Ticks and Fleas on Cats Q&A
WebMD veterinary expert answers common questions pet owners have about fleas and ticks on their cats.
Ticks have different biologies and behaviors, of course. And there are
different areas that have more tick problems than others. There are very few
places in North America you can’t encounter ticks today, because there are so
many different ticks. But there definitely are areas that are worse than
Q: Can cats get heartworms?
A: Sure can. Absolutely. And it can be deadly in cats. Dogs get heartworm
far more often than cats do. But when cats do get heartworm, it can definitely
be lethal. I honestly believe that heartworm in cats is more lethal than
heartworm in dogs, to that individual. There is no effective heartworm
treatment for cats. All we can do for cats is try to treat the symptoms, manage
the disease, until the worms die off. There are
preventatives for cats, just like for dogs. If you put the cat on
preventatives, it will keep them from getting heartworm, and if you use it when
they have heartworms, it will keep them from getting more while you wait for
the worms they have to die off. Some of these worms can live up to four years
in a cat.
Q: Can I stop using preventatives in winter months, when all the fleas,
ticks, and mosquitoes are dead?
A: No. I believe in most parts of the United States it should be year round.
There are a few, limited exceptions, so there’s no broad, sweeping statement
you can make. Let’s face it. I’m not putting a dog or cat on flea or tick
treatment in Cheyenne, Wyo. It makes no sense. But in Atlanta, absolutely. You
have to look at individual climatic conditions for individual areas and make
Q: An environmental group has sued several pet stores and manufacturers
claiming that flea collars have high concentrations of chemicals in them that
are dangerous to pets and people. Are these over-the-counter flea collars
A: I’m not a toxicologist and I try to steer clear of all that. But I will
say that I believe the best way to manage fleas and ticks is go to your
veterinarian and find out what products he recommends for your area. The issue
we have with many of the over-the-counter products is that many are what we
call pyrethroids, or synthetic pyrethrins. We know that is a class of
insecticides that fleas are commonly resistant to, so one of the reasons
over-the-counter formulations don’t work very well is that fleas are resistant
to them. What that leads to is people tend to over apply them because they
didn’t work that well and then you tend to have problems
Q: There are also reports that the EPA is looking into an increase in
adverse reactions from topically applied flea control products, the ones we
usually put on our cats between their shoulder blades. So are these