Effect of fleas on cats

DID YOU KNOW?  For every adult flea, there are 500 potential fleas at various stages in your house.

The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is responsible for most flea infestations seen in pet cats (and dogs).  Fleas are extremely common, and can cause a variety of symptoms.  Some cats can have a mild infestation of fleas whilst showing no obvious signs, though others are more severely affected.

Adult fleas feed on blood, so severe flea infestations can cause their host cat to become anaemic leading to weakness and sometimes even death, especially in young kittens.  The cat flea is also an intermediate host for the tapeworm  Dipylidium caninum, one of the most common gut worms found in dogs, cats and rarely, children.  Immature flea larvae eat the egg of the tapeworm, the egg develops into the next lifestage inside the adult flea, and is swallowed along with the flea during grooming.

The other major problem fleas cause to cats is Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD).  We see FAD frequently, and it is in fact the most common cause of itchy skin disease in cats.  Unfortunately it is often difficult to prove that fleas are the cause, as allergic cats tend to groom much more than normal and often remove the adult fleas and their 'dirt'.  FAD is seen in cats which develop an allergic reaction to flea saliva and can affect cats of any age, sex or breed.  The symptoms are secondary to the constant itching caused by FAD, which leads to overgrooming, hair loss, broken hairs, scabs, skin infections and sometimes restlessness and weight loss.  Because allergic cats are so sensitive to flea bites, only one or two bites a week can be enough to keep the cycle of itching going for the poor animal.

Fleas are incredibly efficient breeders, one adult can become 1,000 fleas within 21 days!  If you find adult fleas on your pet, these represent about 5% of the infestation, the other 95% will be in your home as flea eggs, larvae and pupae.  Because of this rapid life cycle, effective treatment of a flea problem requires an understanding of both the cycle and where different flea products can break it.

Treatments to kill and eradicate fleas have improved dramatically in recent years.  There is however, a vast and confusing array of products available.  What is not always apparent is that these products vary markedly in their composition, mode of action, effectiveness and safety.

Whichever product you choose for your pet's flea control, make sure it will work for you by getting the right advice at one of our clinics first.