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.
Indoor only cats generally live up to three times longer than those allowed to roam at will outside. Cars, predators and various poisons are obvious dangers. Interaction with other cats may expose them to potentially fatal diseases (e.g. feline leukemia FeLV, and feline immunodeficiency virus FIV). Fleas are more than an annoyance. Itching, anemia, flea allergy dermatitis, Bartonella (a bacterial infection which may be linked to a variety of medical problems), and tapeworms are all potential consequences of a flea infestation. It is a scary world out there. But now it is becoming scarier and I am here to tell you all about it!
TICKS are found everywhere outdoors on trees, in tall grasses and on shrubs, but in recent years people are finding them INSIDE OF THEIR HOMES! Vigilance is vital!
In cold parts of the country sustained subfreezing temperatures in winter can help to reduce the tick and flea population. This has made some folks complacent about ticks.
Wait, you say. Don’t they die off in the winter like fleas? The answer is . . . no. Freezing temperatures slow them down, but the major cause of death is the inability to find the next host. If they are between hosts they may burrow beneath forest debris. They can also spend at least part of the time feeding on a warm deer. https://www.colonialpest.com/where-do-ticks-go-in-the-winter/
If you have never encountered ticks consider yourself lucky. However, that doesn’t mean you should let down your guard. Ticks are everywhere. Although different species are adapted to particular environments and hosts, they are expanding their ranges in the US. Unlike fleas ticks stay attached to the host until they drop off to find their next meal. Ticks have 3 life stages (larva, nymph and adult). All must feed on blood and all can transmit disease. In fact, ticks are the major vector for numerous diseases in humans, companion animals and wildlife. It can take up to three years for them to complete their entire life cycle. The best defense is to keep kitty inside. However, the second is to remove ticks before they attach to the skin. Cats are excellent groomers, but it is especially hard for them to remove ticks in the neck area. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877023/
Of course, most of us know about tick borne disease in humans. The first, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, was discovered in the late 1800s. Symptoms are severe and victims often died. Although cats are susceptible the incidence is rare. The good news is there is a cure now. The bad news is you don’t have to visit the Rocky Mountains to be bitten by a carrier tick since their range has expanded throughout the US. https://www.cdc.gov/rmsf/transmission/index.html
The most familiar sickness caused by ticks is Lyme Disease. Symptoms of Lyme were first observed in humans in the early 1970’s in Old Lyme, Connecticut. In 1981 a scientist, Willy Burgdorfer, discovered the connection between the deer tick and Lyme disease and the bacteria was subsequently named in his honor, Borrelia burgdorferi. https://www.bayarealyme.org/about-lyme/history-lyme-disease/
The good news is Lyme is susceptible to antibiotics. The bad news is 1. the bite does not always result in a red “target” shape on the skin, and 2. although it originated in CT, the disease has spread to all 50 states, being most common in the Northeast and North-Central parts of the US.
At this point there is no vaccine and no test before symptoms appear. While Lyme is rare for cats to contract there are other tick borne diseases that have been reported in felines.
Five tick borne diseases have been reported in cats.
- Lyme (the tick must be attached for 48 hours to transmit the disease so rapid removal can prevent infection)
- Haemobartonella (Feline Infectious Anemia) is transmitted by both ticks and fleas
- Tularemia (also known as Rabbit Fever)
- Babesiosis (most common in Southeast US)
- Cytauxzoonosis (with early diagnosis and improved treatment protocols cats can survive this serious disease – most common in southern states)
Now if all this isn’t scary enough, let’s talk about climate change. People love to argue about the precise cause of climate change or even the existence of climate crisis . . . but numbers don’t lie, and global temperatures are increasing. Scientists have now linked these warmer temperatures with range expansion of four tick species known to be health concerns. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1911661
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.
Dearest Friends of Cat Faeries, I have more to tell you so stay tuned as Cat Faeries and Newton continue next time with Part Two.
Isaac Newton, feline genius who loves a good long nap after hours of research and playtime with Legendary Cat Toys from Cat Faeries.