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Chances are your cat has had fleas and ticks, which have been bothering animals -- including humans -- since time immemorial. They are out in force this spring, which exterminator Alan Pendarvis of Texas credits to weather changes that are speeding up the parasites’ life cycles.
Your cat doesn’t have to suffer this spring and summer, however. New products and a better understanding of how to combat flea and tick infestations can help your cat steer clear of them.
Why Fleas and Ticks Are Bad News
Aside from the yuck factor, both fleas and ticks can spread diseases from cat to cat, and from cats to humans. Jane Koehler of the University of California at San Francisco, for example, found that cat scratch disease bacteria may spread via fleas and not just via scratches, as the name indicates. Koehler says that people with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable, and she advises that they “control flea infestation as much as possible, avoid getting scratched and, if they do get scratched, wash the scratch immediately.”
Nancy Hinkle, a University of Georgia entomologist, adds that fleas can transmit tapeworms. “An infected flea can pass on tapeworm if a dog or cat happens to swallow a flea while using its teeth to scratch, but the tapeworm is not transmitted if the flea only bites the pet,” she says. “Some animals are also highly sensitive to flea saliva, which can lead to secondary infections and dermatitis from incessant itching.”
Ticks are equally awful, burying their heads into the skin of your cat and then sucking blood for survival. This too can spread infectious diseases.
Plan of Action: Flea and Tick Avoidance and Removal
New pest control products abound this spring, with many major manufacturers introducing new and improved versions of their already popular lines. Thanks to a clever plastic gizmo, topical liquids for some lines are easier to apply, helping to keep owners’ hands away from the skin-penetrating product.
A number of natural and/or organic alternatives are also on the market now. In addition to shampoos, you can also find electric flea traps that attract fleas with heat and light and then zap them. Food-grade diatomaceous earth, a chalk-like powder that clings to the bodies of insects, works by cutting into their waxy coating and then gradually desiccating them. A drawback is that it can be a bit dusty and messy to use.
Buying Over-the-counter Meds Doesn’t Mean You Should Forget Your Vet
With so many products on the market, why did a recent pet health survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital find that flea infestation is one of the top 10 reasons owners bring their cats to the vet? “This might result partly from pet owners buying preventive medications at retail outlets and not talking with their veterinarians about which product is best for their pets, how to apply it and how to avoid environmental contamination from fleas and flea eggs,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, veterinarian, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Banfield.
He and other veterinarians can provide fast-acting medications that may provide quick relief. Nitenpyram, usually administered in pill form, starts working in 30 minutes and can eliminate fleas within three to four hours. These are just a few of the possible remedies.
No product is free from potential side effects, however, so follow user guidelines carefully. Kimberly Chambers of VetDepot offers this additional advice:
“Flea protection is an important part of pet ownership,” says Chambers. “It not only saves pets from suffering from an itchy and uncomfortable infestation, but also protects pets from the dangers associated with fleas, including anemia.”
Finally, keep your home clean. Be sure to wash your pet’s bedding regularly and vacuum affected areas, including curtains, furniture and mattresses.
Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.