Sir Isaac Newton is our Feline Editor At Large (just how large, he’s not saying) who writes very brainy and very well researched articles for us. Newton lives in the North East and is fond of storms, our catnip toys, a soft bed, sunbeams, and naps. He has an ongoing email flirtation with our Daphne. This is his current, and as always, very well done article.
In Part 1 I presented the perils awaiting cats outdoors – particularly those involving ticks. In Part 2 I will give you some suggestions on how to fight back to protect yourself and your beloved cats.
Scientists are discovering more diseases that can be carried by ticks. Symptoms vary widely which is one of the reasons it took so long to diagnose Lyme disease. Symptoms usually don’t show up immediately after a bite. If you find a tick on Fluffy put it in a tightly sealed glass jar and take it to your veterinarian. Live ticks can be stored in the refrigerator for 10 days. Dead ticks can be frozen. If Fluffy shows any signs she may be sick be sure to mention if she has, or may have, been exposed to ticks.
I hesitate to recommend any particular flea or tick repellant. Natural products may not be strong enough and chemicals have their own host of health hazards. The best defense is to keep Kitty inside.
But then again, staying inside is not a 100% guarantee. Humans or dogs can carry ticks into the house requiring a thorough inspection after spending time outdoors. Then there are CATios. Fleas and ticks could certainly invade them. Careful CATio construction and the local incidence of these pests are helpful. Landscaping with plants that ticks don’t like near your CATio would be helpful.
Plants with strong scents can act as flea and tick repellants. The following is a list of such plants that could be planted outside a screened CATio (note planting zones) All of these are pet safe. https://www.organiclesson.com/plants-repel-fleas-ticks/ :
Garden SageUSDA Hardiness Zone: 5 – 8
Rosemary USDA Hardiness Zone: 7 – 10
Sweet Basil USDA Hardiness Zone: 10 – 11
Thyme USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 – 9
Marigold USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 – 10
Another option is spraying the ground and vegetation with cedar oil. Perhaps you recall when cedar chips used to be a common stuffing for pet beds. If you choose to apply cedar oil around the CATio be sure to use a brand that does not contain phenolic compounds. Cats are very sensitive to phenols and they can cause severe illness and even death. In addition, do not let Kitty near the area until it has completely dried.
Checking for fleas and ticks while grooming or petting is a good idea no matter what comprises Kitty’s home environment. Better safe than sorry.
I know many of you may be squeamish about ticks and I don’t blame you. The CDC has excellent directions on how to properly remove a tick. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/index.html However, if you are uncomfortable with the process, or Kitty refuses to cooperate, do not hesitate to seek help from your veterinarian. The sooner a tick is removed the better since that decreases the likelihood of diseases being transmitted through saliva as it feeds.
Now perhaps you are wondering if ticks have any natural predators. The answer is yes! You may be surprised to learn it is the opossum. North America’s only marsupial has been given a bad reputation most likely since it is nocturnal and only encountered when you take out the trash at night. They show their teeth and hiss when surprised simply because they are afraid of you.
Despite the pointed noses and rounded ears, they are not related to rats and nor do they carry diseases harmful to humans and cats. In fact, they help prevent human disease by eating garden pests, rodents and even poisonous snakes! https://vetmed.illinois.edu/wildlife/2019/06/05/the-helpful-opossum-2/ And here’s the best part. They eat 95% of the ticks they encounter! A single opossum could eat as many as 5,000 ticks in a season. https://opossumsocietyus.org/general-opossum-information/
Attracting opossums to your yard is easy! And it produces a win-win situation. All you need to do is provide an environmentally friendly environment for them. This includes researching what the native plants are to your specific region and planting them, using only organic permaculture methods and planting a dense variety of plants which become cozy nesting places. Please never buy plants from big box chain stores as they are often treated with neonicotinoids. While this toxin has been approved by the FDA it is banned in Europe because when bees take tainted pollen to their hives it kills off their colony. https://www.hunker.com/13425595/how-to-attract-a-possum-to-my-yard
Having tick eating opossums in your garden is coexistence at its finest! If there is one thing that I learned in 2020 it is that we have to take very good care of ourselves and each other.
If this article has kicked in your “cat’s curiosity” about ticks and tick-borne diseases, you may want to peruse the book “Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons” by Kris Newby. This is not an easy read, but this is information that everyone should know about and tell others about.