Thanks to mild winters and central heating, fleas can be a problem all year round. A single flea can lay up to five hundred eggs in a lifetime, so it’s easy for one flea to become an infestation. Luckily, there are many different ways to treat your cat.
In order to prevent and treat your cat’s flea infection, you’ll need to spot it. Symptoms can vary depending on the number of fleas and whether your cat has developed an allergy to the flea bites.
If there are only a few fleas present, your cat may scratch or lick more than usual. Heavy infestations, on the other hand, can lead to severe scratching and excessive grooming. A heavy flea infestation in a kitten can lead to anaemia – if your kitten has fleas and looks pale or seems very lethargic, take them to the vet immediately as this can be life threatening.
If your cat develops an allergy to the flea bites, they will often lose the fur over their back. You may also notice small scabs, making the skin feel bumpy.
A lack of scratching doesn’t rule out an infestation. The best way to find out whether your cat has fleas is to run a fine-toothed comb through the fur on the back of their neck, over the tail base and the tummy. You may see live fleas or just flea dirt. These tiny black specks will turn red when placed on a damp piece of cotton wool or paper towel.
Flea treatment for cats
If you think your cat has fleas it’s important you treat both them and their environment. The fleas you see on your pet are only 5% of the problem – the rest of the flea lifecycle will be taking place in your house so it’s essential you invest in flea treatment for the home.
Not all products treat the environment as well as the cat, so it’s worth checking the packaging. If in doubt, use a household flea spray as well.
Some forms of the flea lifecycle are resistant to even the best household sprays, so you’ll still get fleas developing for up to three months after your house and cat have been treated. As long as you follow the instructions and use the product correctly, you should see a vast reduction in fleas within the first month, and in most cases, an elimination of the problem after three months.
Ticks in cats are less of a problem than fleas, but your cat may pick them up if they spend time in long grass. They tend to attach to the ears, head, neck, and feet, burying their heads under your cat’s skin and gorging on their blood. They are about the size of a pinhead when they first attach, so they may not be visible until they’ve spend a couple of days swelling with blood.
Some cats may show no sign of discomfort if they have a tick, but others might lick or rub the area. If you live in a tick-prevalent area it’s worth checking your cat regularly by running your fingers through their coat, looking inside their ears and between their toes. You can also use a spot on treatment or impregnated collar, which will kill the tick after a few hours.
Tick treatment for cats
The best tool to use is a specially designed tick remover. This hooks under the body of the tick, and will remove the tick whole with a gentle twist. Alternatively, you can use tweezers, but make sure you always twist, rather than pull the tick out. Once removed, check the tick is whole, then soak it in alcohol to kill it. It was once thought that you should burn the tick or rub it in alcohol before it’s removed. This has been proven to stress the tick and increase the likelihood of spreading blood borne diseases, so this is no longer recommended.
Occasionally, your cat may get a small, localised swelling where the tick was removed. As long as the tick has been completely removed and your cat isn’t bothered by it, the swelling should disappear within a couple of months.