Fleas, Ticks and Itchy Oh My!

flea tick

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Flea & tick season is here, along with a flurry of Internet buzz about the spread of The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, found throughout the southeastern and south-central states. It does not transmit Lyme disease and our vet, Dr. Rich Goldstein assured me is not found in the New York area. That said, these small brown/tan colored ticks with a distinctive white spot on the middle of their backs (females) of tick can carry diseases such as ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia. All the more reason for flea and tick prevention and our the subject for this week’s Q & A with Dr. G.

Question:

My dog gets a monthly flea and tick treatment. Does my strictly indoor cat need anything? I’d rather not spend the money. How do you feel about the different product choices in terms of safety/cost & convenience?

Answer:

Welcome to Spring! And welcome to flea season. I guess we have to take the bad with the good, right?

Flea control is one of the most important things we can do for our pets (unless, you live in one of those flea-free parts of the country – lucky you!). Not only are fleas the number one cause of severe allergic reactions and skin conditions, but they can also spread diseases, such as Bartonella,(which causes Cat Scratch Fever in people) and tapeworms.

Fleas are brownish bugs, about 1/8th of an inch long, with powerful legs that enable them to jump very long distances. Female fleas can lay 25 eggs per day and can live for 2 years. That’s a lot of fleas!

The life cycle of the flea is important to understand in control. Adult fleas prefer to live on dogs and cats (notice I said dogs AND cats…), but they will also jump on people. They lay their eggs on the dog or cat, which then fall into the environment. Immature fleas (larvae) thrive in dark, humid places, such as your pet’s bedding, carpets, furniture, and cracks and crevices in bare floors. The larvae develop into pupae. In warm weather (and we’ve had plenty of that in the Northeast!), the pupae develop into adult fleas, and the cycle starts again. For every flea you can see, there may be hundreds more that you can’t see, lying in wait.

There are many options for treatment of fleas now, ranging from topicals that last a month, to oral medications, to homeopathic remedies. Many products have been around for a decade or more, and have a proven safety record. It is important for you to discuss the available products with your vet to see which is most appropriate for your pets.

So, who should you treat? Let’s go back to the life cycle of the flea. They prefer dogs AND cats. Suppose your dog has fleas and you treat him with a topical product. Sometimes when topical products are applied, you may actually start to see more fleas. This is because the fleas are using their powerful legs to run for their lives to try to escape from their hiding spots in the dog’s coat. And where’s the next best place to safely escape to? The untreated cat!! In addition, fleas can enter into the house on your clothing, through screens, and, if you’re in an apartment, from the neighbor’s pets!

So, unless your kitty lives in a plastic bubble, treat the cats. This is one situation where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or, in other words, a few dollars towards prevention can be worth hundreds in savings for treatment.

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