The symptoms of flea infestations and skin conditions can sometimes be interrelated, particularly if your pet suffers from a flea allergy, making a home diagnosis confusing. If your pet doesn’t respond to flea treatment, a veterinary examination is necessary to determine the reasons for her itching and discomfort.
The Flea Detective
Finding fleas on Sheba’s skin or coat gives you the hard evidence you need to give these pesky parasites their marching orders. Black or dark copper colored and roughly the size of a pinhead, fleas crawl along the surface of their victim’s skin. Pay particular attention to your kitty’s tummy and inner thighs, because fleas have an aversion to light and prefer to conceal themselves in these dark nether regions. If you don’t see any fleas, try grooming your kitty with a flea comb held over a white paper towel. Examining your pet’s skin and bedding for flea feces will help clinch the case. Flea dirt, which is composed of digested blood, resembles dark specks of pepper sprinkled along the surface of your cat’s skin. For a more thorough forensic analysis, remove some of these specks and place them on a white paper towel. After a few moments they should spread out like a small yet incriminating blood stain. Don’t be deterred from administering an anti-flea treatment if you don’t find visible evidence, because there will be fewer fleas and they will, therefore, be less easy to spot if the infestation is in its early stages.
Kitties with fleas will scratch, bite and lick themselves to relieve the itching and discomfort. Your pet may groom herself so much she develops bald spots, particularly around her neck and on the back of her legs and base of her tail. If the infestation if severe, the blood loss incurred by the fleas’ relentless onslaught can lead to anemia, although this is more common in kittens and elderly cats. Symptoms of anemia include lethargy, muscle loss and pale gums.
Cats allergic to flea saliva exhibit more severe symptoms, including red lesions, bumps and crusts on the skin’s surface and red raw patches that have become infected due to incessant scratching. This condition, known as feline miliary dermatitis, can easily be confused with other skin conditions, including ringworm. Flea allergies are the most common cause of miliary dermatitis, although environmental allergens, mosquito bites, lice, food allergies, hormonal imbalances and reaction to medications can also trigger the conditions. Your vet may prescribe topical skin ointments to soothe the irritation and treat infections. If fleas aren’t the culprits and the cause of the allergy can’t be determined or eliminated from your kitty’s environment, your vet may prescribe medication that blocks the allergic reaction.
Ringworm is caused by a fungal infection that sometimes manifests in dry, scaly patches of skin, as well as hair loss and lesions on the skin. Ringworm can easily be confused with flea allergy dermatitis; your vet can confirm the presence of ringworm by taking a skin culture or by examining hair samples under a microscope or ultraviolet lamp. The condition is easily treated with anti-fungal ointment.
As with people, cold winter air can cause dry, flaky skin, making your kitty scratch and lick to find relief to soothe the irritation. Nutritional inadequacies and products in grooming products and shampoos may also dry up his skin. Feeding your kitty a well-balanced diet and using hypoallergenic shampoos and soaps formulated for felines can address these problems. Your vet may also prescribe a dietary supplement containing essential fatty oils if diet is a contributing factor.
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.
Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the "Irish News," "Belfast News Letter" and "Sunday Life." Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.