A parasite is an organism that lives and feeds on another to
the detriment of the host. Both outdoor and indoor cats are at risk from
Fleas are the most common skin parasite of the cat. They are
not fussy about which species of animal they live on. The most common flea
found on cats and dogs is the cat flea.
Adult fleas live permanently on their animal host and the
female flea produces eggs at a rate of 50 a day. The eggs fall off the cat and
hatch into larvae in 2-16 days. They then change into an immobile pupae in a
cocoon. An adult flea develops in the cocoon and awaits signals suggesting the
presence of a host, such as heat, carbon dioxide and vibrations. The flea can
emerge and attach to the host in seconds. If no host is present, the flea can
wait in the cocoon for up to two years. In the right conditions, eg warm and
humid, the whole cycle can be completed quickly. Centrally heated homes with
fitted carpets provide ideal conditions for fleas to develop all year round.
What are the signs of fleas?
An itchy cat or insect bites on human ankles may be the only
signs of infestation. Unless cats are allergic to flea bites, they often show
remarkably little response. Fleas move around at great speed, making them difficult
to spot. The best way to check is to place your cat on a sheet of white paper
and comb him meticulously. A fine-tooothed flea comb may trap one or two fleas,
but black specks of “flea dirt” – flea droppings consisting of undigested cat
blood – can usually be found on the paper. When placed on damp cotton wool,
flea dirt slowly dissolves, producing bloody streaks. Flea dirt or white eggs
may also be found where the cat sleeps.
How can fleas be treated?
For effective control, adult fleas on the cat must be killed
and re-infestation from the enviroment prevented. Products intended for dogs
should not be used on cats as they can be toxic. Your vet should be made aware
of any fleas treatments that have been used before they prescribe other
flea-control products or medication, or when they are contemplating sedation or
anaesthesia of your cat. The new, safe and most effective flea-control products
are only available from veterinary surgeries where advice on their use is
Killing adult fleas
A wide range of products are available to kill adult fleas
on the cat including collars, shampoos, sprays, foams, powders, infections,
tablets and spot-on products (applied directly to the skin in between the
shoulder blades). Finding the right product for your cat is important because a
product that is difficult to apply is unlikely to succeed. Shampoos and powders
have a very short duration of action and there is no residual effect. Collars
are usually not very effective. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best
type for your cat.
Removing fleas in the enviroment
If fleas are present in your home you should use a product
(usually a spray) designed specifically for enviromental use. These should
never be used directly on a cat. Anything that is heavily infested, such as pet
bedding, should be disposed of. Frequent vacuuming can help to reduce, but not
eliminate, environmental infestation.
How can fleas be prevented?
Re-infestation can be prevented by using a product that
kills adult fleas on the cat that may have been picked up from outside.
Products that provide environmental control by interrupting the flea’s life cycle are also available.
Treatment must be regular.
Remember, all cats in the household must be treated, as well as any dogs or house
rabbits (using the appropriate products for their species)
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