Fleas are a fact of life for pet owners. These pests cause itching and scratching, making both you and your fur babies miserable. Besides this incessant itching, are your pets at risk from fleas? The answer is yes! Fleas are known to transmit several serious diseases to both cats and dogs, and even on to humans. Here are 6 of the most common flea diseases, along with flea prevention tips you can use around your home.
Tapeworms are one of the most recognizable flea diseases in pets. These worms are contagious to dogs, cats, and humans. In order to be infected with tapeworms, a flea infected with tapeworm larvae must be ingested. While cats and dogs easily do this while they are grooming themselves, it is much less common in humans and usually occurs by accident. Once ingested, the larvae then attach themselves to the intestine and feed off the host. They continue to reproduce and release egg packets, also called proglottids, which escape through the dog or cat’s anus. These egg packets look like grains of rice and are one of the first symptoms of a tapeworm infection. Other symptoms include weight loss and dulling of their coat. Tapeworms are treated with a dewormer called praziquantel. This medication is usually given orally but can be injected if needed and is only available as a prescription from a veterinarian.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is an intensely itchy skin diseases caused by an allergic reaction to flea bites. This allergy causes pets to scratch their skin raw in places where they are affected. In dogs, FAD usually presents as hot spots around the base of the tail or around the neck. In cats, FAD usually causes itchy or raw skin around the neck or crusty bumps all over their body. FAD is treated in 3 phases. Phase 1 consists of stopping the itching with an injectable or oral steroid or allergy medication. Phase 2 requires treating any skin infections with oral and/or topical antibiotics. Phase 3 involves eliminating fleas on all pets in your household, even the ones who aren’t allergic to them.
Anemia is a condition where you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues. This can be caused by a loss of blood from excessive flea bites, especially in puppies, kittens, and smaller breed dogs and cats. These smaller pets don’t have as much blood to give and are more susceptible to anemia. Symptoms of anemia include lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite, pale gums, and jaundiced skin or gums. Anemia can be treated by getting rid of fleas on all the pets in your home. Severe cases of anemia may require blood transfusions.
Feline Infectious Anemia
Feline infectious anemia, also known as feline hemotropic mycoplasmosis, is a disease that can be fatal to cats. Cats become infected after they are bitten by a flea infected with one of several parasites. These parasites then live and reproduce on the cat’s red blood cells, causing the immune system to recognize them as foreign invaders and attack the cat’s own red blood cell supply. This can cause significant anemia in cats. Symptoms of this anemia include lethargy, weakness, pale gums, loss of appetite, and jaundiced skin and gums. Feline infectious anemia is treated in 2 ways: with antibiotics (tetracycline, doxycycline, or enrofloxacin) to kill the bacterial parasites; and by immunosuppressing the cat’s immune system to keep it from continuing to destroy the red blood cells. Severe cases may require a blood transfusion.
Cat Scratch Fever
Cat scratch fever, also known as Carrion’s disease, trench disease, or bartonella infection, is very common among cats. In fact, over 40% of cats suffer from this disease at some point in their lifetime. Kittens are more susceptible to the disease than adult cats are. Cat scratch fever is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae. Although the name is cat scratch fever, it can actually affect dogs, as well. Animals ingest infected fleas when grooming and can then also transmit the disease to humans through bites or scratches. Symptoms of cat scratch fever include fever, swollen lymph nodes, red eyes, vomiting, low energy, hiding, and loss of appetite. Some cats who contract this disease are actually asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show any symptoms at all. Treatment usually requires antibiotics (amoxicillin, doxycycline, enrofloxacin, or rifampin) for 4 to 6 weeks. Treatment is only recommended for those animals showing symptoms of the disease.
Murine typhus is a disease caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi. Although fleas who carry this bacteria are usually found on rats, cats can become infected when they come in contact with these rodents. These cats can then, in turn, pass the disease on to humans. Fleas excrete feces when they bite and humans become infected with this in feces gets into the blood stream through the broken skin of the flea bite. Although murine typhus is rare in the United States, cases have been reported in Texas and Southern California. Cats who are infected usually don’t show any symptoms. When humans are infected they suffer from fever, body aches, and nausea. Eliminating fleas from cats is the best treatment for murine typhus.
All of these diseases can be prevented with consistent and effective flea prevention and flea control.
- Use flea preventatives on pets at the recommendation of your veterinarian.
- Identify and eliminate flea dens which are areas where fleas congregate, usually where your pet rests in one place for long periods of time.
- Treat your home, including upholstery, curtains, carpets, furniture, and bedding.
- Wash your pet’s bedding, crate, and toys weekly in hot water.
- Vacuum frequently, especially in areas where your pet frequents.
- Shampoo or steam your carpets to get any fleas or eggs vacuuming may have missed.
- Use diatomaceous earth (DE) under cushions, baseboards, and pet beds.
- Mow the grass and trim shrubs.
- Discourage feral animals and wildlife from coming into your yard.
- Don’t leave pet food out overnight.
- Seal any exterior openings to your home.
- Treat your yard with over-the-counter flea spray.
If you have a problem with fleas or any other pest, contact a professional pest control company who can provide you with a free estimate and set you up with a comprehensive elimination and prevention plan going forward.