What are fleas and ticks?

Fleas and ticks are what we call external parasites. They live on the outside of your cat or your dog, or even people. Essentially, they are insects or bugs that live outside your pets.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

How do fleas and ticks impact the health and wellbeing of my cat?

Sadly, fleas and ticks can be quite detrimental to the health of dogs and cats. But speaking specifically of cats, we're more concerned about fleas in kittens. Unfortunately, with heavy infestations, fleas are bloodsuckers, which can cause anemia or blood loss to the point where, in severe situations, they can even be potentially fatal in a kitten. On the other hand, while we don't see as many issues with ticks on cats as we do in dogs, they are also bloodsuckers, but more importantly, they can pass different diseases on to both cats and dogs.

How do cats get fleas and ticks?

Quite simply from going outside, primarily. They can get it from other pets they're in close contact or communication with, but primarily they're going to be getting them outside. Think about it, when we deal with any insect that, such as mosquitoes or wasps or any insect we encounter, it originates from outside. So if a cat goes outside, that puts them at risk of getting exposed and potentially picking up fleas and/or ticks. You can have cats or other household pets, dogs included, who can bring pets into the house, and that could potentially put your cat at risk.

Why is the prevention of fleas and ticks so important?

Mainly because of some of the issues we see in cats with fleas and ticks. Let's talk about some things we can see in cats. As we mentioned, with kittens, flea infestations can be severe and significant enough to potentially be fatal because they can suck so much of the blood out of a kitten and make them anemic. Primarily adult cats can get what we call tapeworms from actually ingesting a flea. Cats tend to do a lot of grooming. That's normal, whether they do have fleas on them that want to suck blood or not. That's what the fleas need to do to reproduce. They need to suck the blood from a mammal. A cat will ingest the flea and get tapeworm from it. So those are the big concerns that we see with fleas and ticks.

How can a veterinarian help with flea and tick prevention?

Great question. Thank goodness, we've got so many outstanding products nowadays. They are so easy to get rid of. We have three different products that we routinely recommend for cats. There are two that are by prescription only. One is called Bravecto Plus, a topical product lasting for two months. We also have a product called Revolution Plus, which is a topical product that goes on the back of the neck. It lasts for one month. Those two products do more than just fleas and ticks. They also protect against heartworm disease. They also treat and prevent two types of intestinal worms and they also treat ear mites. As far as a non-prescription product goes, we do have a product called Cheristin. If we've never seen your cat before, we can provide Cheristin, a six-month topical product for cats.

What are some signs and symptoms of a flea infestation in your cat?

That's a good question because cats do have a grooming nature, grooming habit, or grooming ritual about them. So a lot of times, if people are looking for fleas on their cats, they're not going to find them because cats are pretty good about ingesting the fleas that get on them. Not to mention the thicker the coat of hair, the harder it is going to be able actually to find or detect the fleas. Fleas typically, not necessarily, spend most of the time in the back half of the body. We're going to look above the tail, on the belly, and on the back legs. That's usually where we'll find them. Although depending on the infestation, we can find them around the head, the neck, and on those places that are kind of out of reach for a cat to be able to groom themselves. That can be a habitual place for fleas to hang out.

Ticks, on the other hand, while we can see many fleas on a cat or dog, ticks aren't that easy to see. If we get a tick or several ticks, they're usually up around the head and neck. The same thing as with fleas. Cats are really good about removing parasites from themselves just from natural grooming, but when we see ticks, we never expect to see too many, whereas, with fleas, we can expect to see quite a few.

What do fleas and ticks look like?

