Fleas & Felines
My cat, Samson, is turning 11 years old this summer. Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday he was a tiny flea infested kitten. Anyone who knows him knows Samson has lived a very pampered indoor life (with the occasional escape outdoors) with his three canine brothers. If Samson could talk, I’m sure he would tell you his favorite ‘job’ is entertaining my 3 year old. Depending on the day he is either a princess, a baby being pushed in her stroller from one room to the next, or one of the patients in her ‘hospital for animals and kids’. Like any good house cat he enjoys his food (read: he is slightly overweight), takes naps in the rays of sunlight beaming through our windows, and is the only thing that keeps my feet warm in the winter. Like many cats, Samson started out on the streets as a tiny kitten covered in fleas. He was brought to me when he was about 6-8 weeks old and although he is a white and orange cat, I thought he was brown! That’s how flea infested he was. Fleas can be overlooked as a serious health threat to our feline family members. Here are some facts about those pesky parasites & tips on how to keep your cat healthy and flea-free.
- What you see is not what you get.
Did you know the adult flea (which is what jumps onto your cat to take a blood meal) is only 5% of the problem? The other 95% consists of microscopic eggs and immature fleas living in the environment (aka your house). Yes, you can have a flea infestation if you have hardwood floors - the eggs (50% of the infestation) fall into the cracks (remember, the eggs are microscopic!) between the boards. These eggs hatch out into maggot-like larvae in less than 1 week. So now you have maggots living in your hardwood floors (and carpet, bedding, couch...need I go on?). The larvae feed on any type of organic matter but really love the adult flea feces (dried blood from the blood meal it took from your cat). They then proceed to the pupal stage which they can stay in for years. Gross, I know.
- The cat flea isn’t picky.
It may be called the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis to be exact) but it doesn’t stick to house cats. The cat flea loves dogs, racoons (who doesn’t have a racoon in their yard every now and then?), opossums, skunks, foxes, etc. So, if your cat stays inside and never leaves (please give me advice on containing cats! With my best effort Samson escapes at least once a year if only for a 30 second jaunt), you can bring those eggs into your home on the bottom of your shoes (because: dogs, outdoor cats, & wildlife) and expose your cat and your house to an infestation.
- Jumping jelly beans!
Ok, so fleas are smaller than the elliptical shaped candy, but did you know they can jump about 1 foot? Compared to their size (fleas are only a few millimeters in length) that is over 100 times their length! So when you think you are safe leaving your shoes by the front door, beware. Samson’s favorite place to nap is the large sunbeam shining through our front door. Keep your shoes outside? Well, when you walk from the front porch into the home, the flea hops right along for the ride.
- Fleas transmit disease.
In addition to causing blood loss anemia in kittens who carry an innumerable amount of fleas, fleas can cause feline infectious (hemolytic) anemia from a blood parasite they transmit. Fleas can also trigger allergic response called Flea Allergy Dermatitis. This creates a very itchy cat and due to excessive scratching, the potential for severe secondary bacterial infections. If your cat is not allergic to the fleas it may not scratch, since cats typically groom themselves well, most people do not even realize their cat has a problem until they start see yellow/white rice-like worms in the litterbox. These are tapeworms! Cats contract this parasite from grooming themselves and ingesting the adult flea. As the adult flea is digested, the tapeworm hatches out into the cat’s intestines. Fleas can also transmit a form typhus to cats and to us humans. The disease is more severe in humans and mostly in the young, old, and those with suppressed immune systems. Cat scratch fever is another potential health threat to humans.
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
To keep your cat protected, it is important to use flea prevention. Remember, fleas are insects, and if given the chance will multiply and make themselves at home! Once an infestation is present, it can take MONTHS to clear. Using a topical like Provecta for Cats, every month, is your best chance in preventing disease, infestation, and keeping your cat healthy!
I hope you learned something new about how fleas can affect even the most well contained feline & you! Talk to your veterinarian and get their opinion about which prevention is best for you and your cat.
– Leigh Hofmeister, DVM