How do cats get fleas and ticks?

Fleas and ticks usually come from being outside, but we can carry them in on ourselves from being outside or from being in a household with pets that have fleas and ticks.

Dr. Brittany Bueter
Hebron Animal Hospital

Why is prevention of fleas and ticks so important?

Fleas and ticks can carry diseases that can make our pets sick, and it is a lot easier to prevent them than it is to try and diagnose those diseases and to treat those diseases.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of flea and tick infestations on my cat?

When they don't have actual disease, when they just have the fleas and ticks themselves, you can start to see itchiness and hair loss, especially with fleas around the rump or around the crown of the head or around the ears and the neck. With ticks, you usually just feel a bump that the cat is sometimes scratching at. You can also sometimes find black flakes if you look through their fur, and you can tell if it's flea debris rather than just dirt itself by putting the flake on the table and putting a little peroxide on it and streaking it. If it streaks red, that is dried blood, and that is the feces from fleas because they eat blood.

What are some possible diseases that can be transmitted by fleas and ticks?

There are numerous diseases that can be spread by fleas and ticks, and the hard part is it varies depending on your area or your geography. Testing for flea and tick-borne disease in cats is very difficult, and it's very expensive. Whenever a cat comes in that is sick, those are signs of tick-borne diseases, flea-borne diseases, but they can also be signs of so many other things. So that's why it's important to prevent so that we don't have to go on an investigative hunt of what's causing your cat to not feel well.

What are the most effective flea and tick treatments for cats?

Prescription treatments are the best because a lot of the over-the-counter products are not strong enough, or there's some resistance build-up because they've been on the market for so long. The other hard part with a lot of the over-the-counter is they are not regulated as far as what's in each particular package. So you could buy a pack of an over-the-counter, and in five vials, it could be just carrier oil. And one vial alone could have five doses of insecticide in them, so they're not balanced out. So you could either be overdosing or underdosing very consistently.

Is year-round prevention needed for cats?

If you have an outdoor cat, absolutely. We still have fleas and ticks all year round. Especially if you have cats that go into the woods and stuff because fleas and ticks like to hide under the logs, and they try to leap onto anything warm coming by them, like a cat. If you have an indoor cat, technically, you should be safe from fleas and ticks. But if you do go to people's houses and you know that their pets maybe do go outside and aren't on prevention, or aren't taken care of, or if you go to shelters, things like that, where you could be bringing the fleas and ticks in, it's probably best to keep them on prevention year-round.

What's the difference between flea dirt and regular dirt?

You can tell the difference by doing a streak test. Flea dirt usually clusters. So if you lift up the cat's fur in the back, you'll usually see piles or patches where there's more flea dirt, whereas dirt is more diffuse throughout the cat from rolling around outside.

Is there a specific test to diagnose tick-borne diseases?

There is and there isn't. For dogs, we have a particular test where you drop a drop of blood from a dog. In one test, you can test for the four main components of tick-borne disease. In cats, you typically have to test for individual diseases, and each tick-borne disease and flea-borne disease causes similar signs. So you're basically just chasing these avenues of what disease process is it being caused by, and most of the treatments are different. Cats also, depending on your location, have a few flea and tick diseases that cannot be treatable, that are unfortunately fatal. So that's why it's much more important to prevent than it is to have to try and diagnose and treat.

If my dog is on prevention, does my cat need any prevention as well?

Once ticks bite and embed, they're usually stuck there. Fleas, however, most fleas that we see and that are in our communities are actually cat fleas. So fleas would much rather be on a cat than a dog. So if you have a dog that has fleas and you treat your dog, the fleas will leave the dog and they will go to the cat. If you have a dog that does not have fleas and it's on prevention, but just happens to catch a flea outside and come inside and it goes by the cat, the flea will jump off and go to the cat.

If one pet in the household has fleas, will others probably get fleas as well?

It's very likely. Again, treat them all at the same time, then you don't have to worry about things creeping around your house.

Are there any home remedies to prevent fleas and ticks?

Not really as far as prevention goes. You can give your cat a Dawn bath to get the adult fleas off, but it's not going to do anything for the eggs, the larvae, or the pupa phases. You've got to use the prescription products for those. There is an over-the-counter product called Capstar that you can give them and it does kill the adult fleas for that 24-hour period. But again, it doesn't do anything for the other life cycles, so as those hatch, you're still going to get more.

Can my indoor-only cat get fleas or ticks?

Community settings like condos and apartments, I would say yes. If it's just you and your house and your cat, you don't foster, you don't go anywhere, it's just you guys, you're probably going to be okay. But again, better be safe than sorry. A lot of the preventions are very safe and have really low side effect levels.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (859) 349-1020, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram