By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM
If you are a cat owner who has never had to deal with the problem of a flea infestation before, you may be surprised to find that your cat has been stricken with these pesky insects.
Even if your cat stays close to home, fleas and ticks are canny creatures that will find ways to get into your home and onto your cat. All it takes is a few fleas to get established in your yard, and in seemingly no time, they have set up a full-scale infestation of your yard, your home, and your pet.
No yard is an island, and unfortunately, there is no way to keep every wild animal out of your yard. Even with a tall fence (even an electrified, barbed wire fence!), squirrels, raccoons and other small rodents will find ways to get into your yard, carrying fleas and ticks along with them.
The more visitors you have to your yard, the greater the chance of an infestation arriving on the back of another animal. Feral cats roaming your property are also carriers of fleas and ticks. This is one reason not to encourage wild animals to come into your cat’s environment by leaving out offerings such as corn, nuts, and seeds.
Cats especially like to sit on windowsills to look out at the world, and an open window, even one that is screened in, is a potential entrance for fleas and ticks.
You and your human visitors can also be unwitting carriers of fleas and ticks. Anyone coming into your home could be a carrier of fleas. They can be brought in from a visitor’s own home or pet without their knowledge.
If you like to spend time hiking in areas where fleas and ticks are prevalent, it’s easy for a few to hitch a ride on your pants leg, socks, shoes, etc. These parasites are well-adapted at finding ways to attach to potential hosts in order to find their next blood meal.
Outside the Home
Anytime your pet goes out into the world -- even if only for a visit to the veterinarian; a stint at the boarding kennel; a trip to the groomer; a ride in the car; etc. -- he is being exposed to the possibility of fleas and ticks hopping aboard.
If you live in a grassy area and your cat goes outside, even occasionally, take care to check through his fur for ticks that may have hopped on. Ticks (and fleas) are good at hiding and they will find the furriest spots in the deepest crevices of your cat’s skin. Look especially close in the neck fur, in the abdomen, and in the arm "pits."
Because fleas and ticks are so good at what they do, you will need to be extra vigilant during the peak flea and tick season -- typically the warm weather months from spring through early autumn (in the southern states, flea and tick season can be all year long). If you notice just one or two insects on your cat, treat it seriously, before it becomes a full blown infestation.
If your cat is very young or old, or if he has any underlying health condition, visit your veterinarian for advice on the best preventive medications and the safest way to use them. Your doctor will be able to show you the proper way to apply these medications and recommend just the right dose for your cat’s age and weight. If you catch the problem quickly enough, you may be able to avoid chemical solutions and try natural solutions first.
For the outside, there are some plants that are known for their flea repelling characteristics, and it is worth it to try anti-pest landscaping. But it is often easier and more effective to use chemical pesticides and repellants for yard and perimeter treatment, especially when dealing with an infestation that is already in full progress.
If you do already have a flea and tick problem, you might want use the tried and sure chemical remedies for this year, so that you can comfortably enjoy the rest of the season, saving your reliance on flea repelling landscaping for next spring. It’s much easier to start early, keeping parasites from getting a foothold, than it is to try to eradicate them after they have had a chance to breed and establish themselves in your home and on your pet.