This is an underreported but a serious matter which I think should concern cat owners. The problem is that the ectoparasite, the tick, carries zoonotic diseases which they transfer to cats and dogs when they feed on the host animal. And these are serious diseases. The best known is Lyme disease. About a dozen different tick species are linked to significant feline disease although there are over 800 species of ticks worldwide.
Below, I discuss some of the other diseases caused by a tick bite but this article was prompted because The Times reports on a growth of tickborne diseases which has been blamed on global warming. There is no conclusive evidence of this but it is believed that climate change is leading to an increase in the numbers of ticks and therefore the number of people and animals contracting tickborne diseases.
I’m told that studies in Europe have shown that tickborne diseases such as encephalitis virus which can cause brain inflammation are more commonplace. The disease has risen fivefold over the past 30 years in Europe.
Climate change and rewilding
Prof Sarah Cutler, a medical microbiologist at the University of East London claimed that the increase can be put down to a warming climate which has improved the conditions for ticks. In addition to climate change, in the UK, the increased number of ticks may be due to rewilding as there is a drive for more green spaces.
Although the drive for more green spaces is good for people in terms of exercise and enjoying the outdoors, it does end up providing a very suitable habitat for ticks and a high exposure to people.
In the UK, Public Health England’s tick surveillance scheme concluded that a couple of the most common species of tick had spread into southern England. And that the expansion had been linked to climate change and rewilding.
There have been three cases of probable or confirmed tick borne encephalitis in the UK since 2019 while in 2020, across 24 countries in the European Union, there’s been a total of 3,817 cases.
My cat is exposed
In the UK, the default arrangement for caring for domestic cats is that they are allowed outside unsupervised. That is the arrangement I have with my cat. At the back of my house there is long grass. My cat is obviously exposed to ticks. I must check him daily for ticks. I do comb him daily for fleas and that would pick up the presence of a tick or ticks on his body.
In the United States, in addition to Lyme disease which is a bacterial infection leading to extensive joint damage, cardiac complications, kidney failure and neurologic dysfunction, there are a number of other tickborne diseases which are even more threatening than Lyme disease.
A potentially lethal tickborne disease and a relatively common one is called hemobartonellosis. There are also the rarer diseases of cytauxzoonosis and tularemia. Hemobartonellosis is caused by a bacterial parasite. It invades the cat’s red blood cells causing life-threatening anaemia the symptoms of which are pale gums, lethargy, a lack of appetite and rapid or open mouth breathing.
Cytauxzoonosis is caused by an infection of a one-celled protozoan parasite. This also causes severe anaemia in addition to lethargy, fever and breathing difficulties and is usually fatal.
Tularemia is quite rare in the USA but it is deadly and is also a bacterial infection. It results in lymph node enlargement, the formation of abscesses and fever. The tick carries other diseases such as ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis (see link to more about disease below), which can also affect cats and may cause fever, anemia, lethargy, and inappetence or weight loss.
Indoor cats can also get tickborne diseases. The tick can be brought into the home on a dog for instance or on the caregiver. The same applies to fleas.
Tick and flea spot-on treatments
I have got to mention the typical insecticide treatments you can buy online for fleas and ticks which will prevent an infection but they should be used with caution because they are very toxic. Treatments for dogs should not be used on cats as it can kill them.
The point is obvious: not only should concerned cat caregivers check their cat for the cat flea daily using a flea comb, they should also check their cat for ticks. The task can be carried out simultaneously so it is not going to be an added burden to check for both of these ectoparasites. The tick is more serious in terms of the health consequences it causes. It could be claimed that the cat flea is the most dangerous parasite in terms of jeopardising a domestic cat’s health because it is so commonplace.
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