You may have already heard about the gentleman in Oregon who contracted plague through contact with a cat. You may have also heard about the children in California that were hospitalized with typhus. Cats were also implicated as the cause of those cases, although the truth is somewhat more complex.
What do these two diseases have in common? They both require fleas for transmission of the disease. (Rats, mice and other rodents also play a role in the transmission of these diseases, but today we’re focusing mainly on fleas and flea control.)
And these diseases aren’t alone. An even more common human disease that requires fleas in order to be transmitted is cat scratch fever. This disease occurs when a scratch becomes contaminated with flea dirt. (Flea dirt is what flea poop is commonly called.)
If that’s not enough to convince you that flea control is important for your cat, then consider what fleas can do to your cat. They can cause skin disease, pass tapeworms to your cat, and just generally make your cat feel miserable.
Still, there’s no real need to panic about all of this because there’s good news here too. We now have flea control products for your cat that are effective, safe, and easy to use. There are lots of different products available, though their efficacy and safety varies widely. Check with your veterinarian to find out which product is best suited for your cat.
Don’t wait until you see fleas on your cat to start your cat on flea prevention. Preventing an infestation is much easier and much more effective than trying to treat one that already exists.
Ridding your home of an existing infestation can take months, regardless of the flea product you use. It’s also a labor intensive process that involves frequent vacuuming of all surfaces to get rid of flea eggs and larvae that have not yet hatched; not just on carpets, but on hard woods, linoleum, tile and flooring surfaces, and upholstery. Bedding needs to be washed thoroughly, replaced, and/or treated with products to kill flea eggs and larvae.
Don’t assume that because your cat doesn’t go outdoors he is safe from fleas. Indoor cats can and do get fleas just as easily. Fleas can hitchhike on your clothing and come inside with you. They can come in with other pets (i.e., dogs) that do go outdoors. They can also find their way inside through very small openings, such as holes in screens, spaces under doors, and other such spaces.
When using any flea medication, always read and follow the directions on the label carefully. Never use a product that does not specifically state that it is safe for cats. Many medications used to control fleas for dogs are toxic for cats.
Most of all, don’t panic about getting sick from your cat. Cases of plague and typhus are reasonably rare. Though there are diseases that can be passed from cats to people, taking proper precautions, such as controlling fleas and other parasites, and making sure your cat gets regular veterinary care can go a long ways toward keeping you and your family safe — without having to get rid of your cat.
Dr. Lorie Huston