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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 others.


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 that decision.


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 safe?

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 unsafe?

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