Whether you have an indoor or outdoor cat, it’s important to realize they can have issues with fleas and ticks just like dogs. Dr. Kara Wolf, DVM, Technical Services Staff Veterinarian for Virbac Corporation, answers some common questions about cats and parasites.

  1. My indoor cat won't get fleas or ticks, right?

​​Unfortunately, indoor cats can get fleas and ticks! Fleas and ticks are not discriminatory by nature. They need a host in order to feed and reproduce. Fleas prefer warm, humid areas to complete their life cycle, making indoors a perfect climate for infestations. Ticks will attach to someone or something passing by, allowing for introduction of a tick to an inside pet. Only one species of tick can complete its entire life cycle indoors – the brown dog tick. 

  1. Can my dog pass along fleas or ticks to my cat?

Yes, but not in the way one would think. Typically, a flea will not jump from one animal to another; instead, the flea will litter the environment with eggs to eventually mature into blood–sucking adult fleas. The egg will hatch into a larvae, the larvae will molt and become protected in a cocoon-like structure until it emerges as a hungry adult flea ready to find its next blood meal, and the cycle starts again. Fleas live to eat and reproduce. The egg, larvae, and pupae stages are all found in the environment while the adult stage is found on the pet.

A tick will drop off into the environment to molt to its next stage after feeding. The nymph, larvae, and adult stages of the tick will attach, feed, and detach. Since a tick feeds during three of its four life stages, it is possible for a cat to become a blood meal for a tick after it has fed on the family dog.

  1. What is the best way to protect my cat from fleas and ticks?

The best way to protect a cat is to first treat all pets during flea and tick seasons. Eliminate the adult flea or tick by using an appropriately labeled cat or dog product. Next, treat the environment for the flea stages and any ticks that may be present by chemical or mechanical means. There are a number of premise products available to effectively and safely treat the environment, while washing bedding (yours and the pets) and vacuuming the floor and furniture will provide mechanical means of treatment. Lastly, managing the environment is important for tick control. Keeping the lawn tidy and short, removing leaf litter and wood piles, and sweeping under that favorite tree or bush where the cat, family dog, or roaming cats love to nap will get rid of areas where fleas and ticks like to nest.

  1. How do I know if my cat has fleas or ticks?

Visualizing a flea or tick is the most common way to know. Cats groom themselves frequently and may remove a flea or tick before one is spotted. Cats may also scratch or nibble at areas where these pests are or have been. It is important to comb for fleas or do a parasite check if you notice your cat scratching or grooming more than usual. If fleas or ticks are observed on your cat, please contact your veterinarian for appropriate treatment recommendations.

  1. What conditions or diseases can my cat get from fleas or ticks?

There are a number of diseases that fleas and ticks can cause in a cat. Tapeworms and flea bite hypersensitivity (FBH) or flea allergic disease (FAD) are the most common conditions caused by fleas. A cat becomes infected with a tapeworm after ingesting an infected flea while grooming. Allergic disease occurs from the introduction of flea saliva during feeding and leads to an uncomfortable inflammatory skin reaction on the back of a cat. Bacterial diseases can be transmitted by both fleas and ticks leading to a sick cat in need of veterinarian attention.

For other questions regarding your cat and fleas or ticks, please reach out to your veterinarian.