I met the sweetest black cat yesterday, when his owner dropped him off because he wasn't feeling well. Bo had been lethargic for the last few days and not eating. The owner told us that he had been treating both of his cats for fleas for the last 4 months, but wasn't making any headway. Even though Bo had worn a cheap flea collar, been treated monthly with Frontline, been bathed with a flea shampoo, and treated with a spray-on flea killer AND the house had been treated with spray and powders, he was still covered with live fleas. I initially thought Bo was having a reaction to all the toxic products to which he'd been exposed, but instead he had severe anemia due to all those fleas sucking his blood.
In this day and age, where there are so many different products to kill fleas, no one thinks they are a big deal. Sadly, that isn't the case. Fleas can be hard to find, so you often don't know there is a problem until your pet and house are infested. Most animals do NOT scratch at fleas. If they do, they have a flea saliva allergy and you can see the results fairly quickly - itching, scratching, hairloss (especially on the lower back and around the neck), scabs, skin infection and misery on the part of the pet. But those pets that are covered with fleas may show no symptoms at all. Sometimes owners will notice their pet seems "dirty," like they were rolling in dirt. Almost always, that is flea "dirt."
Fleas feed on animal blood. When they poop on the dog or cat, it looks like small, black commas. If you put this "flea dirt" on a moist, white paper towel, the poop will turn a reddish brown color. Regular dirt stays brown or blackish. You can sometimes catch a flea when using a flea comb on the pet, but often all you see is the flea dirt. Cats are fastidious groomers and their barbed tongue traps fleas, which they then swallow, making it unlikely to find fleas on a cat. This was not the case with poor Bo!
Besides sucking blood and causing anemia, fleas can carry other diseases. Plague and typhoid fever are probably the most famous. A cat can contract Mycoplamsa haemofelis from flea bites. Mycoplasma is actually a parasite that invades the red blood cells, leading to anemia. Bo is being tested for this, so his anemia could be both from the flea and a parasite transmitted by a flea!
So what can be done for fleas? There are a lot of products on the market and my best pieces of advice are: "if it is inexpensive, you get what you pay for" and "talk to your veterinarian." In addition, realize that it will take several months to eliminate the fleas from your pet and the environment. If you see a flea on your pet, it came from flea eggs in the environment (carpet, grass), NOT from jumping off another animal. Eggs can't be killed or destroyed, so there will be hatches of eggs until all the fleas are killed and no longer reproducing. That takes time. So it is imperative to treat your pet on time and appropriately each month.
It is also so important to treat EVERY PET in the environment - inside and outside for a year-round. Fleas can be conquered, but you have to be diligent!
Here is a great You Tube video from Dr. Michael Dryden, a flea expert from Kansas State University: Play the flea video