How to Implement Flea Control

Surprise: Its not only outdoor cats that can be at risk of this health menace. Heres how to spot a problem and act fast.

Fleas are parasites that suck blood for their food, leaving small lesions that are similar to those of mosquito bites. “They are more than a skin problem,” cautions Williams Miller, Jr., VMD, professor of clinical science at Cornells College of Veterinary Medicine. “They can


become a serious health problem.”

Cats are fastidious groomers, so healthy adult cats will keep the number of fleas on their bodies low. “But if there is a significant number of fleas feeding on the animal, they can cause severe anemia,” explains Dr. Miller. “And with a young kitten, a sick cat or an invalid elderly cat that tends not to groom, the fleas can basically suck these cats dry and cause death.”

A Home-Grown Problem. If your cat stays indoors and away from other animals, with no potential exposure to fleas, the problem is unlikely. The family dog can be a culprit, however, so obviously flea control and prevention is important for all pets. Usually, cats pick up fleas from another animal or from their environment. In most cases, there has to be direct contact in an infested environment or with an infested animal. The fleas ability to leap a foot or more enables it to travel from host to host. Cats can attract fleas while roaming outside the house in warm weather, on a visit to a kennel or cat show or even in a grooming parlor.

Cat fleas prefer cats, but they will leap to another animal or even a human to survive. Once a flea has insinuated himself, it reproduces prodigiously. An adult female can lay 20 to 50 eggs per day. Depending on the temperature and humidity, the gestation can be as short as 11 days or as long as 100 days. The fleas life cycle is only two to three weeks. After the flea bites a cat, it lays eggs – which roll off the cats body and into the environment. “In a very short time, a house that had no fleas can have hundreds of thousands,” says Dr. Miller.

Prepare for Battle. “Household prevention is the key to success with any flea control problem. If you treat the animal and not the house, the problem will never go away,” explains Dr. Miller. “Treat the house prophylactically to prevent household infestation. If fleas lay eggs and the house is protected, the eggs wont hatch.”

Dr. Miller also recommends routine and regular use of products that you can give orally to your cat, and topical products. The products include collars, sprays, mousses and pills. He suggests using ProgramTM, a liquid that you put in your cats food once a month which acts as a flea birth control pill. Your vet may have a preferred product to recommend.

Dr. Miller concludes that the best way to deal with a flea problem is probably a combination of a short-term spray to the environment and the flea birth control pill – as long as owners follow the directions carefully.

Tips for Controlling Fleas. Use which method you select at the required frequency. With a spray, every tenth day rather than every seventh day wont work, for example – and spraying when you see fleas is too late. You should study labels carefully. Some products, especially those sold over the counter, may be too strong for cats. Salespeople are not necessarily experts on the products they sell, so its best to consult with your veterinarian if you have any questions.

You should consider your cats temperament, hair coat and even your own physical limitations, which can occur if an owner is elderly, handicapped or pregnant. Find the method that works best for both you and your pet. “For the average household, I suggest a consultation with a veterinarian if you detect a flea problem,” says Dr. Miller. “This will help you get the best designated flea control problem. Once advised, you can handle the problem yourself.”