Q & A: Which external parasites affect our cats the most and how can I make sure my cat stays free of these?

Q. Which external parasites affect our cats the most and how can I make sure my cat stays free of these?

A. Unbearable is the word that jumps to mind just thinking of parasite bites? Well, that is what it would feel like when a cat is infested with the two most common external parasites that affect felines; ticks and fleas. But knowing more and understanding their life cycles will help you to get rid of them and free your cat from the irritation.

What’s what?

To put it in to simple terms, fleas are tiny parasites that can live for seven to 14 days and will divide their time equally between living on your cat and living in your carpet or upholstery. Female fleas lay a huge amount of eggs every day – up to 50 – which will either fall onto their host or onto your carpet. These eggs hatch into larvae and then pupae, where they will remain dormant for a while, until a host walks past them. The vibrations in the ground wake the dormant fleas up and they are sparked to jump onto the next passing host, which will probably be your cat, again. Fleas have a very rapid reproduction rate and will re-infest your home over and over again, if not controlled.

Ticks can be black, red, tan, grey or brown and have eight legs, although you won’t really see their legs. What you will notice is a little dark spot on your cat’s skin and if you feel over her skin, you will notice a shell-like feeling. Ticks feed on blood from their hosts and burrow their mouthparts through the cat’s skin, particularly around your cat’s neck and head area.

Can make your cat really sick

Fleas are primarily a severe irritant, and they suck blood from the cats (which, if there is a severe infestation, can cause anaemia, and concurrent disease conditions) – they potentially can carry infectious diseases and transmit them to cats and possibly to humans as well. Transferable diseases (one’s that can spread from cat to human) are called Zoonotic diseases; one of which is tapeworm. All in all they are bad.

Flea saliva can also stimulate an allergic reaction, which can cause severe skin problems in sensitive pets. Ticks can also cause anaemia but the most important disease to look out for with ticks, is that in certain areas of our country they also carry and transmit Babesia (known as Biliary) to cats.

Treating your cat

Obtain advice from your local veterinary surgeon on which products to use to reduce the infestation of ticks and fleas. Various topical ‘spot-on’ applications are available; topical sprays, collars, injections and tablets. One must be careful to only use products that were specifically formulated for cats. Also make sure the product is licensed for use in cats before using it.

Ticks should also be controlled using appropriate applications or by removing each tick physically – seek advice from your vet. There are several products on the market that are effective against both fleas and ticks.

Q. My cat is now 15 years old. Should I continue to have her vaccinated annually? She is an indoor cat and never has contact with other cats.

A. Due to ever-improving nutrition and medication, thanks to the research and development of the food and pharmaceutical companies, cats are living to a much older age today. The average age of our feline patients is 15 for both indoor and outdoor cats and it is not unusual to have cats reaching 20 years of age. Together with the older age of the cat, come the older age diseases and ailments. Many of these conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease and overactive thyroid glands are easily treated and prevented with early detection. Therefore, it is important to have an annual check-up with the annual vaccination. Some of our older patients need to be seen more frequently.

As far as the vaccinations are concerned it is still believed that with age the immune system does decline. Thus, it is very important that older cats are vaccinated with the core vaccines. These core vaccines include CRP (Feline Calici Virus, Feline Herpes Virus and Feline Panleukopenia Virus) and Rabies Vaccine. In some areas, Feline Leukaemia and or Feline Aids Vaccines are required annually, so please check with your regular veterinarian.

With our senior patients, you as the owner, need to watch for any changes in appetite, increases in thirst and urination, blood in the urine, changes in behaviour, changes in bowel movements, lumps, changes in weight, not wanting to jump anymore and weakness. It is important to care for your older cat, and correct food is important. Cats at 15 years old are mature, senior cats and some branded foods supply specific food for cats at this age.


Dr P Bernhardi, veterinarian


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