Fleas are small, wingless parasites. Fleas bite and suck blood from the cat to feed themselves similar to the way a mosquito does, and fleas can survive for months to a year without a host (ie. in your couch or carpeting). If your cat has fleas these fleas will lay eggs loosely in your cat’s fur, this means that a good number of them will fall out where your cat sleeps, eats, and plays. If your cat has fleas, so does your home which means that both need to be treated.
Fleas prefer temperatures of around 70 degrees (fahrenheit) with medium to high humidity, which just happens to be a typical home environment. Fleas are most common from spring through fall. If you see even a few fleas in your home or on your pet, chances are that there are many, many more that you can’t see. And as a female flea can lay approximately 20 eggs a day…. your flea number can rise quickly and exponentially.
If you notice your pet scratching the same area frequently or suspect fleas the best way to check for fleas is to look for flea droppings (yes this is flea poop). This will appear as tiny black strings near the base of the cat’s fur. If you have a dark haired cat and can’t see if there is dirt or not try brushing or combing your pet. Then check the fur for flea droppings. As flea dropping are rich in blood you can always wet the droppings, if they turn reddish, they are from fleas! If you suspect your cat has fleas call your vet. As fleas feed on your cat’s blood it won’t take long for your cat (especially a kitten) to become weak and anemic, and flea infestation can lead to other more serious problems. Cats can even develop an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva.
Symptoms to look for:
- Biting or scratching of areas of the body
- Black or red ‘dirt’ on your pets skin and/or fur
- Skin irritation
- Allergic reactions
Even though there are a lot of over-the-counter medications for fleas, the best thing to do if you suspect fleas is to take your cat to the vet. Especially if you have a kitten or if this is your cat’s first bout with fleas. Your vet may approve one or more of the following depending on the age of your cat and the seriousness of the infestation: Bath him/her with a vet approved flea shampoo. As fleas burrow deeply into the cat’s fur make sure you massage the shampoo into all parts of the cat’s coat. Also bathe your cat in cool water, warm water will only aggravate the itching. After fully shampooing your cat, rinse him/her thoroughly. Then repeat this process. Your vet may also suggest a flea dip or vet-approved flea medication. Remember the best way to combat fleas is to contact your vet and to have him recommend a course of treatment.
There are a number of sprays and medications you can use to treat and prevent flea infestations. Program®, Revolution® or Advantage® are medications that you can give your cat year round (monthly) to prevent flea infestations. A good site with flea product information is www.nofleas.com. There are also many over-the-counter flea medications these days, always read the label carefully before giving any non-vet recommended product to your cat.
Also don’t forget to de-flea your home. Your carpeting, furniture etc. probably has just as many fleas, if not more, as your cat so do a thorough cleaning and vacuuming of your home. Depending on the severity of your cat’s flea problem you may want to have your house bombed for pests. There are many commercial flea ‘foggers’ out there and you can also have your vet recommend one to you.
Note : You should never give flea medication for dogs to your cat, even in small dosages. Also make sure to read the instructions for any over-the-counter flea medication. You should never give your cat a flea medication containing Permethrin. Permethrin is found in spot killing flea treatments, mainly for dogs. Permethrin is toxic to cats, even in small amounts. Never use a product that is more than 45% Permethrin on your feline. Also make sure to not use Permethrin products on your dog if you have a cat in the house. This way your cat won’t inadvertently come in contact with the product. Products containing Pyrethrin and Phenothrin have also been shown to possibly have adverse reactions in cats when taken in moderate to high dosages. Only use an over-the-counter product if it specifically says it is ‘designed for cats and kittens’ and if you have any questions about the main ingredient in an over-the-counter flea medication contact your vet.
Bathe your cat once a month and make sure to groom your pet and look for fleas often. Have your cat wear a flea collar all year round (these aren’t the most effective means of prevention and some cats are allergic to them so be careful). Also new medications such as Program® or Advantage® are great precautionary measures if your cat is in a high risk state (outdoor cats especially) for flea