Saturday, 9 April 2016

No Fleas Please
Fleas are the most common type of ectoparasite (parasite that lives on the body) that cats carry.  The cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis, is in fact often the flea found on dogs too.  

I personally discuss fleas and the importance of treatment in both my role as Welfare Officer for Cats Protection and my role as a veterinary nursing assistant and SQP, which means I am a Suitably Qualified Person registered with AMTRA (Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority) trained to advise on parasite treatments.

Why is it important to treat fleas?
Fleas can cause our cats a number of problems including:
  • Irritation, or pruritis - intense itching
  • Anaemia – as fleas feed on blood a heavy infestation can lead to anaemia, particularly in small kittens
  • Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) – where the cat is allergic to the flea saliva and the irritation leads to dermatitis
  • Vector-borne disease – the flea acts as a vector to transmit disease such as Mycoplasma (causes anaemia), Bartonella and Rickettsia bacteria
  • Tapeworm – the flea is the intermediate host for the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum – the flea larvae ingest tapeworm eggs in the environment and the cats consume the infected fleas from the environment or through grooming (the tapeworm itself will be discussed in another post)
  • Break of human-pet bond – no-one likes fleas! Fleas can affect an owner's relationship with their cat
Ctenocephalides felis (cat flea) International Cat Care
How do fleas reproduce?
As we all know, fleas reproduce rapidly and once they are seen on the animal they may well be fully established both on the pet and in the environment.  In fact, one female flea can lay 40-50 eggs in one day, leading to the generation of a possible 1,000 fleas in 3 weeks!   In order to treat successfully it is important to appreciate the flea lifecycle:
Eggs can hatch in 1-6 days into larvae, which can then pupate in as little as 10-20 days in warm humid conditions.  In unfavourable conditions these pupae can last in the environment for one to two years in carpets, soft furnishings and cracks in floorboards until conditions are improved.  However, conditions are often favourable all year round thanks to centrally heated homes.  The adult fleas then hatch out of the pupae when they sense heat and movement by vibrations - the host animal.  

Fleas have many mammalian hosts in addition to cats and dogs, including rabbits, ferrets and wildlife such as hedgehogs and foxes. 

How do you know if your cat has fleas?
Fleas are easily identified by use of a flea comb - these can be obtained from your local vets or pet store.  The comb can catch both adult fleas - which are very small but clearly visible and mobile - and flea dirt.  The dirt will appear black but if applied to damp paper will turn red, as it is the undigested blood excreted by the fleas.  

Other signs can also include excessive grooming or scratching, areas of hair loss and/or skin irritation, black specks of flea dirt in the coat or on the cat's bedding or seeing live fleas on the cat or in the environment. 

How is best to treat the infestation?
Prevention is always better than cure in the case of fleas.  It takes just a few weeks for an infestation to take hold but it can unfortunately take a few months to eliminate.  For treatment to be successful it is essential to target as many stages of the lifecycle as possible:

  • Treat ALL ANIMALS in the household including dogs and cats – this will be targeting the adult fleas with an insecticide product to kill them
  • Treat the ENVIRONMENT – sprays include an "insect growth regulator" to stop the development of eggs and larvae.  Pupae are indestructible so they must hatch in order to be killed - vacuuming is useful as the vibrations will cause the pupae to emerge into adults to be killed by the insecticide. 
  • Treat FREQUENTLY and CORRECTLY - ensure you follow the advice from your vets about the frequency and correct method of application - some veterinary practices offer appointments for nurses to apply the products.  Cats Protection recommends the use of products from reliable sources, not those you can simply pick up off a supermarket shelf. 
Examples of flea treatments

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