As Rodney Dangerfield might say, senior cats “don’t get no respect.” You’d think that, after a certain number of years, pesky parasites like fleas would have the decency to simply leave a cat alone. However, senior cats just can’t seem to catch a break from these little insects, which will make a meal of a cat of any age. Here are some strategies for preventing and treating fleas in your senior cat.
Fleas are miniscule reddish brown or black insects that feed on the blood of cats, dogs, other mammals and birds. The type of flea that generally afflicts cats in North America is known as Ctenocephalides felis, according to the ASPCA. Fleas are external parasite that can live up to one year, and each one can produce millions of eggs during its lifespan.
How Fleas Harm Cats
To learn more about the threat fleas pose to cats, I chatted with veterinarian Alissa Brown, DVM, of Stonecreek Animal Hospital in Irvine, California. Brown explains that fleas pose a trifecta of problems:
Fleas can carry tapeworms, a parasite that, while usually not deadly to cats, will leave behind disturbing evidence that you may not be happy about cleaning up. As the tapeworm matures, pieces break off from its body. Look for these pieces in your cat’s feces or in the hair underneath your cat’s tail. They resemble small grains of white rice.
Fleas can cause anemia and skin problems, which can be more difficult to treat in senior cats.
Fleas can cause physical discomfort. “Fleas can negatively affect your cat’s level of comfort,” Brown says. “Fleas feed on blood, and flea bites can be itchy and uncomfortable for your cat.”
Why Treating And Preventing Fleas Is Especially Important For Senior Cats
Fleas can pose an extra threat to senior cats because senior cats are more likely than adult cats to have a compromised immune system, and they may be more prone to severe problems from fleas. For example, if a skin infection occurs from a cat scratching or biting an area of skin affected by flea bites, it may be more difficult for the cat to fight off the infection. A senior cat may be more susceptible to anemia, as well. Look for a good cat flea treatment.
How To Determine Whether Your Senior Cat Has Fleas
Three key symptoms can indicate that your senior cat has a flea problem. If you notice any of the following signs, take your cat to the vet for a proper diagnosis right away.
The most obvious way to determine whether fleas are playing house in your cat’s coat is the presence of actual fleas. “Fleas resemble little black seeds,” Brown says. And fleas jump; they don’t fly. So, you may see them popping up out of your cat’s fur. One of the most visible places to identify fleas is near the base of your cat’s tail.
A fidgety, uncomfortable cat
If you notice your cat frequently scratching, chewing or licking his coat, bust out the magnifying glass and check his skin for tiny red bumps caused by flea bites.It’s important to note that if your cat is allergic to fleas, it can be more difficult to diagnose whether your cat is suffering from an errant flea bite or a full-blown infestation.
Flea dirt is actually a euphemism for flea poop — little black feces flecks that fleas deposit in your cat’s skin and fur.
Can Fleas Infest People?
Fleas can bite people, but “the type of flea that infests cats doesn’t necessarily infest people,” Brown says. The appearance of small itchy red bumps on your ankles is an indicator that fleas are present in your home.
Flea Control For Senior Cats
Establishing a regular flea-control routine can be the best way to prevent fleas from getting comfortable with your senior cat. But, as with any medication, it’s vital to seek the advice of your veterinarian before starting your cat on a flea prevention regimen. Not all flea-control options may be appropriate for older cats, and many carry restrictions regarding age or weight.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common flea-prevention options. Your vet can provide guidance on the best solution for your senior cat.
Oral flea preventatives in pill form are generally given monthly by mouth. Stick your hand into your cat’s mouth at your own risk. Trust me, this isn’t usually fun. Your vet may be able to recommend a pill applicator, sometimes known as a “pill gun” that may make it easier to safely coax kitty to swallow the medication.
Topical flea control comes in liquid form and is applied to a cat’s coat, usually monthly. Before applying topical flea control, make sure to thoroughly read the directions on the package to ensure proper placement and dosage for your senior cat. The most common place to apply topical flea control is between a cat’s shoulder blades. The liquid diffuses on its own, so you don’t need to rub it in.
Flea collars are worn around a cat’s neck and usually last about a month.
My Cat Never Goes Outside. How Did She Get Fleas?
Even if your senior cat never ventures outside, he or she might still be susceptible to fleas. Dogs or other animals that come into contact with your cat inside the house can transmit fleas. Of course, fleas can hop aboard your cat if he has access to a patio, balcony or window screen that’s exposed to the outdoors.
Simple Steps For Treating Fleas In Your Senior Cat
- Take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet will assess your cat’s overall health and determine the best plan of attack to get rid of the fleas. Your vet may recommend prescription medication or an over-the-counter option.
- Talk to your vet to determine whether all other pets in the home will need to be treated, as well.
- Never, ever us a flea product designed for dogs to treat your cat. Flea treatments for dogs can be toxic to cats and can cause serious harm to your senior cat.
- Vacuum and steam clean carpeting in your home and car.
- Wash your cat’s carrier and any bedding where your cat may sleep, including your own bedding, in hot water.
- Talk to your vet to determine whether a “flea bomb,” fogger or powder is recommended for your home.
- These products can be toxic to animals, so make sure to remove all pets from your home during use.
- Practice proper hygiene, including washing your hands after petting your cat and cleaning the litter box in order to prevent the transfer of fleas, flea eggs, pupae and tapeworms to humans and animals in your home.
- If your home is severely infested with fleas, consider hiring a pest exterminator.
By: Robin Rockey
Featured Image: Via iStock/krblokhin