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Cats and Fleas

Cats and Fleas

How do cats get fleas?

The most common source of fleas is from newly emerged adult fleas in the home or outside. The flea life cycle includes: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults.  When adult fleas are on our cats, they bite them (ie. Take a blood meal) and then start laying eggs as soon as 2 days later. In ideal conditions, adults will emerge in as little as 2 weeks; in adverse conditions, eggs can develop into adults up to 1 year later. This means that fleas can develop in the house even over the winter months. Houses can provide ideal conditions for fleas to develop in: carpets and central heating provide  conditions for year round development of these parasites. It is very difficult to find fleas in the home since they are so small and hide in carpets and furniture. Eggs are tiny white specks the size of dust particles and larvae migrate deep in carpets, furniture and cracks in floors away from the light. So, often flea infestations go unnoticed by owners.

 What signs may my cat exhibit if he/she has fleas?

Many cats will groom or scratch excessively after being bitten by a flea. Some cats are allergic to flea bites and these cats scratch and bite themselves so much that they can develop patches of fur loss and skin infections secondary to the trauma they cause to themselves.

Fleas can also be a source of tapeworms. If a cat swallows a flea infected with tapeworms while grooming, the cat will likely develop a tapeworm infestation. Signs of tapeworm infection include weight loss, poor hair coat and diarrhea. Tapeworm segments look like grains of white rice stuck around your cat’s perianal area.

 How to get rid of fleas?

Fleas need to be eliminated from 3 sources: the cat, other cats and dogs in the home, and from the home and yard. Keep in mind…outdoor sources can be difficult to control since we cannot control wild animals, other people’s pets and other outdoor areas. Raccoons and squirrels are important sources of fleas to our pets.

 What safe products are available to treat my cat and the environment?

Flea shampoos and powders have limited efficacy because they only work a few hours after application. They will only kill the adults present on your cat at the time of application but have no residual effect. This means that fleas jumping on your cat over the next few days and weeks will not be killed and the flea cycle will continue.

Your veterinarian has several safe products that are effective at getting rid of fleas. Some kill adult fleas, larvae and eggs with residual activity lasting a month and are given orally or topically every month. Others contain insect growth regulators that work as a flea birth control and prevent females from laying eggs. Many of the above products also kill eggs and larvae developing in the home by being in the pet’s dander and when the dander has contact with the eggs and larvae in the home, it kills them.

Vacuuming weekly and throwing out the vacuum bag to prevent eggs and larvae from developing inside the vacuum cleaner will also help get rid of infestations. Pay particular attention to areas where your cat spends most of his/her time such as the bed, sofa, and carpets.

 My veterinarian is advising flea control even though I have not seen any fleas on my cat.

If your cat is scratching more than usual, has hair loss or is grooming excessively, your veterinarian may suspect a flea problem. When fleas are present in small numbers they can be very difficult to find. They move very quickly. They can usually be found near the neck, stomach and around the tail base area. Often your veterinarian will not see adults but see “flea dirt” instead. This is fecal matter from the flea that contains partially digested blood. It indicates that the cat has fleas. Flea dirt looks like small black specks and when placed on a damp tissue it leaves a reddish brown stain. Flea dirt can sometimes be seen on the cat’s bedding or anywhere the cat sleeps and spends most of his/her time.  Do not forget that cats spend most of their time grooming. Their tongue will remove fleas and flea dirt from your pet’s coat and make it hard to find evidence of a flea problem. So, even if no adult fleas or flea dirt is found, your veterinarian may still recommend treating for fleas if she/he thinks that is the source of the problem.