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Every pet parent is alarmed when they see a scab on their cat’s body. What causes more worry is noticing small welts and what looks like tiny specks of dirt in the fur near the base of their pet’s tail. Could these be signs of fleas, and if so, what can you do to soothe your cat’s discomfort?
Finding Fleas on Cats
Fleas can be difficult to find on cats, because cats are superb groomers. They tend to remove many of the tiny insects while washing themselves. Typically, pet parents are looking for other signs of a flea infestation, including flea bites, eggs (white specks), or feces (black specks).
To prevent a flea infestation, do a routine flea check. Run your thumb against the grain of your cat’s fur from tail to head. If there is an infestation, you may find the tiny (2-millimeter) flat insects scurrying through the fur near the base of the tail.
If you are using a flea comb, pull it through the fur about a dozen times, remove the contents from the comb, and place them on a white paper towel. You may see adult fleas and tiny white or black specks. Some of these black specks may be curled into a loose snail shape. The white specks are usually flea eggs, and the black specks are most likely flea feces.
Finding Flea Bites on Cats
Flea bites can be harder to spot because cats have thick fur. However, if your cat is allergic to fleas, the bites are more obvious.
If you feel scabs around the neck, down the spine, and to the tail base, these are usually the result of flea bites. Veterinarians call this “miliary dermatitis,” and some cats with allergies may be loaded with bites.
In cats that are not allergic, reaction to the bite is usually less severe. If you part the fur carefully with your fingers until you see the skin, look for small dots that are red and sore around the edges. These may be worse near the base of the tail. Sometimes you may also find them on the cat’s stomach, where the fur is thinner and easier to see through.
How To Soothe Flea Bites on Cats
Once you know your cat has fleas, the best way to soothe the bites is to get rid of the fleas as quickly as possible. Also make sure you treat every pet in the home, not just the one with fleas.
Some veterinarians require an examination of your cat to prescribe flea products, while others may prescribe without an exam to get the process started. Veterinary-grade products are generally more effective than over-the-counter products. Even if you don’t take kitty to the vet, it’s important to ask what product your vet recommends and if a prescription is required.
Some medications can kill fleas within minutes. Baths can also soothe the discomfort of flea bites.
If your cat has raised, red, and scabby sores, seems excessively itchy and uncomfortable, or you feel that the flea infestation problem is severe, bring them to the vet for an exam and immediate treatment. There are medications that quickly heal the welts, but these can only be prescribed by a veterinarian.
Treatment Options for Flea Bites on Cats
It’s important to treat fleas as soon as they are identified, because infestations get quickly out of control. For every live flea you find, there are many more eggs and larvae in the environment. One adult female flea can lay 40 eggs a day. These fleas can transmit disease, make your pet uncomfortable, bite humans in the house, and cause allergic reactions.
Inflamed cat skin can be treated with daily pills (Capstar) to reduce live fleas on the fur, as well as topical sprays. Just make sure that whatever you put on their skin is safe for ingestion, because they probably will groom it off.
It usually takes more than one treatment to get rid of the infestation, since the flea life cycle varies with temperature. The flea’s life cycle is longer in the winter, so houses infested in late fall may struggle with finding fleas all winter.
Thorough housecleaning can also speed the process of killing fleas. Daily vacuuming can remove eggs and larvae. After you are done, remember to go outside and dump the contents of the vacuum bag or canister into a plastic bag and seal it tightly before disposing it. Machine-wash and dry all pet bedding several times a week, as the heat will kill the fleas hiding in the fabric.
Many veterinary-grade medications are available to soothe skin made raw by flea bites, including antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics if an infection has set in.
Managing Treatment for Flea Bites at Home
If you notice fleas on your cats, call your veterinarian for advice on products to use and to determine if a visit is necessary for treatment of the symptoms your cat is experiencing.
In addition to getting rid of the infestation, you can help kitty feel better in other ways. Using a flea comb to remove live fleas will make your cat more comfortable. Gently scratching the itchy areas with your fingers, instead of your cat using their claws, helps too.
The most common mistake pet parents make when treating fleas is not treating every animal in the house. The second most common mistake is not treating the pet long enough. If a single flea is left in your home, the problem will probably be back.
Some animals benefit from the addition of Omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, which are thought to help soothe the inflammation caused by the allergic reaction to the flea saliva.
Keep in mind that cats have a very different metabolism than other animals, and they often do not tolerate over-the-counter medications well. Always consult your veterinarian before starting or changing a flea treatment plan for your cat.
Preventing Flea Bites in Cats
Flea bites are much easier to prevent than they are to treat. Even if you have an indoor cat, consider using flea preventatives on a regular basis.
If you don’t choose to preventatively treat your cat, you can curb the problem by doing weekly flea checks using a flea comb, or check your cat daily for any signs of fleas during your grooming sessions. Staying ahead of the problem will make your life much easier and your cat far more comfortable.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Alexander Pytskiy
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