Parasites Affecting Cats: Removing Ticks and Fleas

Written by Sabine Behr
Protect Cats from Ticks & Fleas

Parasites are little pests that feed off the blood of our cats. Not only are they irksome, but they can also cause severe diseases. Find out everything you need to know about parasites affecting cats, especially ticks and fleas in the following article.

Parasites affecting cats: ticks

As soon as it gets warmer outside and the temperature climbs above ten degrees, ticks are lying in wait in the long grass. They are the most well-known parasites affecting cats, with outdoor cats proving popular victims for these little bloodsuckers. As well as irritating, they can also be dangerous – ticks are carriers of diseases like Lyme disease or babesiosis.

Thankfully, cats are infected far less by pathogens carried by ticks than dogs or humans. However, there can be an outbreak of illness mainly amongst immunocompromised cats. As well, ticks that have affected cats can be passed over to dogs or humans and pass on pathogens to them.

Checking cats for ticks

The earlier ticks are detected and removed, the lower the risk of pathogens ending up in the wound. It's particularly important to be quick when it comes to the transmission of Borrelia found in the tick's intestine, from which they enter the puncture site in order to attack the new host. This process takes at least twelve hours. Since ticks carry Borrelia inside themselves, transmission is generally not possible if they are removed in good time.

Ideally check your cat for ticks every time it has been outside. Ticks prefer areas with thin skin and little fur: hence, pay particular attention to the head, ears, throat, stomach and inner thighs. You should thoroughly check the cat's whole body. The size of ticks varies from pinpoint to cherry stone depending on the amount of blood they have already absorbed. Hence, sometimes they are more visible than others.

Removing ticks from cats

It's easiest to remove ticks using a tick comb. These little bloodsuckers have mouth parts that become acquainted with the skin. With the help of the tick comb, they can be removed carefully. You should definitely not crush ticks. Otherwise, they can secrete the contents of their stomach and thereby pathogens that end up in the wound and the cat's bloodstream with it. It's also important to completely remove the tick. If the head remains stuck, this can result in inflammation.

Home remedies such as oil, adhesives or nail varnish remover are not recommended to combat ticks. They can also lead to the tick vomiting and secreting pathogens into the puncture wound.

Parasites affecting cats: removing ticks

  1. Use a tick comb to remove ticks.
  2. Position the comb as close as possible to the cat's skin.
  3. Take the head of the tick and pull it carefully and steadily out of the puncture site.
  4. Check that the tick was fully removed.
  5. Disinfect the wound and monitor it regularly. If the puncture site gets inflamed, contact a vet.
  6. Keep in mind the tick bite during the coming period. Take your cat to a vet if it appears sickly, weary or develops a fever.

Once the tick is successfully removed, the question remains of what to do with it. Ticks are very resistant, so some tick-plagued cat owners resort to methods like burning or similar brute means in order to protect themselves and their cat. An easy trick does it: place the removed tick onto a piece of Sellotape and fold it together. It can then be safely disposed of.

Diseases transmitted by ticks

Ticks aren't just unpleasant, but can also transmit some diseases that shouldn't be underestimated. Cats very rarely get infected by these pathogens, but immunocompromised cats are more at risk. Here are some examples:

  1. Lyme disease: Lyme disease is an infectious disease triggered by the Borrelia bacterial group. Borrelia need parasites like ticks as carriers in order to reach the blood of new hosts through tick bites and to disseminate further.
  2. Babesiosis: Babesiosis is an infectious disease caused by babesia, single-celled parasites. Babesia can be transmitted through the bite of the ornate cow tick and attack red blood cells.
  3. Anaplasmosis: Anaplasmosis is an infectious disease triggered by bacteria from the anaplasma species. They are also transmitted by ticks and attack the white blood cells.

Prevention against ticks for cats

Better safe than sorry – you should therefore protect your cat in advance from tick bites and the risk of transmitting diseases. There are different compounds (parasiticides) for this that kill ticks or prevent them from attaching themselves to the skin.

  1. Spot-ons: Spot-on treatments are effective against ticks and other types of parasites for up to four weeks. They are applied between the animal's shoulder blades. The substance is absorbed into the skin and can take full effect thanks to being in an area that the animal cannot reach.
  2. Sprays: Anti-parasite sprays are effective against ticks and other types of parasites. Once applied, protection lasts for up to four weeks.
  3. Collars: Anti-parasite collars are another means of protecting cats from ticks. Simply placed around the throat, these collars act as a prophylaxis of parasites that prevents an infestation of these irritating insects.

