Flea Anemia

EVERY SUMMER AT LEAST ONE OF OUR PATIENTS DIES FROM EXCESSIVE FLEAS.

Yuppy Dorio Flea Anemia
(Fortunately, this one lived, after several days of hospitalization)

In almost every case, the owner had no idea that flea infestation could be lethal.

fleaIt is hard to imagine that something as tiny as a flea could be dangerous. We all know that fleas can make pets itch. Some of us are all too familiar with the spectacular skin inflammation in a flea-bite allergic pet but many people forget that fleas drink blood and that lots of fleas can drink lots of blood. The physical state of inadequate red blood cells is called: ANEMIA and when it is severe enough it is a life-threatening condition

 

PETS WILL NOT ITCH FROM THEIR FLEAS
UNLESS THEY ARE ALLERGIC TO FLEA BITES.

NO SCRATCHING DOES NOT MEAN NO FLEAS!

It is easy to under-estimate a petís infestation. Only animals allergic to flea bites will itch from their fleas. This means that the animal that is not allergic to flea bites will not be scratching or losing hair thus the owner may not realize that a heavy infestation active. If the pet is very effective at licking and self-grooming, it may be hard to see the fleas especially if the owner does not have a flea comb. Do not rely on your own ability to see the fleas; effect reliable flea control regardless of what you see or do not see.

Flea Comb and Flea DirtCHECK FOR FLEA DIRT

The black, pepper-like specks found in the infested petís coat are actually bits of blood that have been sucked up by the flea and excreted in neat little packages to feed the larval fleas that hatch in the environment. Even if live fleas are not seen, the presence of flea dirt means that live fleas are there.

 

 

WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?

It takes a lot of fleas to produce enough blood loss to create a life-threatening situation for the host pet but it still happens commonly. The following situations are high-risk for flea anemia:

  • Very young kittens being raised outdoors or by a mother cat who goes outdoors. Young kittens are very small and do not have blood to spare. Further, they are growing and trying to expand their blood volume; they are too young to effectively groom themselves and remove their own fleas. Flea anemia is probably the #1 cause of death in open household kittens.

    Bibingson with mother and sister

  • Elderly cats that go outdoors. The elderly cat is often debilitated from other metabolic problems. Grooming is less efficient plus the older cat is just not strong enough to withstand much blood loss.
     
  • old cat
    Outdoor puppies. Their situation is similar to that of the kittensí. Too small to effectively groom and trying to grow in the face of on going blood loss.

Annamae Brown

Eventually, the weakness catches up with these animals and they will die unless they receive a blood transfusion.

microscope looking slowEVALUATION AND TREATMENT

The good news is that these patients can still be treated even fairly late in the course of the disease. Often they will need blood transfusions or transfusion with blood substitutes. They also need to have their fleas removed and to be returned to an environment where they will be protected from further infestation.dog gums

The first step is recognizing the problem. This is not difficult for a trained veterinary health care worker but may not be easy for an uninformed pet owner. The affected animal will have pale gums (normal gums are shell-pink; anemic gums can be completely white). In advanced disease, the patient will be listless and even cold. A flea comb can be used to check for flea dirt. Cats sometimes eat small pebbles or cat litter when they are anemic.
 

  • Be familiar with the normal color of your petís gums so that you can recognize a problem.
     
  • Regular flea combing can help nip a big problem in the bud.

PCV card smallA test called a HEMATOCRITor PACKED CELL VOLUME (PCV) is easily done in your vetís office to assess the degree of anemia. The hematocrit or PCV reflects the percentage of red blood cells that should be present in a sample of blood. In dogs the normal range is 38 to 57 and in cats the normal range is 24 to 45. Blood transfusion becomes a consideration when values reach 20 or less.

Ridding the critically ill patient of fleas can be problematic. Often the patient is too sick to tolerate the sCapstar small dogtress of a bath and is too young or too small for flea control products. In this situation, your veterinarian will have to use his or her judgment on what is the safest route to removing the fleas. Recently, Capstar® has become available. This is a fast-acting flea-killing tablet with no known side effects for mammals. It is labeled for use in animals weighing 2 lbs or more and has been especially helpful in clearing severe flea infestations quickly, though without long-lasting effects. To visit the manufacturerís website, click here.

RETURNING HOME

Of course after all the blood transfusions, heat support, and
de-fleaing, the pet will ultimately go home potentially to the same environment where the infestation occurred in the first place. Usually, topical flea control products will provide adequate future protection and the use of a vitamin and iron supplement will help the patient rebuild his or her red blood cell reserves. The most important prevention is the owner's education.

THERE IS NO REASON FOR A PET TO CARRY A FLEA BURDEN IN THIS DAY AND AGE

There are still many people who unfortunately believe that fleas simply go with pet ownership, that there is no way to avoid them. This may have been true at one time but, in reality, fleas have been optional for decades with flea control methods achieving higher levels of convenience and safety each year. The days of sprays, powders, and foggers are largely gone, supplanted by pills and spot-on preparations. No pet needs to have fleas in the 21st century; an owner has his or her pick of safe and effective products such as the ones shown below. To visit the manufacturerís website for any of these products, click on the appropriate image below. In recent years there has been a huge proliferation in safe, long-acting flea products and the graphics and links shown below represent only some of them.

Advantage II large cat small

Advantage Multi orange

Advantix II extra large dog small

Frontline Plus 44

Advantage II

Advantage Multi

Advantix II

Frontline Plus

Comfortis dogs 60 to 120

Parastar Orange

Program brown

Sentinel yellow

Comfortis

Parastar

Program

Sentinel

vectra

revolution small dogs

Activyl cat and dog

Trifexis 40 60 dog smaill

Vectra 3D

Revolution

Activyl

Trifexis

To view a chart comparing some of the above products, click here.

The general pet-owning population has certainly heard of fleas and is aware of most of the modern flea control products, yet still pets die from this easily preventable problem because people do not realize how serious it can be and cannot recognize when it has gotten to a serious point. Be pro-active and keep up your flea control all year round; if you wait for what you think of as warm weather, your pet may well already be infested. Do not assume a pet with fleas will scratch. Do not assume that if the humans are not being bitten then the flea burden must be light. Do not be one of those people whose beloved pet is lost to an easily preventable disease.

IF YOU NEED HELP SELECTING FLEA CONTROL PRODUCTS,
REMEMBER THAT YOUR VETERINARIAN AND HIS OR HER STAFF
ARE PROFESSIONALLY EDUCATED IN THIS EXACT SUBJECT
AND WILL BE HAPPY TO ASSIST YOU.

Page last updated: 1/4/2013