Sunday, September 22, 2013

What do I do if my cat has fleas?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital
Tucson, AZ

What are fleas? 
Fleas are the most common type of external parasite found on cats and dogs. Most often, infected pets are affected by cat fleas, and rarely are infested with dog fleas or human fleas.  Bird fleas can also infect cats and dogs.  All fleas are tiny, jumping insects that are visible to the naked eye.  Some pets are allergic to the flea saliva and are very itchy, while other pets may show no symptoms.  Fleas prefer warm and moist environments, which is why there are not many flea issues in Tucson.  

What problems do fleas cause?
Pets who are allergic to fleas can self-inflict significant skin damage which leads to infection from scratching and chewing at their own skin.
If your pet eats the fleas as they chew on their itchy skin, they can become infected with tapeworms.  They can also become infected with certain different types of bacteria which can cause Feline Infectious Anemia in cats or can cause Cat Scratch Fever in humans. 
Small or young pets can become anemic which can cause weakness or even death in severe cases.

How do I get rid of the fleas?
Treatment is aimed at killing adult fleas and preventing eggs from hatching.  There are many safe, effective treatments now available.  You can read more about options here that can be used directly on your pet.  To help prevent eggs from hatching, you should treat the environment with an insect growth regulator product. Your veterinarian can answer your questions about the different types of treatment.

How long do I need to treat my pets?
First, you need to determine how your cat obtained the fleas so you can decide on the length of treatment required.  If your cat goes outside on a regular basis, your cat probably became infested from where they roam outside.  If your cat does not go outside but your dog does, your cat may have caught them from the dog bringing them into the house.  If you recently brought home a new cat, they may have come with fleas already.  If your cat or other pet is going to continue to potentially bring fleas inside your house, you need to use frequent, continuous flea medication on your pets.  If your cat and other pets will remain inside in the future, you can treat your pet and house for a couple months and eliminate the fleas.

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