Should there be a parasite infestation, you should only use anti-vermin methods that are specifically for use on cats. Products for dogs often contain the substance permethrin. This is poisonous for cats and in the worst case scenario can result in death.

Fleas affecting cats

itchy cat fleas

If your cat is plagued by itchiness, fleas could be the cause. Fleas are one of the most famous parasites affecting cats and as well as being irksome can result in diseases.

Flea infestations are mainly caused by contact with other animals affected by fleas, though they also like to nest in textiles, e.g. carpets, cushions or sofas. Once an adult flea has found a host, generally it rarely changes to a different one. It stays permanently on its victim and feeds off its blood. Reproduction happens in a flash, with female fleas producing on average 30 eggs per day, which are laid in the cat's fur and trickle underneath it. This is how they end up in the animal's surroundings – on the sofa, the scratching pole or in cracks in the floor, for instance. Four to twelve days later, larvae hatch from the eggs and feed off flea faeces and cell material that also falls down from the cat. The larvae pupate and some time later new fleas hatch that also go looking for a host. When it comes to a flea infestation, it's therefore important not just to tackle the adult fleas, but the eggs and larvae too.

Fleas can be transmitted to humans. Although different types of fleas specialise in certain owners (for instance, there are dog and cat fleas), parasites are not selective.

Recognising fleas on cats

A flea can barely be recognised with the naked eye – it is merely a few millimetres in size. The main symptom of a flea infestation for cats is itching. This leads to the cat scratching, licking or biting itself more, which can result in injury or eczema.

You should inspect your cat if you suspect it has fleas. If one is visible, the infestation can clearly be recognised. If not, you can simply find out if fleas are present by examining your cat for flea faeces.

How to recognise if your cat has fleas:

  1. Place your cat on a flat surface that is light enough for you to recognise traces of faeces when they fall out of the fur. A tiled floor or the bathtub are suitable examples.
  2. Now thoroughly comb the cat's fur with as narrow-toothed a comb as possible. If flea faeces are present, they will fall out or remain stuck in the comb in the form of small black crumbs.
  3. Collect the crumbs with a white cloth and wet it carefully.
  4. If it is flea faeces, they will disintegrate and leave red marks on the cloth, since faeces crumbs are digested blood from the cat.

Parasites affecting cats: dangers with fleas

Fleas aren't just irksome and can be dangerous too. The following dangers exist:

  1. Anaemia: A severe flea infestation can lead to significant blood loss and thereby anaemia (blood deficiency).
  2. Flea saliva allergy: Fleas excrete saliva when they bite, which is responsible for the typical itching – some cats have an allergic reaction to flea saliva.
  3. Tapeworms: Fleas can contain the eggs of tapeworms. If this is the case and the cat eats the flea, the eggs end up in its intestine and develop into tapeworms. If your cat has had fleas, you should get it dewormed to be on the safe side.
  4. Feline infectious anaemia: This infectious disease is triggered by bacteria from the mycoplasma family (Mycoplasma haemofelis). Fleas transmit these bacteria, which destroy cats' red blood cells.
  5. Bartonellosis (cat-scratch disease): Fleas are the main carriers of Bartonella. Whilst these bacteria generally don't cause any symptoms of illness, they can transmit the disease bartonellosis (cat-scratch disease) to humans.

Tackling fleas affecting cats

In order to get rid of parasites like fleas affecting cats, you should treat both the animal itself and its surroundings.

Treating the animal and other pets

There are numerous methods available for treating fleas affecting cats: spot-on treatments applied between the animal's shoulder blades, anti-parasite sprays and collars. Tablets with a certain efficacy period are also available.

Treating the surrounding area
If your cat has fleas, you should definitely treat the surrounding area too in order to remove all development stages of the fleas. Wash underlays and covers at 60 degrees minimum. Use the vacuum cleaner more regularly and thoroughly hoover all the relevant areas. After the first session, you should package the vacuum bag separately and get rid of it. In addition, the surrounding area can be treated with anti-parasite sprays.

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