Flea Anemia in Dogs and Cats
While many dogs and cats with fleas may only experience some itching or no symptoms at all, heavy infestations in kittens or puppies can be fatal. Several fleas on a very young kitten or puppy can cause them to become severely anemic. Fleas feeding on the blood of their hosts can lead to abnormally low red blood cell counts which can have serious consequences in these juveniles whose immune systems are still developing. Flea anemia is considered by many vets to be a common cause of death in kittens and puppies that are allowed to spend time outdoors.
What pets are at risk for flea anemia?
Fleas are very small creatures and it will surely take a heavy flea infestation to create life-threatening blood loss. Unfortunately, even with the latest flea preventatives, fleas continue to make the lives of pets around the world miserable and increase their risks for anemia and flea-borne health issues.
While all cats and dogs can be hosts to fleas, the following are considered to be high-risk for flea anemia:
- Very young kittens and puppies that spend time outdoors or are raised by mothers that are allowed to go outdoors. At this age, kittens and puppies are still growing and developing and they’re not yet strong enough to combat the effects of severe blood loss.
- Senior cats and dogs that go outdoors. As pets grow older, they can easily develop age-related issues. Their immune system function is not as efficient as when they were young, thus they are not as strong to withstand severe blood loss.
- Cats and dogs of any age that are suffering from debilitating illnesses.
Signs of Flea Infestation in Dogs and Cats
Itching and discomfort generally occur in pets that are allergic to flea saliva. Take note that “no scratching or no visible fleas during examination does not mean your pet has no fleas”. Because these tiny parasites can be found anywhere, you have to check your pet regularly for any sign indicating their presence. A reliable way to do this is to use a flea comb and check for flea dirt.
Run the flea comb through your pet’s hair coat and check the comb’s teeth for any adult fleas. Another thing that you should watch out for is flea dirt, which is the feces of the flea. It looks like black pepper and is made up of digested blood. Thus, when you place flea dirt on wet tissue, it will turn red.
You can also have your pet stand over a sheet or white towel while you brush the hair coat. Flea dirt will fall on the fabric, an important tell-tale sign that your pet is hosting a thriving flea population.
To reproduce, adult fleas need to feed on the blood of their hosts. Typically, fleas remain on their hosts only during a blood meal. This is one important reason why many pet owners fail to see live fleas on their pets unless there is a heavy flea infestation in which the parasites can be found scurrying on the animal’s body as well as in their immediate environment.
Symptoms of Flea Anemia in Dogs and Cats
In addition to puppies and kittens, senior pets and those that are ill and immune-compromised are prone to developing serious complications associated with flea anemia. Heavy infestations equate to heavy blood loss as fleas suck on the blood of their hosts for sustenance.
When anemia is present, the following symptoms may be observed:
What to Do if Your Pet has Flea Anemia
If your pet is exhibiting any of the signs mentioned above, you should take your pet to the veterinarian immediately. Dark poop, or blood in the poop or vomit is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical intervention.
Severe cases of anemia may require a blood transfusion. There is also a need to eradicate the fleas on your pet and in your home. After a blood meal, adult fleas lay eggs in nooks and crevices, which will eventually hatch under favorable conditions. Even if all the fleas on your pet’s body have been killed, if you don’t undertake measures to eradicate all the life stages of fleas in and around your home, re-infestation can easily occur.
While many flea medications are available without a veterinarian’s prescription, heavy infestations require that you consult your vet for a product that will target all the life stages to minimize the risk of rapid re-infestation.
In cases when a dog or cat has become critically ill because of a heavy flea infestation, treatment can be problematic. The patient may be too young or small for available flea medications or too ill to tolerate being given a bath. Your vet will be able to determine the safest way to remove the fleas without further endangering the animal’s life.
The best way to deal with fleas and their damaging effects on pets is to work with your vet in creating a comprehensive health program that will include regular anti-flea medication to give your pet year-round protection against fleas.
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