2011-08-19 / Columnists

TheVeterinary Corner

My Cats Are Only Indoors, So How Did They Get Fleas?
Commentary By Dr. Jay Rogoff And Dr. Susan Whittred, DMV

Over the past 35 years many of our clients have asked us this question, absolutely startled when we find a flea on their indoor-only, house/apartment dwelling feline!

Our theories are one or more of the following:

The cat came in contact with other pets in the building (through windows, if on a 1st floor)

One or two fleas hitched a ride on someone else’s pet, perhaps a friend or family member

A previous tenant or owner had an animal that had fleas

Since a female flea lays 40 eggs per day, you can see how this could grow into an infestation in no time! Fleas are difficult to see because they are small and stay very close to the surface of the skin, under the fur. Fleas come out in the warmer months (60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and prefer humidity (65-85 %). Our current weather in the Rockaways has been perfect climate for the flea. Their life cycle consists of larva hatching from eggs, which can move into carpets, cracks in wood, in soil or other organic debris. A cocoon is produced at the end of the larval stage and adult fleas emerge from the cocoon when an appropriate stimulus is present, such as temperature and humidity. Fleas can remain in cocoons for as long as 140 days. Their life cycle from egg to adult flea is approximately 3-4 weeks, and adult fleas live for about 100 days.

In some cats, fleas can cause hypersensitivity reactions (allergies). Cats that have these reactions show varying degrees of erythematous (reddish), pruritic (itchy), papulocrustous (crusty, bumpy) miliary dermatitis (skin infection). Fleas can also transmit disease, such as tapeworms and bartonella (commonly known as cat scratch fever). Bartonella can be contagious to people. It is important if you think that your cat has this disease to see a veterinarian so that we can test for, and if necessary, treat your pet. Severe flea infestations can also cause anemia in our cats since fleas feast on blood!

Fleas generally prefer to stay on our cats, but in a flea infestation, they will bite humans too! Some of our patients’ owners have complained of bites on their ankles (because fleas can’t jump that high!). If you have an infestation it is necessary to treat the house or apartment as well as the cat. We have products that have a residual effect for up to 17 weeks. These products should be used in order to avoid having to re-treat the home.

Prevention is the best course to ward off a flea infestation. There are many different products that are offered in the marketplace. It is really best to speak with your veterinarian about which one might be right for your cat to avoid this problem. Some products, even those available at pet stores and supermarkets, can be harmful to cats. Your veterinarian can select which product might be best for your situation. Most are once a month treatments and are a lot easier to deal with than clearing up a flea infestation. In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! If you have any questions please feel free to stop in at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways or call us at 718-474- 0500.

We are available 7 days a week for your convenience.

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