Good question. They're kind of scary-looking creatures or critters. Here's what the fleas look like. Obviously, that's not the size of a flea. Fleas are quite small, needless to say. When we see a flea, they're dark brown when you're looking at them on a dog or a cat. They're not quite the size of a pinhead. That size would probably be the best way to describe a flea. They do have the ability to jump, although when they're actually on the body of the dog or the cat, they will just be kind of scrambling around. They are quite fast. Ticks, on the other hand, look like this. Many of you have seen ticks because anybody who's spent time in the woods or been hiking or if their kids have been playing down at the creek like to check their kids to make sure they're not bringing any ticks back with them. You can see they're more round. They don't jump, for one thing, and they're quite slow. They're slow compared to fleas, but they can crawl quite quickly. Both the fleas and the ticks are multi-legged little creatures. They can also be tiny, and in certain stages, they can be about the size of a single little poppy seed. As they get bigger, then yes, they're definitely going to be bigger than a pinhead, and when they start sucking blood, they can get to be the size of a blueberry, which is pretty disgusting. Those who are the females that are sucking the blood in order to reproduce. Most of you have seen ticks, but if you haven't seen a flea, they are pretty fast. They are dark brown and much more common. You're much more likely to see a flea on a cat than you would a tick.

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

The primary one we see in adult cats with fleas is tapeworms. They get those from ingesting the flea. They have to ingest the flea in order to get the tapeworms. They can't get them just from having fleas around them. Cats, with their grooming nature and grooming habits, are likely to ingest fleas when they have them on them. There are several different blood-related diseases that we see in dogs. It's not quite as common to see those in cats. With ticks, the same thing. We have several different diseases that can be an issue with dogs, but that's typically not the case with cats. But again, the ticks are bloodsuckers and can cause problems for them.

Are over-the-counter collars, powders, and sprays effective tick treatments for cats?

I love this question because I'm so frustrated for anybody who goes out and buys over-the-counter flea powders, flea sprays, flea collars, and things of that nature. I will admit there is one flea collar that works called Seresto. It's about a 50 to $65 collar. That does have some potential benefits. However, over the past three years or so, we've seen a lot of failures with it. People will bring in a pet with a Seresto collar; unfortunately, we do see quite a few fleas on those pets. I'm just not a fan of the Seresto collars anymore just because we do see a lot of failures with it. But please don't waste your money with any other type of flea collar. Don't waste your money with flea powders. Don't waste your money on flea shampoo. Flea sprays can work, but only for a very short time. The other concern about flea sprays is that virtually all of them have an alcohol base. If your dog or cat has some sores on the skin, believe me, the alcohol is going to be very painful. When you use a flea spray, they'll feel like they're on fire. So I can't recommend any of those things.

What should I do if I find fleas or ticks on my cat?

First, panic, panic, panic, panic, and then call us. Honestly, they're so easy to get rid of nowadays, but it just takes the right product. We have a product called Bravecto Plus, which is a two-month flea and tick medication. It is a topical liquid. We have another product called Revolution Plus, which is a once-a-month topical flea and tick medication. And then we also have a product called Cheristin. I will mention there is a product called Capstar, which is for dogs and cats alike. It's been around for years and years. It's a great product, but a lot of people don't realize it's only a 24-hour product. That's it. So many people get frustrated because they give a Capstar and don't see any fleas today; the next thing, the pets are infested. Then they say, Well, this stuff's not working. Yes, it is. It's just only going to work for about 24 hours. The other thing is you've got to treat the environment if at all possible. If it's possible to treat the yard, great. If you can treat the house, that can also help speed up the cleaning of a flea infestation dramatically. Please don't let your cat or dog suffer from fleas. We've got products that do work, and honestly, don't waste your money or time going to the pet stores or the big box stores because the products they have are just not going to work.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Flea and Tick - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What diseases are associated with fleas and ticks?

The main diseases we see in cats with fleas come from tapeworms. They get the tapeworms from ingesting the fleas. That's the only way they can get it. The only other way is by eating a small mammal. But the bigger problem we would see with cats is due to cats having a grooming ritual. They will swallow a flea when they start grooming themselves and consequently will most likely get to tapeworms from those fleas. We do see issues with ticks, not to the degree that we typically see in dogs, but we can see some health concerns with ticks in cats as well.

