FLEA-RELATED AILMENTS IN CATS
Allergies, Anemia, and Tapeworm
by Joelle Steele
Fleas are the enemy of your cat. Not only are these horrible little parasites feeding on your cat and causing it discomfort, they can also create serious illnesses in your animal.
Some cats are hypersensitive to flea saliva. The sensitive cat repeatedly scratches, licks, and bites himself for relief. Fleas are ingested, transporting the tapeworm to the digestive tract, and the skin becomes lumpy and scabby, often with weepy sores. The skin may even bleed, a signal that you need veterinarian intervention. In some infestations, the cat may become anemic due to severe blood loss. To correct these problems before they get out of hand, you can try some nutritional, homeopathic, and herbal treatments.
First and foremost: keep you cat indoors. That is the only sure "cure." Flea-proof your house, then flea proof your cat. Flea comb your cat at least three times a day to remove live fleas. Bathe your cat in a gentle shampoo made with Castile soap and oil of either pennyroyal, eucalyptus, or pine. To deter fleas from biting and to insure against stress-related, B-complex vitamin deficiencies which often occur simultaneously with fleas and which can further aggrevate the condition, give your cat Brewers yeast supplements. The homeopathic Sulphur 200 given once a week for three or four weeks (or Sulphur 30c given twice a week) also acts as a flea repellent as does a small pinch of garlic added to the food two or three times a week.
Add a small pinch of Echinacea angustifolia in powdered form to your cat's food once a day. If you have more than one cat but only one needs this treatment, mix it in a half-teaspoon of your cat's favorite canned food and insert it into his mouth making sure he swallows it. To treat sores, apply Calendula lotion diluted with 50% tepid water with a clean piece of cheesecloth. Another option for skin treatment is half a lemon steeped in a cup of water overnight, strained of its pulp, and then applied cool to the sores. Try giving one of the homeopathics, Sulphur 6 or Arsenicum Alb 3, twice a day for two weeks or so.
Anemia can be a serious threat to your cat's health. The condition exists when there is a deficiency of red blood cells — less than twenty-five percent by volume to be exact. Since red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, a shortage in those cells can be debilitating to your cat.
Most of the symptoms of anemia are pretty straight forward. A cat generally appears to be weak, may become withdrawn, less sociable, even depressed. He may lose his appetite and spend more hours sleeping than he normally does. On closer examination, the tissues of his mouth and eyes membranes will become very pale and he will be likely to lose weight, possibly to the point where he becomes noticeably thin. His fur may lack its usual luster and his eyes may have a sunken look to them. Other less obvious symptoms that you might not notice immediately but which will be evident to a veterinarian, include a rise in temperature, reddish urine, and an increase in pulse and respiration rates. These are all indicators of a very serious problem and an immediate trip to the vet is definitely in order.
When people think of anemia, they usually associate it with a nutritional shortage of iron. But, cats can readily utilize the iron they get from eating meat products, so they are unlikely to suffer from an iron deficiency anemia if they are receiving an adequate supply of meat in their diets. The most common causes of anemia in cats come as a result of excessive blood loss due to injuries, (either external or internal), or because of a lack of bodily production of red cells in conjunction with an illness. Sometimes the body can be producing red cells very quickly, but not at a fast enough rate to keep up with the rate at which they are being lost. Also, because their bone-marrow structure is so susceptible, a cat can become anemic from any diseases which affect that marrow.
But, anemia can also be caused by parasites. With a major infestation of external parasites such as fleas, cats may suffer large blood losses and become subject to what is sometimes commonly referred to as "flea anemia." This condition is most likely to be found in kennels with unsanitary living conditions or in homes where flea prevention and control measures are not being exercised properly, if at all. And, flea anemia, which can produce an alarming amount of blood loss, most often affects, and can be life threatening to, small kittens or to elderly or infirmed adult cats.
Veterinarians traditionally treat anemia with iron supplements in the form of pills or liquids, sometimes with injections of liver. In severe cases, blood transfusions may even be recommended as necessary to saving a severely afflicted cat's life. On the homefront, anemic cats should be fed a diet rich in meat protein and iron, with beef liver being a particularly effective source of both.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) should be supplemented as well since iron alone cannot produce red blood cells and requires B12 and copper to do the job. B12 is known as the "red vitamin" because of its color and it is a normal nutritional requirement of cats. The following, in addition to liver, contain the nutrients necessary and important to the successful treatment of anemia, regardless of its cause: Vitamin C at a rate of 500 to 700 mg per day, green vegetables, (including sea kelp in powdered form), and nutritional yeast.
