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4 Common Flea Diseases in Cats

Fleas do more than just bite your cat – they can transmit diseases, cause health issues and irritate skin. Keep reading to learn more about the associated risks of flea bites.

Even if your cat spends most of their time indoors, fleas and flea eggs can still make their way into your cat’s everyday environment. Fleas can hide behind baseboards, in your pet’s bedding or blankets, in the cracks in your flooring, in carpeting and other places throughout your home and backyard.

It’s no small wonder, then, that flea infestations are common in cats. And while a flea infestation is a big problem on its own, diseases caused by fleas in cats can also introduce your pet to a host of issues that can threaten their health and happiness. Here are the four most common flea diseases in cats.

A tabby cat scratching its face with its back leg.

1. Bartonella

Fleas on your cat can pass along a bacterial infection called bartonellosis, also known as Bartonella. Cats most commonly contract this disease through close skin contact with infected flea feces.

Infected fleas can shed the bacteria in their feces and drop their waste right on your cat. It’s this close contact between flea droppings and your cat’s skin that creates the opportunity for infection.

While cats usually don’t show direct clinical signs from this infection, a wide variety of medical conditions have been linked with Bartonella infections, including mouth and gum disease, eye inflammation and heart disease. A main concern with infection is that cats can carry the bacteria in their systems for long periods of time, potentially passing it to other feeding fleas and, in turn, other cats.

2. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) in Cats

Cats can be hypersensitive to fleas’ saliva when they bite, causing a condition called flea allergy dermatitis, one of the most common causes of itchiness in cats.

When fleas bite, substances in their saliva can enter your cat’s skin and trigger an immune response. This can cause intense skin irritation that extends well beyond the bite locations, resulting in hair loss around the tail, belly and inner thighs, as well as skin infections that can make the problem even worse.

If your cat is experiencing FAD, you may see or even feel small scab-like bumps on their skin. These miserable symptoms will continue until the fleas are controlled.

3. Anemia in Cats

If a large number of fleas bite your cat and feed, your cat can develop anemia. This is a serious medical condition, especially in kittens, that must be promptly addressed through veterinary care. Symptoms of anemia in cats include weakness, lethargy, rapid breathing and potentially death if the fleas are not killed. With severe flea infestations, the home and surrounding outdoor areas should be treated for fleas along with your cat.

Icon of flea collar for cats.Icon of topical flea treatment for cats.

4. Tapeworms in Cats

Tapeworms are parasitic worms passed to cats from fleas, often during grooming sessions. If there are fleas in your cat's fur, your cat may swallow these fleas while grooming themselves.

If your cat swallows a flea infected with tapeworms, your cat can also become infected. Tapeworms attach to your cat’s intestines with their sucker-like mouthparts, where they then grow and steal nutrients from your cat.

You may see pieces of the worms stuck around your cat’s backside. These pieces, which look like white grains of rice, are actually packets of tapeworm eggs that might appear to move on closer inspection. Once the outer casing of these packets dries out, eggs are released into the environment where a developing flea can swallow them and the cycle can be repeated.

Tapeworms rarely cause health issues in cats; however, they can sometimes lead to abdominal pain and diarrhea, as well as itchiness around the anus.

How to Help Prevent Fleas on Cats

Because fleas can be found almost anywhere and have the ability to stay active year-round – especially if they’re in a warm home – it’s difficult to avoid them completely.

To help prevent fleas, use an effective flea prevention product for cats throughout the year. Consider keeping all pets in your household on a monthly flea control program using a product that kills fleas through contact, so fleas do not have to bite your cat to die.

Related articles:
How to Help Get Rid of Fleas on Your Cat
Flea Life Cycle & Cats
Compare Types of Flea Products

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