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Kittens with fleas: symptoms, treatment & prevention

Like for adult cats, fleas on kittens can be a tricky problem to solve if you don’t address the living environment as well as your feline friend. While the treatment method and prevention of fleas is the same for kittens as cats, the young age of your kitten means they are generally more susceptible to any health issue – including complications from a flea infestation. A young kitten’s immune system does not stand up to that of an adult cat.

So, to tackle everything kittens and fleas, we’ve got the advice you need, as well as some key points from PETstock VET, Dr Natalia Li.

What are fleas?

To get right back to the basics, fleas are small parasites that live on a host’s skin and survive by feeding off blood. They are black/brown in colour, tiny in size, wingless but extremely hardy in most environments. Sometimes you can mistake fleas for flea dirt, which is residue from the flea but looks similar in colour.

Flea facts from Bravecto

  • A flea starts feeding on blood within five minutes of landing on your pet
  • A single flea lays 40-50 eggs a day
  • An adult flea can live for two months
  • It can take eight weeks or more to remove flea populations in the environment

The flea lifecycle

Existing fleas will lay their eggs on the skin of their host or sometimes in a warm spot in the surrounding environment. Once laid, the eggs usually hatch within two to ten days. Unfortunately, fleas are not few and far between, with female fleas laying up as many as twenty eggs at once, making the spread hard to contain.

Once the eggs hatch, larvae (small worms) will continue to feed on the surrounding environment, such as dead skin and faeces of adult fleas – yuck! They can stay in this state for months before moving into the next development stage.

In the next stage of development, larvae will morph into pupae (which takes around five to seven days), where a silky cocoon is formed. In this stage, the flea is dormant, waiting to feed on a warm-blooded host whenever it awakens – this may not happen for several months. The pupae prefer to emerge into adult fleas when conditions are optimum, which can explain why there may be a dramatic increase in flea numbers when the weather goes from cold to warm or when a pet arrives home after being away for an extended period.

In the final stage of the flea cycle, the flea will be ready to feed very quickly. Interestingly, a flea can survive in an environment without feeding for a few months, after its initial feed. A flea simply feeds and lays eggs in this adult form for the cycle to then continue. The more fleas, the more eggs, the easier it is for kittens to catch fleas.

The entire flea cycle may last from two weeks to a year, but the average is about three to four weeks.

How can you tell if your kitten has fleas?

Cat receives a big ear scratch from a human, looking very content.

If your kitten has fleas, it may not be immediately apparent, but there will be signs. Your kitten could have a constant urge to scratch, bite or chew their fur or begin to groom themselves excessively, which should lead you to investigate the cause. To begin checking your cat for fleas, take a closer look at the skin beneath their fur to see if you can spot these tiny black parasites.

You may not be able to visibly see the fleas in some instances but instead find little black spots or specks on your kitten’s skin, which is flea dirt.

“Tiny little black spots over and under the coat is a subtle indication that your kitten has fleas, so regular brushing and checks for fleas is the key to identification. Once you see moving fleas on their skin, this is a definite indication your kitten has fleas. More indirect clinical signs can be constant itching and hair loss too,” says PETstock VET, Dr Natalia Li.

To make sure you accurately identify any fleas on your kitten, consider using a fine-tooth comb or flea comb to separate fur methodically, and you may be able to brush some out. Once you have identified these nasty parasites, you’ll need to get working to remove them from not only your kitten but also the environment.

Signs of fleas on kittens:

  • Excessive scratching
  • Skin irritation
  • Spots of hair loss (due to scratching in specific areas of the body)
  • Flea dirt (black specks or spots on your kitten’s skin)
  • Grooming more often than usual (kittens and cats groom themselves regularly, but if they have fleas this may turn into more frequent/abnormal spurts)
  • Lethargy (possibly associated with flea related anaemia)
  • Pale gums (possibly associated with flea related anaemia)

Kitten flea treatments

Getting rid of fleas is a simple yet thorough process, including initial elimination and cleaning. You will need to tick all the boxes to ensure the presence of these nasty parasites doesn’t result in a full-blown flea infestation within your home.

“It’s crucial to remember that a big part of a flea problem lies within the environment. Therefore, it’s important to treat the surrounding areas with flea spray, vacuuming, washing bedding with hot water then drying out in the hot sun (if possible), as well as treating other animals present in the environment,” says PETstock VET, Natalia Li.

Kitten flea treatments are readily available at your local vet or PETstock store and available in tablet form, liquid or chew form. Before looking to administer a pharmaceutical treatment, you should bathe, clean, and comb out any existing fleas – there are many products to make this process easier and more effective, such as a flea comb or flea shampoo.

Once your kitten is as clean and ‘cleaned out’ of fleas or eggs as possible, move onto your over-the-counter flea treatment, which may also act as your monthly preventative moving forward.

You’ll notice many brands offer all-in-one flea and worming treatments, which is great, but before making your choice, double-check the product you’re purchasing explicitly covers the areas you intend. You may have to buy some treatments separately to cover everything. For example, ‘all wormers’ don’t always treat every worm type. Lungworm is not an intestinal worm so isn’t usually covered in this combination.

TIP: If you apply a topical/on the spot treatment to your kitten, please make sure they don’t groom themselves in this area until the treatment is dry.

Preventing fleas on kittens

Kitten looking back

Preventing fleas on kittens should be the easy part of the equation. With the proper preventative treatment and diligence, a flea nightmare is less likely to occur. Plus, there are instances where fleas bite humans in the home – no one wants to deal with that.

Fleas on kittens no more!

  • Provide your kitten monthly flea preventative chews, tablets or spot treatments from your local PETstock or vet.
  • Ensure you keep your kitten’s sleeping area and bedding clean, including regular washing – especially if your kitten is exposed to outdoor environments.
  • Keep all other pets in your home on their monthly flea treatments to prevent exposure and transmission of fleas – there are many instances where one flea-ridden patient is made flea-free just to catch them back through other pets in the home. It’s a complex cycle to break if you do have many pets sharing bedding or sleeping quarters.
  • Another option is to also invest in a flea collar, which can add an extra layer of protection for your kitten.

 

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