So your kitty scratches nonstop, she's obviously quite itchy, and she has black stuff in her fur? These are hallmark signs of fleas. But don't panic. Though a flea infestation is irritating, stubborn to clear up and maybe a little gross, your vet will help you resolve it.
The Black Stuff
That black stuff in your kitty's fur is known as flea dirt. "Oh, so it's just a little dirt? That's not so bad," you're thinking. Well, not exactly. It's actually flea droppings, which are dark because they consist mostly of undigested blood.
Fleas are exoparasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. Infestations come with three visible signs, of which flea dirt is one. The tiny brown moving spots are the fleas themselves. Upon close examination of your kitty's hair, or after running a fine-tooth comb through her coat, you might also see what appear to be tiny white grains. These are flea eggs, also known as nits.
Why's She's So Itchy
Along with the three visible signs of flea infestation, the most obvious symptom is your kitty's itchiness. Imagine you had dozens or hundreds of tiny insects crawling around on your skin, and you couldn't drive yourself to the doctor for a remedy or tell anyone who could take you. You'd probably be scratching a lot, too.
But it's more than that -- flea bites are not only annoying, they irritate the skin. And when fleas bite, they inject saliva into the skin. Some compounds in the saliva act like histamines, often triggering a very itchy reaction called flea allergy dermatitis.
Why Fleas Matter
You'll be empathetic toward your itchy, flea-dirt-covered kitty and want to help right away. It's not just the itchiness you need to be concerned about, though. If things get bad enough -- especially if your kitty experiences flea allergy dermatitis -- she could injure herself with her persistent scratching. Any open wounds could become infected.
Also, because fleas feed on their host's blood, anemia sometimes results from infestations. Young, old, weak, malnourished and ill pets are most susceptible.
Fleas reproduce rapidly and in astronomical numbers, too. Infestations quickly grow exponentially, often affecting people and other pets.
One other compelling reason to consult your vet now: Fleas carry and transmit tapeworm larvae and other intestinal parasites and diseases that could jeopardize your kitty's health.
What to Do
Because of their life stages, rapid reproduction, adaptability and mobility, fleas are a little tricky to control. But your vet will guide you along a course of treatment that takes all that into account.
Treatment requires an insecticide that kills fleas and prevents their eggs from hatching. Use the product prescribed by your vet, who'll probably want you to treat any other pets at the same time. Most medications involve once-monthly application to your kitty's skin.
An aggressive regimen helps manage the infestation efficiently. This involves frequent vacuuming of all carpets and furniture, laundering your kitty's bedding and other bedding in the house, and applying a vet-recommended environmental spray to kill fleas in the area.
Make sure you vacuum under and behind furniture and in closets. Carefully empty your vacuum bag outside after vacuuming every time, sealing its contents securely in a plastic bag and disposing of them in an outside trash can. If the flea problem is extensive, you might need an exterminator.
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.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.