What to Do About Fleas on Kittens
A question that I've heard from many cat owners is "What flea treatment can be used on tiny kittens?" Many kittens that find homes through shelters or rescue groups may have come from litters born outside where the cats were susceptible to fleas. If the pregnant cat and/or kittens become infested with fleas, what are your options for safely treating these delicate pets?
"Very Young" is a relative term when it comes to flea products.
I've read several product brochures for flea products and even those that say they're safe to use on very young puppies and kittens are not safe for animals under twelve weeks of age. Be sure to read the labels very carefully even if the product says "safe for cats and kittens." I read one brochure for a natural flea control product that said specifically that the ingredients were safe for young, old, pregnant, nursing and debilitated animals, but further in the brochure it says it's safe to treat kittens twelve weeks or older. Not many kittens are still nursing at twelve weeks of age.
Natural doesn't necessarily mean "Safe."
I reviewed a sampling of some of the chemical-free, or natural flea products that are available for cats and kittens. NaturVet herbal flea spray and powder says you can use these products on kittens as young as six weeks of age and is made with a blend of rosemary and cedar oils-but the product is stated to repel fleas, not kill fleas.
Sentry Natural Defense flea & tick spray for cats and kittens is made with peppermint, cinnamon, lemon grass and thyme oils. Sounds safe right? Well, on one product review page for this product, several cat owners reported their cats having reactions ranging from foaming at the mouth to skin burns and hair loss. Other owners reported that it was a very effective, safe, flea product and a great alternative to chemical repellents. It's important to note that many cats are sensitive to flea products, even natural ones.
Some of the veterinary flea products like Capstar, are safe for kittens as young as four weeks of age, but are also recommended for kittens that weigh 2 pounds or more. Most kittens don't reach that weight until they are six to eight weeks at the minimum. So again, there's no product that can be used on very young kittens.
Topical flea treatments like Advantage, Frontline and Revolution, can be used on kittens eight weeks of age and older.
Shampooing should be done with caution, too, if the kittens are very young. Care needs to be taken to thoroughly dry their fur to prevent loss of body heat.
The solution that I've found to be the safest for kittens under six weeks of age and even their nursing mother is to use a good ol' flea comb and a bowl of soapy water to remove any fleas from their skin and coat. It's not the quickest method, but works well and helps get the kittens used to gentle handling. If you have a litter of kittens that have fleas, grab a buddy or two, arm yourself with flea combs and get combing to catch and remove the fleas.
Pay close attention to areas like the back of the neck, the base of the tail and the belly as those are areas where fleas like to hide out. When you trap a flea in the comb, either flick the flea into the bowl of soapy water or dunk the whole comb in to drown the flea. The soap makes the flea sink into the water more easily. When you're finished, flush the bowl of soapy water and fleas down the toilet.
If the mother cat and/or kittens have access to the entire home, you may need to consider treating the home to prevent flea infestation. Review any home treatments to be sure the products can be safely used around young animals. Most are safe as long as the surface has had time to dry before the pets resume contact.
And remember when dealing with the little baby kittens themselves, be sure that you are using the safest treatment of all, which may just be combing the fleas off, one by one.
Ticks: Recognizing the risks to your pet
By Dr. Wendy Zimmerman, DVM, CVA
Spring and summer months here on the east coast bring about concerns from many owners about fleas. How about ticks though? Ticks do not cause pain when they bite nor do they cause itching and scratching like fleas. However, ticks can cause many illnesses to your dog. Kodiak, one of my patients is a prime example of this.
Kodiak got sick over the weekend. He became very lethargic, showed signs of pain, and did not want to eat. These symptoms are very common with many types of illnesses. Kodiak's owner had him looked at without delay. When he was examined, Kodiak had a fever and pale gums. After many tests, he was diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) which is a disease that is transmitted by a tick bite. He was treated with antibiotics and is doing fine now. The trouble with tick-borne diseases is that they cause vague symptoms that often look like other medical problems. Tick-borne illnesses can cause a variety of different symptoms. Depending on what part of the country you live in, you may need to consider one or more of the following:
- -Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) - This disease can cause fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, non-specific pain, blood splotches on the skin, runny eyes, nose, cough, lymph node enlargement, and limb swelling. Up to 1/3 of dogs with RMSF can exhibit symptoms of brain/spinal cord involvement including paralysis and dizziness. Treatment involves a 3-4 week regimen of doxycycline which is a type of tetracycline antibiotic.
- - Ehrlichia Canis- Symptoms include a swollen spleen, swollen legs, cloudy eyes, pale gums, and hemorrhage of the retina. If this is suspected, treatment consists of a 3-4 week course of doxycycline.
