Fleas are a huge nuisance that can cause a lot of itching and scratching for both pets and people; but out-of-control fleas can be a lot more than just an annoyance, especially for cats. If left unchecked, a flea infestation has the potential to be fatal to your kitty.
A sever infestation of fleas, especially in kittens, can cause significant blood loss that results in anemia, which can be fatal if not treated in time. Cats and kittens with flea bite anemia require iron supplementation and blood transfusions, and even with intervention and treatment, some cats don't survive. In addition to typical flea infestation symptoms like excessive scratching and hair loss, signs to look for include weakness and pale gums.
Fleas are notorious for having carried the bubonic plague that wiped out a substantial portion of Europe's population during the Middle Ages. Although we like to think that the plague is ancient history, the truth is that fleas, particularly in the southwestern United States, still carry the bacteria that causes it. Cats are as susceptible to this disease as humans, and if not treated, it can be fatal. Signs to look for include weakness, fever, difficulty breathing and abscesses. If you notice these symptoms in your cat, have him seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Fleas most commonly transmit tapeworms, which typically aren't fatal to cats. However, another parasite sometimes transmitted by fleas is hemobartonella, a blood parasite that attaches to red blood cells and causes severe anemia. As with flea bite anemia, a cat with this condition will require a blood transfusion along with antibiotics to kill the parasite. About a third of cats who contract hemobartonella don't make it.
Treatment and Prevention
The best course of action to eliminate fleas from your cat and prevent a recurring infestation is to talk to your vet about a flea control program customized for your cat. Prescription flea control medications are usually very effective, although fleas have a tendency to build up a tolerance to them, so try switching to a new brand or formula if you notice that the medication isn't working. Look for medications that will kill eggs and larvae as well as adult fleas. Never use flea treatments that are formulated for dogs on cats. Treat all furry household pets for fleas, and wash their bedding and vacuum carpets frequently.
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