Image via Tom Wang/Shutterstock
By Cheryl Lock
Keeping your cat indoors can help prevent him from getting lost, from getting into altercations with other animals, and from a whole host of other harmful issues. However, if you avoid giving your feline friend flea and tick prevention because you think his indoor lifestyle will protect him from those parasites, you could run into troubles.
“In Florida, where I have practiced for over 30 years, it is very common for strictly indoor cats to get fleas,” says Dr. Sandy M. Fink, former owner of two Florida-based veterinary practices. “While tick contraction is less common for indoor cats, this can happen, as well.”
Here are some of the more common ways indoor cats can catch fleas and ticks, along with suggested methods of prevention.
Another Pet Brings the Pests Indoors
The number one way that fleas and ticks enter the household is on the family dog, says Fink. “Even a dog on a flea and tick product could bring live insects and eggs into the house, especially if they are on a product that does not repel, or if a high number of fleas and ticks outdoors overwhelms the product on the dog.” Many flea and tick products take some time to kill the parasites, so they can enter your house, hop off your dog, and on to your cat before they feel the effects of the medicine. Even if only a few fleas or ticks are brought inside, the parasites can lay thousands of eggs and put your indoor cat at risk.
“Outdoor areas can become infested during warm weather in areas with a large population of dogs, stray cats, squirrels, birds, rats, mice and other mammals,” says Fink.
What to do: Keeping pets on a preventative flea medicine for cats is a starter, but it’s important to regularly check household and visiting pets for parasites if they’ve been outdoors. You can also ask visitors if their pet is on a preventative treatment before allowing them into your home, says Fink.
A Person Brings Fleas or Ticks Indoors
Flea and tick migration isn’t just limited to other animals—humans that visit your home may bring the pests indoors in the form of adults, eggs, larvae or pupae, says Fink. For your cat to become infected with a tick, the tick would have to drop off a person and re-attach itself to your cat, says Fink.
Additionally, while fleas have no wings, they can jump huge distances, so it’s easy for them to hitchhike a ride on a person’s clothes or shoes and arrive in your dwelling, says Robert Brown, DVM, and scientific advisor for the Cat Fanciers’ Association.
What to do: Checking each guest that enters your home isn’t feasible, but cleaning up after guests leave is an easy way to keep pests at bay. Wash all sheets and towels following a guest visit, and vacuum your floors, carpets and upholstery.
Rodents Bring Parasites Indoors
While this method is certainly a possibility, it’s not exactly probable, says Fink. “Rodents are unlikely to inhabit the same environment as a healthy cat for very long,” she explains. “Certainly if there is an infestation of rodents where they are moving around the home and dropping flea eggs where the cat lives, those eggs can then hatch and get on the cat.”
What to do: While most cats will help keep rodent populations away, you can also prevent mice by keeping your counters and kitchen free of food scraps and waste, using humane traps (poisonous baits may pose a risk to your pet), and denying rodents entry to the house by using metal screens over openings for plumbing and ventilation and putting tight seals around doors and windows, suggests Fink.
Your Cat Picks Them Up During a Vet Visit
Even if your cat spends most of his time indoors, he still likely leaves the house for an occasional veterinary appointment or grooming visit. He may also stay with pet sitters while you’re out of town, or maybe he enjoys play dates with other neighborhood cats. These outdoor trips are opportunities for your furry friend to pick up fleas or ticks.
What to do: You can’t keep your cat contained at all times, so make sure to keep him on a veterinarian-prescribed flea and tick preventative all year long. “Read the labels carefully,” says Brown. Some products may not be safe for kittens, and many dog products are toxic to cats of any age, he adds.
You Move Into a New Home
Pre-existing fleas can be dormant for months, so if you’re moving, they could just be waiting for your cat to arrive. Also remember that in communal buildings, the hall carpeting [or your neighbor’s apartment] may also be a breeding ground for fleas, says Dr. Brown.
What to do: To prevent any harm to your cat, treat the area as if you know it’s infested and attempt to get rid of any fleas or ticks with at-home methods. You can also enlist the help of a professional cleaning service or exterminator. Keep in mind that fleas and ticks can arrive on second-hand rugs, furniture, bedding and luggage from thrift stores or infested households, so do a thorough cleaning of these objects before bringing them into your home.