I’m a veterinarian, yes, but I also live with cats and my cats are subject to all the same things as my patients. For instance the last few days I’ve noticed an increase in hairball activity. Otherwise they appear to be pretty much normal, maybe a little more sleepy than usual. But then it is snowing and perhaps it is just the change in season that has made them feel sleepy. I am also a little sleepy.
But…increased hairball activity is a concern, because hairballs are not always normal. In fact, if your cat produces a hairball more than once a month, chances are there is something going on. It may indicate increased shedding due to season, nutritional concerns, early kidney or other organ or glandular changes or even stress. It may mean increased grooming due to internal or external parasites, skin lesions or infections, increased skin sensitivity due to diabetes mellitus, hyperesthesia syndrome, stress or plain old- fashioned loneliness or boredom for example. Or it may indicate abnormalities in your cat’s gastrointestinal motility due to inflammation for example. Sometimes increased hairball activity follows a period of being unwell and the cat has allowed his coat to become a little unkempt and once he has recovered fully, he begins to tidy it up which results in the ingestion of more than the usual amount of hair. This may occur after a kitty is spayed or neutered as well.
So, I look a little more closely and give them a quick physical exam. Louis, Merry and Watson are of course used to this, me prodding them and look at me as though they are perfectly fine and can manage without me. But, as I am doing this I am remembering that I forgot their last flea prevention treatment and guess what- it is not just hairballs. I have found just a little bit of fleadirt on one of my cats, Watson.
So why would my indoor cats get fleas in November when there is snow on the ground? Actually, the fall months are by far the worst for fleas. The numbers increase over the long flea season and the likelihood of indoor cats obtaining fleas late in the season can be quite high depending on a number of factors. Their fleas probably came in before the snow began to fly. And then began to multiply as they do laying eggs and hatching every 21 days.
Fleas find their way in by a number of means; on your pant legs, on the back of a mouse seeking a winter home, on your dog. And so I check the dogs, Penny and Dan and Penny has several fleas. I had not noticed them scratching at all so of course I am surprised. Some dogs and cats don’t notice a flea or two while others may go mad with a single flea, especially if they have a flea allergy. And fleas are choosy, preferring some individuals over others so some will have more fleas than others but they likely all have a few at least. Even Louis who has no sign of fleadirt at all but has produced more hairballs than is normal. He’s grooming well and I cannot find any sign of them.
The rule is you treat all the pets in a family when you find fleas otherwise those untreated remain reservoirs for the rest and the house as well. And you will remember that each female flea lays hundreds of slippery shiny white eggs that slide off our pets and into our environment where they develop into larvae and then pupae and then baby fleas looking for a cat or dog for their first meal.
Yes, I forgot to give them all their last flea preventative dose which was due two weeks ago even though it is marked on my calendar. It happens sometimes. They’ve forgiven me already but I feel just terrible about it.
So, today, all my cats and dogs will be treated for fleas. They will also need to be dewormed since fleas have the nasty little habit of harbouring tapeworm (among other things, I especially worry about blood parasites and will watch them closely for signs of illness related to fever and anemia). The cats will also get a treat, their toniclax, which they love and this will help them pass the rest of the hair.
Thankfully, modern veterinary flea treatments and preventatives are so safe and effective that I don’t need to worry about spraying my home. I’ve caught it in time. I don’t have a major infestation. I’m not being bitten, I don’t see fleas though I know they are here. I will vacuum more over the next few weeks to pick up the eggs and larvae but those especially sticky pupae that resist the vacuum will undoubtedly hatch and jump on one of my pets, and then they will die and it will be over.
I won’t forget again to give them their flea preventative on time. One more dose next month, just to make sure I’ve cleaned up the house and then begin again in the spring.
Until next time with feeling feline,
Dr. Carol Teed, Veterinarian, Author of Learning the Secret Language of Cats- A Vet's Translation
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