Ticks are small spider-like acarids and fleas are insects, but these two tiny creatures have at least one thing in common – they are both parasites that feed on your cat’s blood and can cause a lot of discomfort and more serious health problems.
Flea bites may go unnoticed on some pets, cause slight irritation in others and produce extensive itching, red lesions, hair loss and even ulcers in those animals with flea allergy dermatitis, which is the result of extreme sensitivity to flea saliva. Severe flea infestations can cause anemia, especially in kittens. Fleas can also transmit several diseases, as well as tapeworm. Ticks are “vectors” or carriers of a number of diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever which can sometimes be transmitted to humans.
Adult fleas are wingless insects, generally smaller than a sesame seed, who feed on the blood of animals. Their proportionately enlarged back pair of legs gives them an extraordinary jumping ability. Hanging on to your pet’s fur with their claws, their needle-like mouth parts bite through the skin to suck up blood – in quantities of up to 15 times their body weight daily in the case of female cat fleas.
If one flea finds your cat an attractive food source, you can be sure that other fleas will, too! They mate, with females laying 30-50 eggs per day. These eggs will drop to the ground within 8 hours and, as soon as 2 days later flea larvae will hatch and hide in dark places on the ground, in carpets or upholstery. After about a week of feeding on adult flea droppings, crumbs, flakes of skin, etc., the larvae spin cocoons to become pupae. The pupae can remain in this stage for very long periods of time. The cycle continues when, as soon as a week or so later, the pupae develop into adult fleas and emerge from their cocoons when they sense that a cat or dog, or other animal host, is near. The cycle – which can take as little as 12 days or as long as 180 days – can then begin again.
Ticks are wingless creatures that live exclusively on the blood of animals for three of the four stages of their life cycle. They are equipped with an apparatus called Haller’s organ which senses heat, carbon dioxide and other stimuli to allow the ticks to locate the presence of an animal food source. Once found, they crawl on and embed their mouth parts into the animal’s skin and proceed to suck up its blood.
You should inspect your pet regularly for ticks, especially if they have been outside in areas where there are woods or tall grasses. A thorough combing within 4 to 6 hours of exposure to such environments can help prevent ticks from attaching themselves to feast on your pet. Should you find a tick, it should be removed immediately, as the longer it is attached to its host, the greater the chance for disease. Do not touch the tick. Wear gloves and use tweezers to carefully grasp the exposed section of the tick’s body near your pet’s skin. Gently pull until the tick lets go. To dispose of the tick, wrap it in several tissues and flush it down the toilet. Do not crush, burn or suffocate it, as any one of those actions may spread infectious bacteria.