Can my indoor-only cat get fleas and ticks?

Good question, because we get this asked a lot. A lot of people have the perception that, well, my cat never goes outside. He can't get fleas. He can't get ticks. It's very unlikely that he would get a tick, but we can actually bring fleas into the house. If you have other pets like a dog, they can bring fleas into the house. We always have to have this expectation that if you have indoor-outdoor pets, they could be a source of bringing in fleas, even to an indoor kitty.

How common are fleas and ticks in cats?

It depends on the time of year and what part of the country you live in. Welcome to North Carolina. We do see fleas and ticks for a significant part of the year. In fact, ticks are potentially a year-round problem in North Carolina. Even if it gets extremely cold, we can still see ticks. Over the last 40 years of practice, I have seen a lot of tick problems that begin in February, right in the dead of winter. They'll typically continue throughout the year. For fleas in this part of the country, we typically don't get fleas outside during the months of late December, January, and February. Sometime in March, maybe early April, the fleas will start to emerge outside. We do have that small window where we typically don't have flea issues or the potential of pets picking up fleas when they go outside in the months of January, February, and March. But otherwise, they are a big problem in this part of the country.

Where would my cat get fleas and ticks?

Primarily from going outside. If you have an exclusively indoor kitty, can they get fleas and ticks? Absolutely, because we can be a source. We can go outside, do some gardening, or go for a hike, so we can bring parasites into the house ourselves. A cat's a suitable target for them as well. Interesting. Fleas prefer dogs first, cats second, and people last. So, all things considered, if you happen to bring any fleas into the house, they'll probably hop off you in search of a cat or a dog. And if you don't have dogs, your cat will probably be the target for your fleas, so that's going to be a potential issue.

Is a short-haired cat more susceptible to getting fleas and ticks?

You would think that just because they have thicker hair, they're going to be less of a target. There can be a little bit of a grain of truth to that. However, fleas take the path of least resistance. If you got a short-haired cat rather than a long-haired cat, it's going to be easier for them to access and get down to the skin in order to suck blood on a short-haired cat, but not exclusively so. Long-haired cats can be a target for fleas. The frustrating thing about having a long-haired cat is trying to find fleas. You're going to have much more difficulty trying to find them on a long-haired cat than on a short-haired cat.

There are flea combs and things of that nature you can use. Keep in mind that fleas typically spend most of the time on the back half of the body over the tail, the back legs down on the belly or groin area. But sometimes fleas can escape the sort of grooming habit of a cat by getting up close to the neck and head area. So that's also another place to be looking for fleas. If you've got cats and you have the potential of having a problem, you definitely want to get those cats treated just to be on the safe side.

Can my cats still get fleas and ticks in the winter?

I think we addressed that a moment ago, but it's still worth repeating again. Yes, they can get fleas in even during the winter time from other pets that may have it or if you had a flea problem in your house through spring, summer, and autumn. Just so you know, autumn in this area, in this part of North Carolina, and throughout the Piedmont area, the peak season for fleas is autumn; September, October, and November are always the worst three months for fleas. So if you have fleas on your pets and don't adequately get rid of the problem, the fleas are going to stay in the house all winter long. If you got pets, your pets could get fleas even in during the winter months. But typically, we do not see fleas outdoors in January, February, and March. Begin with year-round protection. Keep your cats and dogs on year-round flea medication to ensure that they're not going to have any problems any time of the year.

What factors can increase my cat's risk of getting fleas and ticks?

I generally find with kittens and old cats, meaning those that are not as thrifty as they once were, they don't clean themselves as much, or those cats that go outside are at much greater risk of getting fleas and/or ticks. But I often see kittens and really older cats being much more of a risk because they don't have the tendency to clean themselves and remove these external parasites called fleas and ticks. Age can be a factor, and the more time they spend outside is a risk as well.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.