A cat who has fleas, whether or not he is anemic, is probably very stressed out from the discomfort these parasites inflict on their hosts. Stress reduces or depletes the body's supply of B vitamins, and as a result, your flea-ridden feline may be deficient in those essential nutrients. B complex vitamins are not only good nutritional supplements but they also discourage fleas from biting as well.
Brewers' yeast is a great source of the B complex vitamins, including the B12 that iron needs in order to produce red blood cells. Another B complex vitamin is B1 (thiamine). B1 leaves an odor on the cat's skin which humans cannot detect, but which repels fleas and other external parasites including some varieties of lice. Regularly supplementing a cat's diet with Brewers' yeast is one way to build your cat's resistance to external parasites year round.
Flea anemia is a condition which requires immediate medical treatment. If you even suspect that your cat may be suffering from anemia of any kind, contact your veterinarian at once. If fleas are the cause, remember to treat not only your cat, but your home as well. Controlling and then preventing fleas is the only way to insure that your beloved feline companion does not fall victim to any of the flea-related diseases and disorders, including serious conditions such as anemia.
A diet rich in meat protein and iron is a must. Beef liver is a good source of both. In addition, if you are not already giving a B-complex supplement, be sure to give your cat vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) which is needed to produce red blood cells. Homeopathics can help an anemic cat too. Try either Calcium Phos 3x or Natrum Muriaticum 6x for two or three weeks. Administer three times a day if it is a severe case of long duration. If it is an acute but minor case give China 3 every four hours instead.
All cats are different and respond differently to various medications. Do not bombard your cat with all the oral remedies at once. Try them one at a time with topical treatments as necessary. If one method does not work immediately, do not be discouraged. Keep using it a little while longer since herbals and homeopathics sometimes take a little longer depending on the individual cat and the severity of the problem. If there is no sign of improvement after a week, try an alternative treatment instead.
You've probably seen those little white worms that look like pieces of rice attached to your cat's hindquarters. Those are small segments of tapeworms that reside inside your cat's digestive system.
Add some roughage to your cat's diet in the form of grains and seeds such as pumpkin and rice. Try homeopathics such as Filix Mas. 3x given twice a day for four to six weeks and followed up with a single dose of Filix Mas. 200. One to three tablets twice a day of Natrum phosphoricum 6x for four to six weeks will return the digestive system to its normal acidity level which is not conducive to tapeworms. Both of these homeopathics can be given at the same time.
FLEA CONTROL - THE ONLY REAL CURE
Unless you turn your attention towards preventing and controlling the fleas, your cat will continue to suffer from allergies, anemia, or tapeworm.
Chemical treatments are usually the first thing that comes to mind when eliminating fleas is the issue. But, since the cats which are most likely to be afflicted with flea anemia are the small kittens and the elderly or infirmed individuals, they may be too weak to tolerate the chemicals, particularly if they are applied directly to their bodies in the form of collars, shampoos, dips, or powders.
If your veterinarian says that your cat is strong enough to tolerate a flea bath, give it to him using a non-toxic soap and a lemon rinse. Never use a flea dip or any harsh chemicals on a sick cat. Use a flea comb a few times a day and keep him indoors and quiet.
Your cat's environment (and yours) should be kept very clean. Use deterrents such as cedar chips to discourage fleas from nesting where your cat sleeps. Keep your house vacuumed thoroughly — carpets, beds, and all upholstered furniture — at least once a week. Discard the vacuum bag each time — burn it if you can.
To eliminate a severe infestation quickly, use a chemical bomb and be sure you read the directions thoroughly before using it. Be sure the bomb you use is one that kills live fleas and the flea eggs and flea larvae. If it doesn't kill all three, don't waste your money on it. Find a bomb that does. Afterwards, vacuum your home thoroughly and then treat it with non-toxic drying agents that will stop the flea's reproductive cycle and prevent further infestations. Diatom dust (diatomaceous earth) mixed with baking soda and cornstarch in a 50%-25%-25% combination can be sprinkled on and then rubbed into your carpets, beds, and upholstered furniture. Leave it there for a week and then vacuum. Repeat the process in three or four weeks if necessary. In severe infestations this process may have to be repeated twice. Before the next flea season begins, apply the powder again to get a jump on the fleas before they jump on you and your cat.
This article last updated: 04/27/2013.
The articles on this Web site are informational only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice or treatment. Cats are not "one size fits all." They are different in terms of breed, age, health, lifestyle, and tolerance for different foods and other substances.