Cat fleas are 99% unavoidable for most cats. All cats are likely to encounter fleas at some stage in their lives, but unless you spot the early signs of infestation, you could end up with a major epidemic of these parasites in your home. All members of the family will then be at risk of being bitten by hungry fleas in search of a meal, although they cannot live permanently on people. If your cat is scratching more than usual and nibbling at its skin, this may indicate the presence of fleas.
- Fleas can cause your cat to scratch excessively. Check its fur regularly for signs of infestation. Treatment involves ensuring your furnishings — as well as your pets — are free of fleas, larvae and eggs.
- Fleas pierce the cat’s skin with their sharp mouthparts when feeding, injecting a small quantity of saliva which can cause an allergic reaction.
- The first weapon against fleas is a special flea comb with narrow teeth, to confirm the presence of these parasites. It is better to groom your cat outdoors, so that if any fleas do jump off, they will be less of a hazard.
Fleas lay eggs in the cat’s environment, which will hatch into tiny larvae. This can take between eight and 200 days, so there may well be more fleas waiting to hatch when you think they have been eliminated. The larvae then become inert and pupate before emerging from the cocoon as adult fleas. The movement of a cat nearby will trigger the flea to break out and leap up on to the animal.
INTERNAL TREATMENT OF CAT FLEAS
Treatments in the past have concentrated mainly on killing fleas on the cat, but this does little to stop reinfestation as more fleas hatch in the environment. Now a new type of treatment is available, containing compounds called IGRs — insect growth regulators. When a flea then feeds on a treated cat, it consumes blood containing the IGR. This will then block the development of further fleas, because it is passed into the eggs and prevents them from hatching successfully.
- Washing the cat’s bed and bedding regularly, as well as vacuuming around areas where your cats sleeps, will help to keep the larvae at bay.
- Telltale black specks, which are flea droppings, are revealed during an examination of a cat’s fur. The black specks are digested blood and can easily be seen if the cat is combed over a clean, white surface.
I can’t find any fleas on my cat’s coat, but plenty of flea dirt. Could the fleas have leapt off ?
This is very unlikely. Fleas are very nimble: their narrow bodies slip through the hair undetected, so they can stay ahead of the flea comb. Concentrate on the area of the back in front of the tail, where fleas are often to be found.
Can I treat my cat and dog with the same spray?
Check on the label and ask your vet if in any doubt. Some remedies for dogs are not suitable for cats. Always follow the instructions carefully.
Is it true that cats infected by fleas are at greater risk of suffering from tapeworms?
The immature tapeworm invades the flea’s body, and then if the cat consumes a flea when grooming, the tapeworm can complete its life-cycle in the cat’s gut.
- Flea droppings are digested blood. If you put droppings on to a damp piece of kitchen paper they will turn bright red.
- For every flea that you find on your cat, there will be many more developing around your home. Vacuum right up to furniture and skirtings to reduce the risk of infestation.