Fleas can make the life of any cat miserable. Just one bite to a pet that is allergic to fleas can result in agony from constant rubbing and scratching of irritated skin. Also called "pruritus," this unpleasant itching can become so intense that pets will actually scratch until the skin bleeds. Here's what you need to know to help banish this fearsome foe from your pet's life.
The Flea Cycle
Fleas spend most of their lifetime off the pet. They go through a life cycle that includes egg and cocoon stages. While adult fleas are relatively easy to kill with insecticides, the egg and cocoon stages are very resistant.
The entire life cycle of the flea (from egg to larva, from larva to cocoon, from cocoon to adult) can vary from 14 days during warm, moist weather, to several weeks or months under extremes of climatic conditions.
The adult flea must dine on your pet's blood to survive. Fleas can jump from 16 to 36 inches. For their size, this is like a human jumping over the Washington Monument! Successful flea control must be directed at both the pet and its environment. And always coordinate treatments to break the life cycle of the flea.
Flea Bite Allergies
Fleas can cause a condition known as allergic dermatitis. Because some cats are allergic to flea saliva, a single flea bite causes the animal to chew and scratch the area where the flea has bitten. This can cause redness, sores and hair loss. One or two fleas on an allergic animal may trigger the same response as a hundred flea bites.
Some pets need medication to control the scratching and chewing until a flea control program can be started. Animals with severe allergic dermatitis may require intermittent use of prescription medications during those periods when fleas are most active: during hot and humid months. Remember, use of these medications is not a substitute for a flea control program.
Medical Problems Associated with Fleas
Flea bites can lead to further health issues. Here are just a few:
- Skin Infections: "Hot spots" are frequently seen in animals with flea infestations. Hot spots can pop up from intense scratching and licking. Hot spots can also be found on non-allergic animals as the result of problems unrelated to fleas.
- Tapeworms: Fleas are an essential link in the life cycle of the tapeworm in the cat. A good flea control program should accompany the treatment of your pet for tapeworms. The tapeworm is a segmented worm that is only occasionally passed whole. Instead, you will usually only see a number of individual white segments passed in the stool. These may have the appearance of rice grains.
- Anemia: A pet heavily infested with fleas can lose a significant portion of its circulating blood. This may lead to decreased resistance to other disorders and cause your pet to act lethargic.
Flea Prevention & Control
In recent years, some extremely effective flea prevention products have been introduced. These work by either preventing fleas from reproducing or preventing fleas from biting.
Below is a list of the commonly used flea control methods and when used faithfully as directed, most pet owners report dramatic improvements in their pets' condition.
- Powders. This method can be effective if used frequently and worked thoroughly into the coat. Powders also work well for spot treating your pet's bed and any small area it may frequent.
- Dips. For flea dips to work well, concentrates should be diluted and sponged onto the pet, rather than actually dipping the pet into a solution. The pet should be thoroughly wet before the dip is applied. Sponge it on and let it dry; do not towel it off. Depending on the brand, this procedure may be repeated every 7 to 21 days. Always be sure to follow the manufacturer's dilution instructions exactly.
- Flea Collars. This method can be effective on cats weighing less than 20 pounds. They are typically not as effective on pets that are allergic. "Dips" are usually more effective for allergic animals and since dips and collars should not be used together, dips are probably a better control method.
- Shampoos. This treatment works well when used as directed. Shampoos typically do not have residual action, though, and should be followed by a topical dip, flea powder or use of a flea collar.
- Foggers. These come in the form of aerosol "bombs" that are set off inside the home to eliminate fleas and eggs that may be in the carpet or furniture. Some foggers are available in a spray form to spray underneath furniture and on carpets. Be certain to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
- Yard sprays. These are liquid concentrates that can be diluted and sprayed in outdoor areas. Be sure to follow manufacturer's directions for proper dilution and application.
A Timeline for Success
For a thorough assault on fleas, try this sample schedule for a flea control and prevention program:
- Treat pets
- Fog house
- Spray yard
- Start flea prevention program
- Repeat outdoor applications above, or as directed
- Repeat topical and oral treatment of pets, or as directed
Be Safe and Take Precautions
When treating a flea problem, it's essential to be mindful of your pet's safety. Follow these flea-fighting golden rules:
- Follow all product directions carefully.
- Do not use flea collars with dips, powders, or sprays, unless approved by your veterinarian.
- Do not store the dip once it has been diluted. Safely discard any unused portions.
- If you are not sure that a product is safe for your pet or home, consult your veterinarian before using it.
There's no question that fleas present a challenge to pet owners everywhere, but with a thorough control and prevention plan, your cat's life can be flea free.
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