Parasite Control

Safeguard your cat and home against pesky parasites such as fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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flea-protected catWarmer weather, usually a fun time for people, can be a miserable time for cats. The change in climate encourages pesky parasites such as fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. At best, these critters can make your kitty uncomfortable; at worst, they can transmit dangerous diseases.

Frustrating Fleas
Few creatures that live on earth today have had as much impact on world history as the common flea. From the Black Death during the 14th century to the present, fleas have caused much grief. Fleas make your cat itch, especially if it's allergic to flea bites. In fact, flea allergy dermatitis is the most prevalent small-animal skin disease. Fleas, which sometimes carry tapeworm eggs, can transmit tapeworms to cats if ingested.

"Though we haven't figured out how to completely eliminate fleas, in the last few years science has made some tremendous advances in helping pets and their owners cope with these annoying parasites," says Chantal Acosta, DVM, a veterinarian with Country Vets in New York City.

The most effective approach to flea control remains the three-step method:

1. Treat the yard. Excellent compounds are available that you can apply directly to the soil in moist, shady areas around the house where immature fleas most likely live. These compounds are reasonably priced, long lasting and environmentally friendly.

2. Treat the home. In severe cases, you can apply safe and effective compounds directly to carpets and upholstered furniture. However, in most instances, it's sufficient to vacuum and thoroughly wash your cat's bedding.

3. Treat your cat. In recent years, several effective products have been introduced to combat the war on fleas. Many of these products are applied to the cat's skin once a month. Some are given orally. Talk to your veterinarian about which product is right for your cat, because each product has different benefits. Also, never use dog products on a cat.

Tricky Ticks
Ticks bother dogs much more than cats. It is speculated that cats' meticulous grooming habits allow them to remove most ticks from their coats before they attach. Because cats are much less susceptible to ticks, they rarely fall victim to dangerous tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Although most once-a-month flea products do not claim to be effective against ticks, some effectively guard against both.

Maddening Mosquitoes
As if malaria wasn't bad enough, in recent years the emergence of West Nile virus has rekindled our revulsion for the lowly mosquito. Dog owners are well aware of the mosquito's role in transmitting heartworm disease to their canine companions. Cat owners and many veterinarians have admittedly underestimated the incidences and consequences of heartworm disease in cats, with sometimes disastrous results. Cats do not naturally host heartworm disease, so mild infections can cause serious consequences.

Heartworm disease in cats may also mimic asthma, causing cases to go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. An effective treatment remains elusive, and the prognosis for cats with heartworm disease varies greatly, with some cats dying from their illness.

Fortunately, heartworm disease is preventable in cats. Ivermectin, a preventive medication administered monthly as a chewable treat, has been available for years. A similar compound, selamectin, can be applied topically, and also prevents heartworm.

"[Because] heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, cats that are kept indoors can be exposed, as well as those that go outside. All cats in an area that has heartworms should be on monthly heartworm prevention," says Anne Sinclair, DVM, a board-certified feline specialist and owner of Cat Sense Feline Hospital & Boarding in Bel Air, Md.

With the assortment of highly effective products available, summer parasite season has gone from miserable to manageable. A close working relationship between veterinarians and cat owners is necessary to control these critters so cats can remain comfortable and healthy during the warm summer months.

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