No matter how spotless your house is, or how clean your cat, it is almost certain that at some stage your feline companion will pick up fleas. So does this really matter ? Indeed it does – not just to your cat but also to you and to family and friends in your home.
To better understand the dangers brought by fleas it is useful to know something about the fleas themselves.
What are fleas?
The most common flea found on cats is ‘Ctenocephalides Felis’, and it is usually simply called ‘The Cat Flea’.
There are however other types of fleas from animals such as rabbits and hedgehogs which can also infest your cat – and therefore your home as well.
Adult fleas can live up to two weeks, and they spend this time between feeding on your cat’s blood and laying eggs in your carpet, bedding and/or other items of furniture around the house.
A single adult female flea can lay up to 200 eggs in her short lifetime, and these eggs hatch into larvae which survive by eating debris in the furnishings before turning into pupae. These pupae (which are virtually immune to chemicals) remain dormant until the conditions are right for them to emerge as adult fleas – ready to jump onto your cat and hence start the cycle all over again.
Your furnishings may be harbouring hundreds of these pupae for anything from a few days to over a year before they emerge as fleas. It’s a horrible thought isn’t it – but it can be prevented !!
How can I tell if my cat has fleas ?
Due to the fact that fleas are extremely small, and that cats are so good at grooming that they remove many fleas whilst washing themselves, owners may not be aware at a glance that their cat has fleas.
Obvious signs are persistent self-scratching, over-grooming, bald areas, and even scabs.
When you groom your cat keep an eye out for tiny black specks of flea dirt in the coat. If you want to be sure that these specks are flea faeces, then simply brush or comb them onto a damp tissue or cotton wool ball. They will turn red from your cat’s blood.
If the cat is infested then you will probably see the fleas themselves moving around – particularly on cats with white fur.
The Consequences of Fleas ?
The constantly itching bites of fleas are obviously very distressing for your cat; but they bring with them a variety of other problems too.
Large infestations can suck so much blood from your pet that it can become anaemic. Indeed this can kill kittens and frail adult cats.
Just as with humans, some cats are allergic to flea bites. ‘Flea Allergy Dermatitus’ as it is called is extremely itchy and painful, and may result in over-grooming by the cat. Bacterial and yeast infections are also common.
Fleas can carry tapeworm. See worms
There are a multitude of flea products on the market, and it is therefore thoroughly confusing to know which is the best for your particular cat. The most sensible course of action is obviously for you to seek the advice of your vet.
These are not really suitable for cats, and in any event are not very effective.
- Flea Collars
A few work reasonably well, but there is a huge range in their effectiveness. Any such collars must be of the ‘quick release type in case the collar gets caught on a tree branch or similar, or the cat catches a leg in the collar whilst grooming. These collars can also cause irritation to the skin around the neck area.
Never ever use a dog flea collar on your cat. Many of them contain ‘Permethrin’ which is highly toxic to cats – to the extent that it can kill them.
- Flea Powders and Sprays
Yet again there is wide variety of these products, and the vast majority are not considered suitable for cats. Applying the powder is a messy job, and the powder can be inhaled or swallowed by your cat - causing illness.
There is an injection available from your vet, but you need to be aware that these do not kill the adult fleas, they only prevent any eggs from hatching.
These can be effective in killing the flea when it bites the cat, but most are only for use with dogs. They are only available by veterinary prescription, and are quite expensive. They have to be given every month, and your feline friend might well be difficult to persuade into taking them.
In our opinion these are by far the easiest to administer, and the most effective way of treating and preventing flea infestations.
Most cats will tolerate the application of these products, and there is the added advantage that many of them are also effective against other parasites such as ear mites and roundworms.
The range of spot-on treatments is huge, with all sorts of chemicals being used. Some only claim to “deter” fleas, whereas you will want to kill them. Some last longer than others, so beware of false economy. As you would expect, your vet will be able to give you the best advice for your particular cat.
Please do not use spot-on treatments used for dogs. There has been a spate of cat deaths in the uk due to owners mistakenly using dog flea treatments on their feline companions. Permethrin is toxic to cats !
As a caring cat owner you will obviously be washing/vacuum-cleaning your cat’s bedding on a regular basis already, but you may need to treat your home furnishings and carpets as well in order to remove any eggs and immature fleas. There are various household sprays available for this purpose, with most of them lasting for up to 12 months. Do not use these sprays near fish tanks.
Also remember to treat all your pets at the same time to prevent cross contamination.
Year round treatment
Year round treatment is essential for effective prevention. With the colder winter weather our heating goes on in our homes…and the fleas think that it’s Spring again !
"In my experience, cats and beds seem to be a natural combination."
Louis J Camuti, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.