Cat Care Wellness

Cat Fleas – Even in the Fall!


Yes, cat fleas can happen all year round. Here’s what you should look out for. Is your cat itching and licking, particularly on his/her back by the base of the tail?  More than likely, fleas are the cause. Really. Even in the fall. Even if your cat never goes outside.

Aren’t cat fleas only a problem in the warm weather?  Well, that is what most of my clients think.  But, about once a week, a have a very concerned cat owner bring their beloved in for an urgent appointment due to uncontrollable itching at the base of the tail. After performing a thorough physical exam, I retrieve my trusty blue fine-toothed comb from the disinfectant and go to work. Yep. There they are!  Creepy, crawly fleas!

fleas cats

I am a bit shocked that many of my loving cat owners are firmly stuck in flea denial, as the fleas are crawling around and jumping off of the comb before our collective eyes. Evidence or no evidence a lot of my cat owners don’t want to believe their cats have fleas.

Believe it or not, the fleas are there. And it is the fleas that are causing the itch. Now, not all cat itch is caused by fleas. But, if your cat is very itchy and the blue combing reveals fleas, it is HIGHLY LIKELY that those fleas are causing the itch.

“But, Dr. Bales, my cat CAN’T have fleas!!!  She never goes outside!!!”  She can. And she does. Fleas are perfectly happy living indoors. Year-round.

“Nope. No fleas. I haven’t gotten any bites.”  Lucky you!  Actually, fleas don’t like human blood. As long as your cat (or dog) is around, you are their last choice.

“Really Dr. Bales, I looked!  I didn’t see any fleas!”  I believe you. Without the trusty blue flea comb, those little buggers can be really hard to find. They are tiny and they stay deep in the haircoat, close to the skin. Not to mention, your cat is very good at grooming them away while they lick, and itch, and itch and lick and….

Let go of the flea shame.  Please, release the flea denial.  Without monthly quality flea prevention your cat can, and often does, have fleas.  Your veterinarian can help you and your cat get rid of these itchy and scratchy pests – year-round.

Beware, not all flea products are created equal.  Some flea products just don’t work at all.  Some flea products can be deadly to your cat.  I am going to explain the difference.

Flea medicines come in lots of different forms.  Long ago, before we had better and more effective options, it was common to use dips, powders, and flea collars. These products did not work very well. In the past 20 years or so, ‘spot-on’ products came onto the market.  It is important to understand that dips, powders, collars, sprays, and spot-on products are delivery systems.  A delivery system is merely how the chemical or active ingredient gets onto your cat so it can do its job.  Each of these delivery systems can contain a variety of different chemicals.  THIS is the important part.  Some flea prevention chemicals are dangerous for cats.

The chemical to watch out for is called pyrethrin.  Pyrethrins are natural organic compounds that are derived from the Chrysanthemum flower.  Just because pyrethrins are natural, does not mean they are safe for cats. There are synthetic versions of this chemical that go by different names that are even more dangerous for your cat.  You can look for the names pyrethrin, permethrin, other pyrethroids and any ingredients that end in ‘thrin’.  This ingredient shows up in many over the counter flea prevention remedies.  Cats are very sensitive to this chemical.

Soon after the application of pyrethrin, regardless of the delivery system, your cat may have a reaction to its flea treatment.  You may see excessive drooling, twitching, staggering, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, or death. If you see any of these symptoms, remove the treatment immediately.  Take off the flea collar or bathe your cat with a soap-like Dawn ASAP, and seek immediate veterinary care.

cat fleas

Many of the safe over-the-counter flea preventions, simply don’t work.  They may use some of the same chemicals as the prescription flea preventions, but the formulations and delivery systems are not at does that make them effective.  While this may not harm your cat, it may harm your wallet!  I often see loving cat owners in my office who are experiencing failure of flea prevention from over-the-counter products.

There are a wide variety of safe and effective flea preventions sold as prescription medications by your veterinarian.  I urge you to seek your veterinarian’s advice when choosing the right flea prevention for your cat.  Veterinarians know the difference between safe and unsafe chemicals for your cat. We know your cat’s age, weight, and health and how those facts may impact safe choices for flea prevention. We know what will work and what is safe for your cat. We will explain how to apply the product and how often you need to re-dose to continue to prevent fleas.  We will explain that you need to treat all of the animals in the house to maintain adequate flea control (This includes animals coming to visit!).

There are safe ways to save money and still take good care of your cat, but flea prevention and control is not one of them.  I urge you to seek your veterinarian’s advice when choosing the right flea prevention for your cat.

Wags and Purrs,
Dr. Liz Bales

Best Cat VetThe University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine graduate, Dr. Liz Bales, has only ever wanted to be a veterinarian. She has such a passion for her job, that she says if she weren’t a vet, she would be studying to become one. She loves “helping pets and the people who love them be happy and healthy!  Helping people translate complicated medical information into practical tips on how to care for, and connect with their pets is the best part of her job” Not just a veterinarian, Dr. Bales shares her passion through writing, giving speeches, and appearing on shows such as Fox and Friends, ABC News, and Cheddar. She has even started her own company, Doc and Phoebe, and invented a revolutionary cat product—the Indoor Hunting Feeder.

Dr. Bales’ favorite quote reflects her love and compassion for animals: “When a human dies there is a bridge they must cross to enter into Heaven. At the head of the bridge waits every animal that human encountered during their lifetime. The animals, based on what they know of this person, decide which humans may cross the bridge…and which are turned away.” With this in mind, Dr. Bales tries to live every day by her grandfather’s advice: “These days are precious. Don’t waste them.”

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