Last time we looked at Ctenocephalides felis (the cat flea) – both its life cycle and common flea myths. This time I thought we would talk about problems that can be related to flea infestations. It would be a grave mistake to think of the flea as simply a nuisance. There are several diseases caused by heavy flea populations and these include:
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
This is a response caused by the flea’s saliva, and just one bite can result in intense itching that can last for days. The cat may chew, lick, or scratch itself, which can lead to hair loss, open sores, scabs and skin infections.
When the cat swallows a tapeworm infected adult flea, it will develop a tapeworm infection. It requires 3 weeks from ingestion of the flea for the tapeworm segments to appear on the cat’s rear end or stool.
Cat Scratch Fever
Bacteria called Bartonella henselae can be spread from cat to human by a scratch from a claw carrying infected flea dirt (the black specks of digested blood shed by adult fleas). For a healthy person these bacteria may cause a fever and a painful lymph node, but can be very dangerous to someone with a reduced immune system.
Most people never stop to think that a heavy flea population can cause a slow but still life-threatening blood loss. A heavy flea burden can be lethal, especially to small sized, young or elderly cats. These animals are at a higher risk because they may have smaller blood volumes, not groom as well or may have a decreased overall disease fighting capability.
Feline Infectious Anemia
A cat can get a red blood cell parasite from the bite of an infected flea. The cat’s immune system will mount an attack, which leads to the removal of the affected cells. If there are too many red blood cells removed at one time, the cat will become anemic (not enough red blood cells in the body). This is a life-threatening situation that can require aggressive medical care.
As you can see, it is very important to provide your cat with proper flea prevention. We have several medications available at the clinic and we would love the opportunity to discuss flea prevention with you, as controlling fleas is essential in preventing these potentially dangerous situations.
Look for the final installment of our flea series "Over the counter flea products vs. ones prescribed by a veterinarian" in a couple of weeks.
Written by Dr. Shari Muller