Fleas are tiny wingless insects that feed off the blood of their hosts and can cause intense itching that can lead to secondary infection in cats and the humans who live with them. Fleas are not generally fatal to healthy animals, however they often carry disease that can cause serious illness in kittens and immune-compromised animals. These vulnerable cats may become anemic as a result of blood loss. Surprisingly, it can take only one fleabite to cause a reaction. Many cats have an allergic reaction to the saliva of fleas, which causes flea allergy dermatitis.
Flea allergy dermatitis is very uncomfortable for a cat and can cause severe itching, depending on the cat's sensitivity. Allergic cats may develop a condition known as feline miliary dermatitis. To identify this condition, part your cat's fur and examine the skin for signs of irritation and small solid bumps that may become crusted over due to intense itching. The bumps are usually found on the face, neck and back, but the allergic reaction can spread over the entire body. Cats suffering from flea allergy dermatitis may also have extensive hair loss.
The four-stage flea lifecycle usually lasts four to six weeks, although it can be as short as 12 days and as long as 350 days. Fleas mate after feeding and the female lays her eggs within two days of her first blood meal. Just one female can lay as many as 50 eggs each day. They are tiny, white, oval-shaped eggs that infest and later hatch on your cat and in the places they inhabit, including bedding, carpets, and soil. Infestations peak during the late summer.
Flea larvae hatch within six days and immediately begin feeding on organic debris found in the environment and in adult flea droppings. Newly hatched flea larvae can move as far as one metre (three feet) from where they were hatched, but don't like direct light and will actively seek out dark places including carpet fibers, floor cracks, and unfinished concrete. Outside fleas will hide in the grass and soil.
The larvae stage lasts five to 11 days but can last as long as three weeks if food is plentiful and the environment is friendly. Mature larvae produce a silk-like cocoon where they develop and remain until a suitable host arrives. After emerging from the cocoon, a flea can survive up to two weeks before finding a host to feed on. It is these newly emerged hungry fleas that infest cats and bite people.
To determine if your cat has fleas, simply part their fur slowly and look for fast moving creatures or signs of their reddish brown excrement. It's also important to examine your cat's bedding for eggs, larvae, and excrement.
- intense itching
- nibbling at their skin
- hair loss
- secondary infections
Fleas generally stay on their hosts until forced off by grooming or insecticides. To rid your cat of fleas, you must treat the cat as well as both the indoor and outdoor environment, where 95 per cent of the flea population can be found in the form of eggs, larvae, and cocoons. Fleas exposed to temperatures below 37 degrees F or 3 degrees C for several days will die.