Fleas on kittens – what you need to know

Being aware of common parasitic infestations such as fleas – and knowing how to prevent and tackle them – is an essential part of welcoming a new kitten into your home. Here’s what new kitten owners need to know about spotting, treating and preventing fleas on their furry friends.

What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny, brown-black coloured parasites that feed from your kitten by sucking its blood.

How do kittens catch fleas?

I often meet people who think that fleas can fly, but that’s not true. They can, however, jump huge distances and are therefore easily transferred from other cats and animals your pet comes into contact with.

Your kitten can also catch fleas from bedding, carpets or soft furnishings where an infected pet has shed flea eggs. Flea eggs can lie dormant in your home for almost a year.

We often see fleas transmitted by humans too. They’re easily picked up on walks and owners can inadvertently introduce them to their pets by bringing fleas into the home on their clothing or shoes.

How do I spot them?

The first sign that your kitten might have fleas is if you see them itching, scratching and nibbling at their fur.

The fleas themselves are pretty easy to spot. If you’re not sure, I recommend grooming your kitten with a fine-toothed comb over a moist, white kitchen towel. If the droppings turn reddish-brown, your kitten is likely to have fleas.

Parasites are often a bigger problem during periods of warm weather, or when the central heating is switched on for the winter, so you should keep a closer eye on your kitten throughout the summer and winter months.

What are the health risks associated with fleas?

In my experience, lots of cats are sensitive, or even allergic, to flea saliva. This can cause intense itching, skin inflammation and small scabs on the skin that can become infected.

Aside from making life extremely uncomfortable, fleas can also cause severe health problems for a kitten. They can transmit other parasites such as tapeworms, and a heavy infestation can cause anaemia due to blood loss that could be fatal in a weak or poorly kitten.

How can kitten fleas be treated?

Although they’re a nasty nuisance for any kitten and its owner, fleas are easily treated. If you suspect that your kitten has fleas, I recommend speaking to your vet straight away. They’ll be able to prescribe the best products and check that your pet isn’t suffering from any nasty side effects, such as skin infections.

Here’s my quick rundown of some of the most widely used treatments…

  • Spot on treatments. A popular form of treatment, spot on products involve a solution being applied directly to a kitten’s skin.
  • Tablets and injections. Ask your vet about the options.
  • Flea powders and shampoos. These are applied to your kitten’s coat to help relieve problems. Tend to be only effective in the shorter term and cats don’t enjoy being shampooed.
  • These work by emitting a toxin that kills fleas. Some can cause irritation to your pet and not all are particularly reliable. Ask your vet for advice.

It’s really important to note that you should never use a dog flea treatment or a household flea spray on a cat. Some ‘old-fashioned’ flea treatments for dogs contain a chemical called permethrin that can be fatal to cats.

You’ll also need to treat your house thoroughly with an appropriate spray to kill the remaining 95% of the fleas. And you’ll also need to vacuum your home to get rid of any fleas in your furniture and carpets. Make sure that any spray you use is safe for cats and other animals in your home.

Given that fleas can transfer worms to your kitten, it’s important to treat them for worms too, especially if they’ve had fleas. Again, ask your vet for advice as many prescription-only products cover against worms as well as external parasites including fleas.

How can I prevent my kitten from getting fleas?

I always say that prevention is better than cure and much easier than dealing with an established infestation. So make sure your kitten, and all other animals in the house, are regularly protected with a good-quality flea treatment. Your vet will be able to prescribe the best product. Regular use of an effective flea product will prevent re-infestation and washing your pet’s bedding regularly in hot water will help to get rid of any flea eggs that might be hanging around.

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