A few fleas are no big deal for most healthy adult cats. You probably won't even notice them until there's at least a few dozen. This isn't the case if your cat is allergic though. Felines with a flea allergy can suffer dandruff and other skin problems after a couple bites.
Prevalence and Cause
Fleas are all over the place, and so are flea allergies. In fact, allergies to fleas is the most common type of skin allergy in cats. Genetics are one possible explanation for these allergies developing in cats, but breed, gender and age have little relevance when determining a cat's risk, according to University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Every cat has a negative reaction to fleas, which is why inflamed patches of itchy skin develop near bite wounds. Cats with an allergy to fleas have an abnormal immune system reaction that is far more powerful than necessary to fight the "toxic" flea saliva. This overreaction causes lots of skin problems all over your kitty's body.
If your pet is allergic to flea saliva and was bitten recently by fleas, expect him to spend most of his time scratching like a crazy cat. The allergic reaction damages the upper layers of his skin, the epidermis, which causes several uncomfortable symptoms. Allergic cats shed a good portion of their hair due to the drying of their hair follicles. The skin inflammation makes strands of hair brittle, so it breaks off easily. If your cat's nails are sharp, he may even break the skin in his scratching endeavors. These wounds can turn into rough lesions that take a few weeks to heal.
Excessive dandruff is a sure sign that all is not well with your pet's epidermis. All cats produce some dandruff, because skin cells multiply and die every day. Once enough dead cells collect on the surface of your kitty's skin, they break off as flakes of dandruff. Since flea allergies damage a significant portion of your cat's surface skin cells quickly, your cat probably will create more dandruff than you know what to do with. Some types of young fleas feed on dandruff until they become adults, so vacuum and sweep up loose flakes of skin every day.
The first treatment for flea allergies always is flea control. There's no way to stop the symptoms if your pet still is being bitten. Flea shampoos and skin ointments are two options available for combating these pests. Ask your vet to recommend a product based on your kitty's current condition. Most cats recover completely with flea control, according to University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to stop bacteria and other pathogens from taking advantage of your cat's damaged skin. He also may give your kitty steroids or antihistamines to alleviate the irritation from the allergy's symptoms. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.