Fleas are small, flat, wingless, external parasites that feed off the blood of your adult cat or kitten. Fleas are not only an annoying problem for cats and owners - they also cause diseases such as allergies, anemia, and tapeworms. Fleas can be seen crawling on your cat’s skin (particularly the belly) or jumping on your cat’s coat.
Signs & Symptoms of Fleas
If your cat or kitten has fleas, you will generally notice the following:
- Itching and scratching
- Biting at the hindquarters
- Hair loss (Most commonly seen behind the ears, down the back , back legs, tail and rump)
- Red, scaly, flaky skin
- If your cat is infested with fleas, you will see the fleas crawling and jumping on the body (They look like tiny pieces of black rice)
- It is common to see flea dirt on the tail and in the area just above the tail on the hind quarters (Flea dirt will look like black specs on the skin, think of dandruff only black)
Causes of Fleas
Cats and kittens usually get fleas from other pets that have them, or from being in a flea infested environment, such as the backyard, a park, or even inside a house.
Commonly Caused Problems by Fleas
Fleas are disease carriers and can cause a host of health problems for our cats and kittens. Most health issues caused by fleas stem from a heavy infestation; however, there are situations where just a few fleas can lead to serious health problems.
The following are problems most commonly seen with fleas:
- Flea Allergy Dermatitis - A condition caused from a severe allergy to the flea saliva on the skin of your cat or kitten. This reaction causes intense scratching and chewing, and leads to hair loss and skin infections.
- Tapeworms – Your cat or kitten can become infected with this parasite when they ingest a flea carrying tapeworm eggs.
- Anemia - A condition most commonly seen in young kittens that are infested with fleas.
- Hot Spots - If your cat is highly allergic to flea saliva, just one or two flea bites will irritate a spot on the body, causing your cat to scratch and chew at the area, resulting in an infection and/or a hot spot.
- Feline Infectious Anemia - Most veterinarians agree that fleas can transmit a rickettsial bacteria that causes hemobartonellosis in cats. This bacteria can be transmitted from fleas to cats, causing destruction of the red blood cells, thus leading to anemia.
Treatment for Fleas
The most common treatments for fleas include:
- Flea bath – Bathe your cat or kitten using a special shampoo designed to kill fleas (available at most department or pet stores).
- Flea comb - This comb, also available at most department and/or pet stores, is used to “pick up” fleas on your cat. However, this method is only effective if the flea population is very small.
- Treatment of house and yard - You can have your yard sprayed to kill and prevent fleas. Most pest control companies offer this service, or you can spray the area yourself with a specialty spray available at most hardware/feed stores or department stores. When treating the area yourself, it is important to read the cautionary information on the label and follow the instructions closely.
- Prevention of Fleas
PREVENTION is the best treatment for fleas.
Your veterinarian probably offers a wide selection of monthly preventives, in either topical or pill form. Both treatments are administered monthly. These treatments prevent fleas from living on your cat, and both products are effective. Consult your veterinarian for more specific information.
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