Indoor Cats at Biggest Risk for Flea-related Problems

What? You say your cat is indoors ALL the time? So you think this means your cat can’t have fleas. Do I have some news for you! Some of the most severe cases of flea allergy dermatitis and flea anemia I have ever seen have been on indoor only cats. That’s right, you heard me…indoor only!

It goes something like this…

A flea comes in on your pant leg, sock, or shoe after your have been gardening, mowing, etc. It immediately jumps off of you and on to your pet. Once it has had its meal, the flea jumps off to lay eggs. Female fleas can lay about 15 to 20 eggs per day up to 600 in the flea lifetime. That is just ONE flea!

Of course, these eggs soon hatch creating hundreds of hungry little larvae which eventually turn into adult fleas themselves and the whole cycle starts over again.

The biggest problem for indoor only cats is that they can’t get away from the fleas. They are trapped like rats (ahem) and, groom though they might, can’t get rid of the little buggers. Once bitten, some cats display Flea Allergy (or Flea Allergy Dermatitis) symptoms such as excessive scratching, licking, and biting. This excessive grooming causes hair loss, sores, and inflamed skin that not only makes the cat completely miserable it can lead to infection as well.

Not all cats are allergic to fleas, therefore, they would not show these symptoms. These cases are almost worse because there is no unusual behavior to visual stimuli to clue the owners in to the problem. This is where flea anemia can set in.

For most healthy, adult cats this isn’t an issue as the fleas are usually noticed, either by a veterinary or by the owners themselves being bitten because of flea over-population, before a critical issue is reached. The very young (kittens under 4 months) and the elderly (over 10) are more at risk for flea anemia. Young and elderly cats generally aren’t able to groom themselves sufficiently which means the fleas have a hey-day! They can suck blood to their heart’s content without being disturbed. These cats can ill afford to part with their red blood cells are they are in growth stages with high demand on all bodily systems.

As a veterinary technician, I’ve seen several flea anemia cases one of which, unfortunately, did not survive. The other cats survived, barely, because of blood transfusions and expensive, prolonged medical treatment. Thankfully, our clinic as several cats who live on-site and are gladly willing to donate blood.

Flea control has come a long way. The days of bathing with flea shampoos, dipping with pesticides, and bombing the house with toxins are a thing of the past. Pet owners still have to be very careful about what products they choose to put on their pets.

One of the most effective products on the market today is Advantage by Bayer. This is my personal favorite and the first choice for cats that suffer flea allergies. Advantage is safe, non-systemic, and fleas don’t even have to bite the cat to be killed. Since it is the flea saliva that cats are allergic to, this is optimum.

The next product I would recommend is Revolution by Pfizer. Revolution is not only an effective flea control product, it also deworms (roundworms, hookworms, and heartworms), and takes care of ear mite infestations in as little as one or two uses. This one is ideal for outdoor cats.

Frontline Plus by Merial is another safe, effective flea product that also kills ticks.

I cannot stress enough the importance of buying these flea products from a licensed professional. There are copycat products on the market available over-the-counter at your local pet store or other discount stores that are more likely to kill your cat than they are the fleas. I have personally treated several cats for seizures, excessive drooling, vomiting, etc. caused by using the ‘cheap stuff’. I have also buried a few.

I suggest you go to your nearest veterinary office or pet supply store and purchase a flea comb. These are handy weapons in the war on fleas. Run the comb through your pet’s hair paying close attention to the chin, back of the neck, and base of the tail areas. These are common places for fleas to set up ‘nests’. If you see black pepper-like debris, that is evidence that fleas have been in residence on your pet. You may even see live fleas trapped in the tines of the flea comb.

Don’t panic! Get to your veterinary office as soon as you can and purchase of the products recommended above. Get at least a three-month supply because that is how long it will take to rid your environment of fleas. The life cycle of the flea is about three months so faithful treatment of ALL pets in the household for that period of time should take care of the infestation without having to use dangerous chemicals to spray or bomb your home and without the expense of calling an exterminator.

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