Q & A: Which external parasites affect our cats the most?

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

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.

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.

Small animal veterinarian

Q. Is it safe to give my cats human medication?

A. Human drugs are frequently used in veterinary medicine to treat a number of animal diseases. Your veterinarian has knowledge relating to these pharmaceutical agents and knows when they are required. Unfortunately, pets at home can often consume human medication and this can be fatal.

Only use human drugs in dogs and cats when they have been prescribed by a veterinarian. Sometimes generic human drugs are available to veterinarians for use in animals for a variety of conditions, but never administer human drugs without first speaking to a veterinarian. Sometimes they are used as they are more readily available or more economically viable, and come in the correct formulation or concentration needed to treat your animal. Human medications are sometimes produced in the incorrect formulation or concentration, making them impossible to dose to your pet. Most human medications are based on an average body size of approximately 70kg and there are very few dogs who weigh this amount. Paracetamol is a very safe drug in humans but in animals it can be deadly. It is extremely toxic to cats and even at a recommended dose it can be overly toxic to dogs. Severe liver toxicity occurs with resulting jaundice and death.

If a pet has eaten human medication, I would advise the owner to take the animal to a veterinary hospital immediately, along with the medication box or container of the ingested medicine. Sometimes no medical intervention is required, but in other cases the veterinarian would need to induce vomiting. Symptomatic and supportive care would be required and sometimes an antidote can be given.

Throughout my career I have seen many animals who have ingested their owners’ medication or have sometimes been mistakenly given human medications. Sometimes it is simple for the veterinarian to treat, but many times the drugs can be fatal. Routine human medications are often dangerous in animals. It is always imperative that owners are diligent about where they keep their medication so that their pets do not find and eat tablets.


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