• 24 APR 14
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    The Big Itch – Flea control in Cats

    The Big Itch – Flea control in Cats

    Flea control in cats is not a luxury it is a necessity. All cats, if left untreated and allowed to walk about, will have fleas. Flea infestation is not simply an irritation, it is also a health hazard to your cat and to yourself and your family. The good news is, nowadays, feline flea control is a cinch!

    Why do we need to control fleas? Effective flea control can not only save your cat great discomfort, it can also save you money, discomfort and potential health hazards. Flea infestation invariably leads to skin allergies and dermatitis in the cat. Typically, the cat may be itchy, resulting in constant grooming and licking, it may lose hair especially around the neck, it may develop generalized dermatitis (“milliary dermatitis”) or it may develop deep oral ulcers (eosinophilic plaque and eosinophilic ulcers). All these conditions will require veterinary intervention and possibly long-term treatment. Treatment of these conditions usually involves the use of cortisone or progesterone hormones, which may have serious side effects (such as diabetes) in some cats. It should be remembered that these reactions are due to flea allergies and therefore a single fleabite may result in a severe generalized reaction. Just as a single bee-sting in an allergic person may cause as severe a reaction as the sting of ten bees, so the bite of one flee may cause as severe a reaction in an allergic cat as the bite of ten flees.

    If your cat is not around, the fleas will choose their next available target – you and the dog. More importantly than this irritation, fleas also carry the eggs of tapeworms. While cats groom themselves, they ingest the fleas, get infected with tapeworm and serve as a source of infection to your family. Tapeworms in humans may result in fatal infections if the worm is located in the brain or lung. Prevention of flea infestation therefore saves discomfort and can save lives.

    It is important to understand the life cycle of the flea for effective control. The adult flea lives on the pet, where it sucks blood to feed itself. It then lays hundreds of eggs which fall from the cat to hatch in the nearest convenient and sheltered place – your home! For every one flea that you can find on your cat at any given time there will be thousands of flea eggs in the environment developing into fleas, and thousands of immature fleas roaming your home! Simply killing the fleas on your cat thus only kills a fraction of the entire flea population. It is important to aim flea control not only at the few mature fleas currently on the cat, but to: 1. Prevent fleas jumping onto the cat, 2. To kill or remove all eggs and fleas from the environment, 3. To kill all fleas that do manage to get on the cat, and 4. To prevent those fleas that do get through the defences from laying viable eggs.

    There are very effective methods of flea control, which are extremely safe for you and your cat. It is no longer necessary to use the dangerous or toxic older dip substances on your cat. Again, it may be important not to rely on a single agent or method to prevent fleas in your home and on your cat. Your vet now stocks very safe, easy-to-apply sprays or skin drops which are effective at killing all fleas on the cat and prevent fleas from getting onto the cat. These products may be effective for a month or more after a single application, even if the cat is bathed often. For effective flea control the environment (the home) should also be treated to get rid of immature fleas and to prevent eggs from hatching. Dedicated environmental sprays and foggers are available to do this job very effectively, with only one or two applications per year. Carpets should also be vacuum cleaned regularly, floors swept, and the dust disposed of into the dustbin. Finally, if a flea still managed to get onto your cat, you can prevent it from laying viable eggs by using a monthly tablet or even a six-monthly injection available from your vet. By using a combination of these methods, completely effective flea control can be exercised. Depending on whether your cat has contact with the outside or other cats or is confined to a flat, fewer or more of these control measures would need to be instituted. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best methods specific to your needs.

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