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Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Cats

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests often are performed to confirm a diagnosis of flea allergy dermatitis and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history including questions about itchiness, areas of involvement, prior history of skin problems, diet, response to therapy, and any concurrent medical conditions

  • A thorough physical examination, including examination of the skin

  • Fecal flotation tests to determine the presence of concurrent gastrointestinal parasites or identify tapeworms, which are transmitted via fleas

  • Skin scrapings examined under the microscope to detect mange mites (sarcoptes, cheyletiella, demodex). The sarcoptic mange mite can be very difficult to find and several skin scrapings may have to be collected.

    Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to exclude or diagnose other conditions. These tests insure optimal medical care and are selected on a case-by-case basis. Examples include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to identify infection or inflammation and anemia, which can be seen in severe flea infestations. Occasionally, a high percentage of circulating eosinophils may be seen in the blood smear. This type of white blood cell may be found in increased numbers in some animals with parasitic infections.

  • Serum chemistry tests to evaluate the overall health of the cat and to evaluate the function of vital organs such as the liver and kidneys

  • Allergy tests such as the radioallergosorbent test (RAST) or the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), although the accuracy and usefulness of these tests is variable

  • Intradermal allergy testing (skin testing) to identify the responsible allergens in allergic animals. Most flea allergic cats will react to the flea antigen used in this test.

  • Microscopic examination of material collected from the external ear to check for mites or infectious organisms like bacteria or yeast

    Treatment In-depth

    The type of treatment for fleas on your cat will depend on several factors:

  • The severity of the infestation

  • Whether you have only a cat or cats, or both cats and dogs

  • Whether your pets spend all of their time indoors or some time indoors and some time outdoors

  • The time of the year the problem occurs

  • Area of exposure to fleas as the pet's yard or public park

  • Whether or not the animal is allergic to fleas

    Recommendations May Include

  • Many products that are available for the treatment of flea infestation. All products have advantages, disadvantages and may or may not be safe to use with other products.

  • Some "over-the-counter" products available without a prescription, such as flea powders, sprays and collars that contain pyrethrin, which is moderately effective. The most potent flea control products are prescription products available through your veterinarian.

    Prescription flea control products are most potent and include:

  • Capstar® (nitenpyram), an oral product that results in flea death within four hours after administration

  • Program® (lufenuron), a product that can be administered orally or by injection, and that inhibits the development of the flea

  • Frontline® (fipronil) and Advantage® (imidacloprid), topical products placed directly on the skin that prevent and kill fleas

  • Revolution® (selamectin), a topical product that prevents fleas, heartworms and some intestinal parasites

    If your pet already has fleas, they must be killed first with products such as Capstar® (nitenpyram), Frontline Plus® (fipronil) or Advantage® (imidacloprid).

    Recommendations for flea control will vary depending upon local and regional variations in climate. New flea control products are constantly being developed. Consult your veterinarian about the newest and most effective product for your particular area and circumstances.

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