Fall Flea Festival

In addition to darker mornings, cooler days, and changes in foliage this autumn season, you may also experience a sudden emergence of uninvited houseguests – FLEAS. This is because with the general increase in precipitation and cooler temperatures, fleas tend to thrive. But you only have Binx, and he’s an indoor cat, so no worries, right? Wrong. Keep reading…

Fleas, as defined by Merriam-Webster, are “small wingless bloodsucking insects that have hard laterally compressed bodies and legs adapted to leaping and that feed on warm-blooded animals”. I can simplify that to “Fleas, repulsive, despicable, and intolerable”. There are about 2,000 different species of these insufferable parasites in the world, with over 300 types in the United States. The most common domestic flea you’ll probably encounter here in the U.S. is the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis to be more exact.

Even though your home may be protected with a deadbolt, an ADT alarm system, and possibly a Ring Video Doorbell, you need to accept the fact that it not a sealed environment. You enter and exit your home on a daily basis, occasionally open the door for the pizza delivery person, and possibly open the screened-in windows on the first floor when the weather is nice. These are all opportunities for fleas to invade your interior domain, and believe me when I say they are opportunistic trespassers. Recently hatched adult fleas will lie in wait until you walk by. According to an October 2000 article in “Veterinary Parasitology”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10962162, cat fleas can jump an average horizontal distance of 8 inches, and an average height of 5.2 inches. At a maximum, the best performers can jump as far as 19 inches, and as high as 7.9 inches.  So, suffice it to say, fleas can (and will) hitch a ride on your shoes or clothes in search for a fulfilling life on your faithful feline friend.

Now that it’s understood that fleas can indeed create a problem for you, take a good look at Binx to see if you can spot any of these little pests.  Examine the areas under his “armpits” and on his belly, especially near the groin. These are warm and protected locations where fleas are known to seek asylum. If you don’t see fleas, you might see “flea dirt” which is… well, flea poop.  Blood excreted by adult fleas dries into reddish-black pellets (resembling pepper). Gently run a flea comb through Binx’ fur, wipe it onto a paper towel, and then add just a wee bit of water. If the residue on the paper towel turns a rusty-reddish color (because it’s blood, duh), that’s a sign fleas.

Perhaps you’re wondering what the big deal is if Binx is harboring a flea or two. Well, firstly, a flea infestation could be in your immediate future.  A single adult female flea can lay about 40 eggs daily and live anywhere from a few days to a few months on its preferred host animal (aka, Binx). These eggs represent about half of the entire flea population in an average home. The adult fleas make up about 5% and the rest of the population (larvae & pupae) are safely tucked away nearby… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2cPbRPepXA

Secondly, fleas can pose potential health concerns for everyone in your household, including your four-legged sidekick:

Allergic Reaction – Other than just the annoying prickle from a flea bite, for some animals it can incite an allergic reaction. If Binx is hypersensitive to the chemical in flea saliva, it will only take ONE flea to bite him and cause a reaction known as FAD – flea allergy dermatitis. Cats suffering from FAD will often chew out their fur, especially at the base of the tail, have red inflamed skin, and can end up with a secondary infection that usually requires a course of antibiotics to cure. Humans can also have an allergic reaction to a flea bite if they are hypersensitive to its saliva. A rash could develop, from mild to severe, depending upon the number of fleas and the individual hypersensitivity reactions. Excessive scratching can cause further damage to the skin, often followed by a secondary bacterial infection requiring medical attention.

Tapeworms (D. caninum) – Felines are natural groomers. They usually take a lot of pride in how well they clean themselves on a daily basis. Ingesting & subsequently digesting a flea that is infected with a tapeworm larvae could lead to the development of an adult tapeworm. If this happens to Binx and he’s left untreated, he could suffer potentially fatal consequences: anemia from blood loss, or a blockage in his intestines caused by too many tapeworms. Though rare, humans can get tapeworms as well if an infected flea is inadvertently ingested.  According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), https://www.capcvet.org/guidelines/fleas/ , there has been a large number of human pediatric cases developing the adult tapeworm after ingesting an infected flea. Think about it, while inside, where does your toddler hang out the most?  ON THE FLOOR, where Binx is, where the fleas are…

Iron Deficiency Anemia – For some kitties, a large flea infestation has been known to cause death – especially in the very young and the very old. The blood loss they suffer is often irreversible if not caught and treated early.

Other Zoonotic Diseases – The common fleas of cats and dogs can also transmit a number of more serious zoonotic illnesses (transmitted from animals to humans), including those that cause cat scratch fever and typhus fever. Rodent fleas (that cats can get too) are known vectors for the bubonic plague.

Make an appointment to have Binx examined by his veterinarian who should be able to first establish that he has fleas and not some other health issue that is causing him to loose fur and scratch like crazy. Once fleas have been confirmed, his doctor can advise you on what steps to take for Binx’ specific situation. He or she should prescribe safe and effective products for killing and controlling fleas and advise you on how to treat your home environment. Frequent vacuuming of carpets, floors, and furniture as well as thoroughly washing all pet bedding will significantly help reduce the number of developing fleas in your house. But once an infestation has been established, it could take several months to bring under control.

CAPC recommends that all cats be treated year-round and throughout their lives with flea control products to limit infestations on the pet and prevent flea infestations in the home.  If infested, every pet in the home must be treated in order to achieve control. It’s certainly better to prevent an infestation by keeping Binx on a quality preventative medication than to risk having to spend months and money to clean up the mess left by a few tiny trespassers.

For more information about fleas or other parasites that you and Binx could encounter, please visit the CACP website mentioned above.