Fleas and Ticks
Cats are at risk of infection and infestation of many types of parasites. You can see some of them, like fleas and ticks, but others may be hidden, like intestinal worms or heartworms. Cats share our homes, sleep on our beds and occasionally bring in unwanted gifts. So it’s important to ensure cats have the right protection for them.
The Facts: The Flea Life Cycle
Fleas are the most common of all external parasites found on pets. Ctenocephalides felis, the cat flea, is the most prevalent species of flea found on both cats and dogs. An infestation of fleas is both unpleasant and potentially dangerous for pets and their owners.
A flea‘s life cycle lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a month, though under the right conditions it can continue for much longer. During the lifecycle fleas go through a complete metamorphosis in three main stages:
Adult fleas jump on to a host (e.g. cat, dog or human) and within minutes begin feeding on the host’s blood. The flea bites lead to itching and irritation and may also transmit serious diseases.
In less than 48 hours fleas begin laying numerous flea eggs that quickly fall off the animal into the environment.
In a few days these eggs hatch into flea larvae. These larvae dislike light and immediately crawl deep into carpets and cracks in floors making them hard to spot. The larvae spin cocoons in which they develop into pupae and when conditions are right they emerge as new adult fleas ready to jump onto a warm-blooded host and perpetuate the cycle.
A single female can lay up to 50 eggs per day. In one month, 10 females could lay up to 15000 eggs. The pet spreads flea eggs everywhere it goes, leading to a massive infestation in the home environment. A flea can jump as far as 33 cm in one leap, so infestation of other pets and humans is easy. Fleas measure 1-2 mm making them hardly visible. For every 5 fleas on the animal, 95 are invisible in the environment (eggs falling off the animal, existing eggs, larvae and pupae in the environment).
The whole home, including carpets, sofas, beds and the entire environment of the pet can be heavily infested by flea eggs and larvae, which are the seeds of future pet re-infestation. Vacuuming will only remove a small number of eggs and larvae because they are hidden deep in floors and rugs, and entwined in the fibres. Fleas can survive up to 6 months in the environment.
A single flea will bite its host around 10 times a day and ingest up to 15 times its weight in blood. Fleas also start to feed very shortly after landing on their host; 25% of fleas take their first feed within 5 minutes and 97% within an hour. This means that in cases of heavy infestation, fleas can produce anaemia in otherwise healthy animals, and in extreme cases, even death in smaller animals.
One of the main factors that allow fleas to rapidly complete their lifecycle is warmth, central heating therefore means fleas can reproduce all year round.
Cats and Ticks
Wherever you live in the UK there is a risk that your cat could pick up ticks. Cats are inquisitive and ticks can be found anywhere, including in long grass, parks, meadows, woodlands and even occasionally within the home. Ticks can transmit potentially serious diseases including Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichia and Rickettsial diseases.
SHEEP TICK (Ixodes ricinus)
71% of ticks affecting dogs in the UK1
Habitat: Grassland, moorland, heath and woodland. Found in suburban and urban areas.
Disease transmission: Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis.
HEDGEHOG TICK (Ixodes hexagonus)
27% of ticks affecting dogs in the UK1
Habitat: Parks and gardens, even urban areas.Parks and gardens, even urban areas.
Disease transmission: Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis.
MARSH TICK (Dermacentor reticulatus)
1% of ticks affecting dogs in the UK1
Habitat: Grasslands, pastures and woodlands.
Disease transmission: Babesiosis.
BROWN DOG TICK (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
<1% of ticks affecting dogs in the UK1
Habitat: Kennels and other sheltered places.
Disease transmission: Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis.
It’s important the treatment solution used kills the common UK ticks identified above.
It is essential to adopt the right strategy to prevent flea infestation by consulting your vet for advice. The product of choice should be easy to use and protect your cat from the key parasites. Ideal protection includes:
Quickly kills the most common ticks found on cats including Ixodes Hexagonus (The hedgehog tick).
Kills fleas fast, before they lay eggs, helping control infestations in your home by killing flea eggs and larvae.
Kills intestinal worms, protecting from deadly heartworm disease
Kills ear mites and lice that can cause secondary skin infections
To stay on top of fleas and ticks cats should be treated regularly as this can considerably reduce the chance of flea re- infestations. Being proactive about prevention is important with any health condition. Fleas and ticks can be found all year round and can multiply rapidly, so it is important to treat your pets on a regular basis – usually monthly. You should ask your vet and the practice staff for advice.
1. Calculated from the Health Protection Agency National Tick Recording Scheme, Bristol University tick ID, BADA UK and the Merck manual.