Fuss of Flea Allergic Dermatitis in Felines

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Dr A Sangran
Dr ST Bino
Dr KT Kavitha
Flea allergic dermatitis (FAD) is the most common skin problem in cats and is also known as flea bite  hypersensitivity. Know all about it and how you can protect your feline friends!
 
FAD is an allergic reaction to flea saliva injected by the bites of fleas. It is caused by the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, which is common in both dogs and cats. It is estimated that up to 50 percent of cats with fleas develop cat flea allergy. If cats are not allergic, even if they have a lot of fleas, they would get away with a little scratching. But if the cat is allergic, just one flea bite can cause intense itching which might persist up to three months.
 
Flea populations are distributed with about 50 percent as eggs, 35 percent as larvae, 10 percent as pupae, and 5 percent as adults. Three quarters of a flea’s life is spent in the environment other than on the host animal. Cat fleas may live up to two years and are responsible for disease transmission not just to cats but also to dogs and humans as well.
 
Types of feline flea infections
The most prominent of these are Bartonella henselae (cat scratch disease), murine or endemic typhus and Rickettsia felis (flea borne spotted fever). The tapeworm Dipylidium Caninum can be transmitted when an immature infected flea is swallowed by the cat. Clinical signs can be either seasonal or can be year-round depending on environmental conditions. There is no breed, age, or gender that’s more prone to this infection. It can happen to any cat.
 
Look out for signs
A cat with FAD shows intense itching and subsequently chews, licks, or scratches the affected site non-stop. This causes hair loss and can lead to open sores or scabs on the skin, allowing secondary bacterial infections to develop. In addition, an infested cat may have numerous, small and bumpy rashes around her head, neck, tummy and
hind legs.
 
Power of early detection & diagnosis
Diagnosis of FAD is based on history, clinical signs, physical examination and observing the fleas or flea dirt on your cat’s skin. The best way to demonstrate the presence of fleas is often to comb the cat meticulously with a fine-toothed ‘flea comb’ over a clean white surface such as a large piece of white paper.
 
The diagnosis is complicated by the grooming habits of cats who are very efficient at grooming out fleas, often removing any evidence of infestation. The diagnosis may also be difficult because of the quick mobility of the fleas and majority of the time fleas spend off the host. If fleas are not apparent, tests to rule out other causes, such as food allergies, mange, mites or ear infections should be carried out.
 
Trust your vet for best treatment
The aim of treatment is to relieve the allergy-induced itch and to remove fleas from the cat and her home environment. Consult your veterinarian to know the best remedial measures and to know about flea management in your cat.
 
To ensure complete elimination of fleas within the house, it is desirable to treat the premises along with the pet. Treatment of the whole house is essential, including soft furnishings, carpet pile, gaps between floorboards and other difficult to reach areas.
 
Vacuum cleaning should be done first and then use appropriate chemicals to kill the fleas at an early stage. Never use a flea product on your cat that has been formulated for dog since some of these products may be toxic and can cause extreme allergic reactions.
 
Don’t fret if your pet has flea allergic dermatitis. You just need to be a little cautious about the symptoms. With the right kind of treatment and medications your pet will be able to overcome this infection.
(Dr KT Kavitha, Veterinary Parasitologist & Assistant Professor; Dr ST Bino Sundar, Veterinary Parasitologist & Assistant Professor; and Dr A Sangaran, Veterinary Parasitologist & Professor, are from Madras Veterinary College, Chennai)