- -Lyme disease- Common symptoms include arthritis, heart inflammation, kidney inflammation, and neurological symptoms similar to RMSF. Certain antibiotics can help in some cases. There are a few vaccines on the market that can protect against Lyme disease although they are not 100% effective. You should speak with your veterinarian regarding the risks/benefits of the vaccine to your pet.
- -Babesia Canis is a protozoon parasite that affects dogs in the southeast, southwest, far west, and mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. Common symptoms include decreased appetite, vomiting, runny nose, swollen spleen, swollen lymph nodes, and dark urine which can be mistaken for bloody urine. Imidocarb dipropionate (Schering Animal Health) is an effective therapy.
- -Hepatozoon Canis is also a protozoon parasite that causes problems if an infected tick is ingested. Fever, stiffness, muscle pain, and runny eyes are all common symptoms. Sometimes, there is also an elevation in the white blood cell count. Imidocarb dipropionate (Schering Animal Health) is also an effective therapy. This parasite is most common on the Texas gulf coast, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Georgia
Many pet owners think tick-borne diseases can only happen to dogs. That is not true. Cats can also be susceptible to Babesia and Ehrlichia. Cats are usually able to fight off these infections so they do not come down with symptoms in most cases. In rare cases, however, when a cat becomes actively infected, mortality is more common than with dogs. if you live in a tick-infested area, it is important to protect all your pets.
Flea And Tick Products: Read The Labels!
By Dr. T.J. Dunn, DVM
Pest and pesticide products seem to rock the pet product world every so often and the most recent attention-getter happens to be good news for a change. After the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in 2008 it received over 44,000 reports of harmful reactions associated with topical flea and tick products, it launched a 9-month investigation. The good news is the problem had more to do with faulty directions and packaging than with the pesticides. In most cases of adverse effects on pets, the topically applied pesticides were not used properly! Everyone is aware of the potential harm pesticides can do to our living planet and to us. By understanding the key role played by insect pests in disease transmission, scientists are continually looking for tools that will selectively quash the pests while leaving our pets and us unscathed.
A truly major breakthrough emerged about 15 years ago when the topical liquid treatments became available where a small amount applied to the skin surface very effectively killed fleas and ticks. These new pesticides have been engineered to be lipophilic.they just love oily chemicals. When applied properly, the selected dosage of pesticide rapidly disperses throughout the oil layer on the skin surface. Very little actually gets into the pet but rather resides on the pet. As a bonus they only have to be applied every several weeks because they concentrate in the oil glands of the skin and are released to the surface in a slow but steady pace.
These modern "spot on" products are highly toxic to fleas and ticks. They will die shortly after contact with even a tiny amount as they crawl among the handy hiding places between the hairs of the skin. If they die they can't reproduce; if they can't reproduce they won't generate tens of thousands of critters whose goal it is to infest human and pet hangouts. If you have a backbone like a dog, cat or human, the "spot on" chemicals cause very little adverse effects at the dose levels used in these topical pet products.
Nevertheless, everyone is concerned about safety of the topical anti flea and tick products. We hate pesticides just slightly less than we hate the silent little insects that suck the blood out of us and our dogs and cats just so they can populate the earth with billions of relatives. The EPA study should put to rest the notion that all these topical pesticides are doing more harm than good. The use of approved and regulated "spot on" products is indeed safe for the overwhelming majority of pets. What isn't so hot, though, is the products' presentation to its users!
The EPA issued a strong directive to manufacturers that they must improve the clarity and visual impact of these products so that pet owners can't mistake a cat product for a dog product. Perhaps cat products should all be packaged in green boxes and dog products in red. Perhaps applicators should not all look the same for dogs of different body weights because pet owners have mistakenly applied a big dog dose to a small dog.
"The labels are not clear," says Steve Owens, an EPA assistant administrator in the office of prevention, pesticides and toxic substances. He believes the labels are to blame, not consumers. The pesticide manufacturers will be required soon to change packaging to help distinguish medicines meant for dogs from those for cats and to be certain small dogs don't get walloped with a big dog dose.
One common error we people-types often make is failing to read the directions! In my experience nearly every time a pet owner complained the flea or tick product didn't work I asked to see if they "gave the dog a good bath before applying the product." Invariably their answer was in the affirmative, and their eyes bugged (sorry) out when I informed them that was why it wasn't working! Washing away the oil layer through which the pesticide needs to disperse is sure to lead to failed protection.
Read the labels!
Another common error people make is asserting the product doesn't work because fleas and ticks are seen on their pet. Labels should shout out to us that these products are not flea or tick repellants! In fact, when you think about it a little, the only way fleas and ticks are harmed is to contact the oil layer on the skin that contains the pesticide. If you see fleas and ticks on a pet that has these topical pesticides properly applied, those insects have newly arrived on the scene and you need to eliminate these pests at their source to fully eliminate the problem.
When new foolproof labels come out there will still be only a very minor problem.they won't be foolproof because some of us still won't read the label.