There was no snow to shovel this past winter. I’ve lived in Chicago my entire life, and I don’t remember a winter so downright balmy. Winter was often more like spring throughout much of the country, with many days of record-high temperatures dotting the map.
The gentle winter has been followed by a mostly wet spring, with some parts of the country covered in water. The combination is a recipe for parasite invasion.
Bad Weather Means Bad Bugs
As a result of the unusual weather, experts suggest we ought to be prepared for an invasion of the parasites. For fleas, ticks and heartworm disease – the conditions couldn’t have been better. Mosquitoes will be abuzz in possible unprecedented numbers, and where there are mosquitoes, there’s heartworm disease in cats and dogs.
Overall, I think people know that mosquitoes may be deadly to dogs. Still, fewer than half of all dog owners protect their best friends. It’s appalling. The story is worse for cats. My guess is that many people don’t know cats can get heartworm, or don’t believe it can happen their indoor-only cat (as if mosquitoes never go indoors). The number of cat owners who protect their cats is less than half the number of dog owners who provide heartworm protection.
Heartworm disease, next to feline hypertrophic cardiomoypathy, is the No. 2 cause of sudden death in cats. For dogs, those with heartworm can be treated (though treatment is expensive, may be hard to get – due to manufacturing issues – and is taxing). For cats, heartworm treatment doesn’t exist.
How to Fight Cat Parasites
Prevention is available, and it works. So, why don’t people do it? It’s a shame, for cats with heartworm, some might live, others don’t.
Fleas are expected to enjoy a frenzy of activity. Indoor-only cats are susceptible to fleas, even if resident dogs are protected. If a flea or a few fleas hitchhike a ride on a person’s shoe or even a protected dog, the cat becomes the best blood meal nearby. So, even indoor-only cats require protection against fleas. This goes without saying for cats who venture outside.
Lots of cats are allergic to flea bites. The little buggers can transmit cat scratch fever (Bartonella henselae) infection. Besides, fleas are downright gross.
Speaking of being gross — let’s talk ticks. Many types of ticks over-winter just fine, especially this year, and the moist weather helps … they will be in abundance (already in some places, like the northeast – they are appearing big time).
Many tick-borne diseases are specific to people and dogs, but some might also affect cats; even some as-yet-unknown cat diseases could occur. No matter, here’s what veterinarians do know, Cytauxzoonosis is a tick disease that’s often fatal to cats. Cytauxzoonosis isn’t found everywhere, but the disease is spreading. You can, of course, greatly avoid this problem by keeping your cat indoors only.
All these buggers can be prevented, but choosing the right preventative is important. Instead of making a random product choice over the counter or online, see your veterinarian. For example, one potential problem is that using a dog-only product on a cat might be very dangerous for the cat. Another example, some over-the-counter flea preventatives might not kill enough fleas to matter long term, and dealing with an infestation is a costly proposition.
Cats shouldn’t be second-class citizens when it comes to parasite protection. See your veterinarian and prepare your cats for a heavy flea and tick season.