayed directly on to a cat’s coat to kill any parasites that are present and can prevent them from returning for 3-4 days.
You should never use flea or tick treatment designed for dogs on a cat. Many of the parasite products aimed at dogs include an insecticide called permethrin which is highly toxic to cats. Permethrin poisoning can cause seizures in cats and can be fatal so always read the labels of any treatment carefully before giving it to your pet.
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