From Pet Health Learning Center
Cat Fleas (Feline Flea infestations)
Signs and Symptoms
Cat fleas, or Ctenocephalides felis, are tiny, wingless insects. While their size might make them appear harmless, cat fleas can actually wreak havoc for your cat and household. These pesky external parasites can cause mild to severe itching and can be an all-around nuisance. However, for your feline friend, fleas can be far more than just a source of annoyance; they can actually put your cat's health at risk. When uncontrolled, flea infestations can lead to health problems such as skin infections and anemia. Furthermore, these insects are also capable of transmitting diseases and tapeworms to your pet. For these reasons, and also in order to prevent your cat from suffering through unnecessary misery, it's important to catch a flea infestation as early on as possible so that it can be promptly and effectively dealt with.
When keeping an eye out for a possible flea problem, there are a number of telltale signs and symptoms that will serve as red flags. Since the primary and most common symptom of flea bites is itchiness, frequent scratching and biting are the behaviors most typically displayed by flea infested cats. Often, these behaviors will be directed predominantly at the head and neck areas, as these are the places where fleas tend to congregate and bite the host animal. Upon inspection of your cat's skin, you may find that there are little red bumps in the areas where your cat has been scratching. These are the sites of the flea bites. Also, due to the frequent scratching and biting, your cat's skin may become red and inflamed in areas.
You may also be able to uncover more direct evidence of a flea presence. Flea dirt may be visible on your cat's skin as well as on its bedding. Flea dirt looks like tiny dark specks and is actually flea excrement made up of a combination of digested blood and other flea waste products. Finally, you may actually be able to spot the fleas themselves as they move about on your cat's skin. If you comb through your pet's fur and see tiny black dots scurrying for cover, you will have found fleas.
Some cats react more severely to the presence of fleas due to a hypersensitivity to flea saliva. This leads to a condition referred to as Cat Flea Allergy Dermatitis, which can inflict extreme misery on your pet. If your cat suffers from a flea allergy, the typical symptoms will be present, but to the extreme. The biting and scratching will usually become compulsive for hypersensitive cats, even leading to hair loss and bald spots. Hot spots and a skin disease known as miliary dermatitis may also develop due to the continuous and harsh skin irritation. Furthermore, a cat with this condition may end up with lip ulcers.
While in some circumstances, flea dirt and the actual fleas themselves may be noticeable on a cat with a flea allergy this will not always be the case. This is due to the fact that even one or two fleas are sufficient to cause significant and even extreme irritation in an animal with a hypersensitivity to flea bites. Whether your cat seems to be allergic to fleas or is just troubled by these insects in the regular manner, it's important to consult with a veterinarian so the problem can be dealt with quickly in order to prevent continuation of your pet's misery and also to protect its well-being.
Since a diagnosis of cat fleas is typically based upon clinical signs and the presence of fleas or flea dirt, a physical examination is the main diagnostic method employed under such circumstances. In addition to checking for symptoms and direct evidence of a flea presence, the veterinarian will also want to know about the behaviors and warning signs that you have observed at home. In most cases, the information supplied by these steps will be sufficient for a diagnosis to be reached. In some circumstances where flea allergy dermatitis is suspected, a skin test may be conducted in order to evaluate your cat's reaction to flea proteins. This type of test can help to confirm a diagnosis of a hypersensitivity to flea saliva.
Since a flea infestation is capable of causing anemia, especially in kittens, further testing may be necessary in some cases in order to check for this condition. When evaluating a cat for anemia, a veterinarian will look at its gums, as an anemic cat's gums tend to be pale, without their typical, healthy pink colour. Blood tests may also be conducted to confirm the presence of anemia.
Fleas are wingless external parasites that feed upon the blood (hematophagy) of mammals and birds. While there are over two thousand different types of fleas, the most common in North America is the cat flea or Ctenocephalides felis. While cat fleas will infest a number of different animals, including dogs and rabbits, its primary host is, as the name suggests, the domestic cat. Adult fleas are between one and three millimeters in length and tend to be reddish-brown or black in colour. They have tube-like mouthparts for feeding and powerful hind legs that allow them to run and jump. In fact, the special design of their hind legs allows fleas to jump distances of up to nearly two hundred times their own body length.
A flea's lifecycle lasts for between thirty and seventy-five days and consists of complete metamorphosis involving four stages -- embryo, larva, pupa, and adult. Flea eggs are tiny and white and easily fall off the host animal into the surrounding environment. Since flea eggs are so small, they are very difficult to see without the aid of a magnifying glass or microscope. Adult fleas, on the other hand, are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. During their adult phase, cat fleas remain on the host animal where they use their mouthparts to feed upon fresh blood. Since one flea is capable of taking fifteen times its body weight in blood from the host during the flea's lifespan, it's not surprising that an infestation of these insects can lead to anemia, especially in kittens or weakened cats.
When fleas bite a cat to feed upon its blood, the sites of the bites become irritated. This occurs due to the presence of irritating enzymes and proteins contained in flea saliva. When cats suffer from a flea allergy, it's actually the flea saliva that they are hypersensitive to. Even in cats that aren't allergic to the components of flea saliva, bites from these external parasites are still very irritating and uncomfortable.
Cats pick up fleas from the surrounding environment and/or from other animals already infested with these external parasites. Adult fleas only make up approximately five percent of the entire flea population, with the rest existing in the egg, larval, or pupal phases. One adult female flea can lay up to five hundred eggs, and these eggs often fall off the host animal and into the grass, bedding, carpet, or other parts of the surrounding environment. After these eggs hatch and the fleas develop into adults, it's easy for them to hop onto your cat, either from the environment or another animal. Since one flea can lay so many eggs, it's understandable how a flea infestation can become a big problem in a short amount of time.
If your cat is infested with fleas, it will take more than just treating your pet for parasites to effectively deal with the problem. Simply ridding your cat of the adult fleas that are living on it at the time will not put an end to the infestation, as eggs will still be present in the surrounding environment. These eggs will eventually hatch and adult fleas will infest your cat once again. In order to treat your household, it helps to vacuum regularly. When doing so, make sure to cover all surfaces where there could be eggs, including on upholstered furniture, under cushions, under furniture, and along baseboards. It's also important to discard any bedding that is thoroughly infested and to keep other bedding clean. This can be done by washing the bedding in hot water, followed by a long and hot cycle in the dryer.
In order to get rid of the fleas living on your cat and to treat the irritating symptoms of flea bites, there are a number of treatments available. Some traditional forms of treatment include anti-flea medications and medicated shampoos. There are also all-natural products available that can be used to prevent and treat cat fleas. Homeopathic treatments utilize a variety of natural ingredients to achieve quality results. Natural substances that may be found in such products include pennyroyal and neem, which act as natural insecticides. Furthermore, sweet mace and lemongrass oil act as insect repellents while rosemary and aloe soothe the skin and reduce inflammation. No matter what type of treatment you prefer to use, it's always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian first in order to ensure the best possible results for you and your pet.