The most common form of ectoparasite is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, and it is this type of flea that commonly infests a cat. However, in a caring-and-sharing way, cats living in households with clogs can often carry the dog flea Ctenocephalides canis, and, though increasingly rarely, the human flea, Pulex irritans. Cat fleas, dog fleas and human fleas can therefore be inter-changed around the family and it is usually one particular member of the family who seems to be preferred when cat or dog fleas are present. Fleas prefer to bite the species with which they are particularly identified but can be persuaded to bite other species though not, it appears, quite as severely.
From the pet cat’s point of view fleas are a nuisance as they bite the skin and suck the blood of the cat; in severe infestation they can cause anaemia and they certainly cause skin problems. Unless infestation is so severe that running fleas can be seen by simply brushing the fur against the grain, evidence of fleas is usually confirmed by identifying little black specks of flea dirt in the coat. This is usually only possible in light-coated cats.
Eliminating fleas is not quite as simple as some flea powder packs may encourage one to believe. Fleas usually lay their eggs in crevices and cracks in bedding, boxes and baskets, though occasionally they may lay them in the actual coat of the animal. Eggs fall out of the coat and when the conditions are right they hatch into maggot-like tiny larvae. These feed on bacteria and very small particles of food, turn into what is known as pupae and then emerge as adult fleas. The pupal stage is extremely resistant and can last for many months, especially in cold weather.
If a cat flea finds a suitable host it will absorb its food by biting through the skin and under these conditions can live for about three months. However, if the flea is living in extremely moist conditions, such as under a kitchen sink, without benefit of food from a passing cat, it can live for up to eight months. It is therefore true to say that in controlling fleas in cats the price of success is eternal vigilance. The cat should be regularly brushed and appropriate flea powders, or even shampoo in severe cases, should be used. The cat is highly sensitive to certain parasiticides and the best preparations to look for are those containing Dcrris Root or Pyrethrum (Pyrethrins). When infestation is severe all beds and bedding should be destroyed by burning and replaced. The cycle of application should be at about ten-day intervals when powder is thoroughly brushed into the coat, left for half an hour and then brushed out again thoroughly. During the cycle, the cat can be bedded on newspaper, which can be burnt at the time of application of the fresh powder. At the same time favourite cushions, chairs and warm corners on the floor should be vigorously cleaned with a vacuum cleaner. Eliminating fleas is a long and tedious process and even when you think you have eradicated them, somewhere lurking in a crevice will be a hungry pupa waiting for its mobile meal ticket to pass by.