"caring for cats"
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.
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 !!
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 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 Dermatitis’ 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 is 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.
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.
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 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.