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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a question about my 18-month-old Siamese: a couple weeks ago I began noticing tiny blood spots in the bathroom sink. At first I thought maybe I was brushing my teeth too hard or something, but I finally figured out that they were coming from my cat’s feet (or foot?).

I’ve checked her over numerous times, including between each of her toes and her rear. I can never find any blood spotting in her fur, on her pads, or in any place that she regularly naps (and just all around “hangs out”). The only place I find the spots, in fact, are in the bathroom sink (and then, only when it’s been wet). She also doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort or duress, hasn’t been chewing her paws, and hasn’t been vocalizing any more than usual.

Any ideas? Thanks for your help!

~G

Siouxsie: Well, G, we suspect that your cat has fleas. And here’s why.

Thomas: Tiny blood spots in wet places are a key indicator of the presence of fleas. These nasty little parasites feed off your cat’s blood, and when they poop, they poop out that dried blood.

Dahlia: Flea dirt looks like little black specks when it’s dry, but when it’s wet it turns a rusty-red or blood color.

Siouxsie: Fleas are not always obvious. They’re really good at hiding under your cat’s fur, so you won’t necessarily see them crawling around on your cat unless the poor thing is really infested.

Thomas: Don’t be embarrassed if your cat has fleas. It doesn’t mean you’re a slob or a bad pet parent.

Dahlia: Your cat can get fleas any number of ways. If he goes outside, there are always fleas around, and if he catches rodents and eats them, fleas can easily migrate from the rodent to your cat.

Siouxsie: You could bring flea eggs in on your clothes or backpack if you visited a house where there were animals with fleas. If you rent, it’s possible that the previous tenants had animals with fleas and didn’t clean properly; then when the eggs hatched out, they got on your cat.

Thomas: You can tell if your cat’s blood spots are coming from flea dirt by doing a very simple test.

Dahlia: Get a fine-toothed metal flea comb from your local pet store. Run the comb through your cat’s fur, and then put the fur and whatever grit comes out onto a damp paper towel. If the grit you pick up turns into red spots, you’re dealing with fleas. If your cat has fleas, you may even pick up one or two on the comb itself.

Siouxsie: It’s very hard to kill fleas when you find them because they have a hard outer shell, so you need to crush them with your thumbnail or drown them in water.

Thomas: The good news is that it’s really easy to get rid of fleas. There are a number of “spot on” flea treatments that are very effective not only at killing fleas but keeping the eggs from hatching in the first place. We recommend that you use a product like Frontline Plus or Advantage. We’ve had great success with both of them, and they’re well worth the money.

Dahlia: Your vet will be able to recommend a product that will be most effective in your area. Certain treatments tend to work better in certain climates, and some products are more resistant to water than others.

Siouxsie: It’s very important that you don’t get cheap spot-applied flea treatments that you see in supermarkets. Some of these products can be toxic not only to the fleas but to your cat as well. They also tend to be less effective than the more costly brands.

Thomas: Also, don’t buy “super-discounted” versions of Advantage, Frontline, or other vet-quality flea treatments. These often tend to be either expired lots (which will mean they don’t work well) or counterfeit products (which in addition to not working well may have other, more toxic ingredients).

Dahlia: Ironically, you’ll probably pay less for these high-quality flea treatments if you get them at your vet’s office than you will if you buy them at pet stores. At least, that’s been Mama’s experience.

Siouxsie: We recommend against using flea collars because they tend to be ineffective and can even choke or trap your cat because they don’t have safety releases like regular cat collars. Flea powderstend to be ineffective–because they only get on the surface of your cat’s fur rather than under the fur where the fleas live–and toxic to your cat as well because he’ll lick the product off as he cleans himself.

Thomas: Using spot-on flea treatments is an effective way to get rid of fleas. And it causes minimal stress to your cat, unlike bathing or powdering.

Dahlia: If you have chemical sensitivities or you just don’t want to use chemical products on your cat, there is a natural way to eliminate fleas.

Siouxsie: When we were kittens, Sinéad and I got fleas. Because we were still really small, Mama didn’t want to use nasty chemicals on us. So here’s how she took care of our flea problem.

Thomas: In order to get the fleas out of your house, you have to kill the eggs and get rid of new batches of fleas as they hatch. It takes a lot of effort to do this the pesticide-free way, but if you do this properly, it works very well.

Dahlia: First, Mama made a powder, a mixture of half table salt and half baking soda. She sprinkled it on all the carpets, under and on all the furniture, and let it sit for an hour or so. Then she vacuumed everywhere and disposed of the bag outdoors immediately. She did this once a week for three weeks.

Siouxsie: Mama laundered all her bedding and all of our bedding, pillow covers, throw blankets–pretty much anything that moved and that we sat or slept on–in hot water.You may have to do this once a week for a few weeks, too.

Thomas: At the same time she was vacuuming and washing our bedding,  she bathed Sinéad and Siouxsie weekly with Flea-B-Gone, an herbal flea shampoo from Avena Bontanicals in Rockport, Maine. Once she rinsed them off and toweled them dry, she picked or combed out any half-dead fleas and drowned them in a jar of water with a couple of drops of dish detergent (water with a drop or two of ammonia also works well). She kept this “drowning jar” with her wherever she sat, and if she was watching TV or reading a book and a cat crawled onto her lap, she’d pet her and casually search for fleas. The ones she found, she picked off and plunged into the solution.

Dahlia: This process is obviously very labor-intensive, but it works. The flea siege was gone after three weeks, and nothing Mama did was toxic to Sinéad and Siouxsie.

Siouxsie: If your cat does have fleas, G, you’ll want to watch out for tapeworms. Fleas are the main vector for tapeworm infestations in cats. Either an adult louse or a flea larva ingests the eggs. The egg develops into an immature form in the insect. When your cat eats an infected flea, which he would do in the course of his daily grooming, the immature form develops into an adult in your cat’s intestines, and the life cycle is completed.

Thomas: Signs of tapeworms in cats include seeing things that look like little rice grains in your cat’s bedding or around his anus. These are the segments of the tapeworm. And sometimes you’ll even see them wriggling around when they first come out. Gross!

Dahlia: If your cat does have tapeworms, your vet will be able to give you a very effective medication to kill them. Some of these medications, such as Cestex, are given in two doses, two weeks apart. Others require only one dose. Again, use tapeworm medicines from your vet rather than from your pet store because your vet’s medicines are much more effective.

Siouxsie: Good luck, G. We’re sure you and your cat will be much happier once his fleas are gone.

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