Fleas Can Be Fatal

This is probably going to be a long post. (Apologies, in advance, but it needs to be discussed)

I do like sharing photos and stories with you.  Some topics are happy, and some a little less happy, put it that way.  I don't post anything that I wouldn't tell a client in person. I don't post to embarrass anyone. I don't mention clients names, although some of my readers do recognize the patients, and know who they belong too.  And when I discuss things like parvo virus, as a reader, it's easy to point a finger and say, "that dog should have been vaccinated".  And I agree.  It sort of indirectly, unintentionally,  reflects poorly on the owner. If I had my way, every dog would get vaccinated, but I am up against a feed store, a rabies clinic,  the pound, and a low-cost spay neuter clinic, that rolls into town every 2 weeks, that says otherwise.

The only reason that I post these stories in the first place is that if I can keep another pet from suffering the same mistake, then it's worth it.  As a reader, what you don't realize is that these posts about things like parvo show up really high in google, and on youtube. A little client pet educational information never hurt anyone.  So that is my intent. Not to pass judgment on any one person or embarrass anyone.   Does that make sense?  Okay then.

This is the story of  Belle. A 4 year old Himalayan cat that came in on Thursday.

Literally knocking on death's door.  Weighed about 4.5 lbs.  Probably should have weighed 7 pounds or more. Totally inside cat.  I vaccinated her as a kitten and then hadn't seen her again until Thursday.  Someone else spayed her. Not sure when her last checkup was.   Her body temperature was 92.5 degrees.  Normal body temp for a cat is up to 103.  Mucous membranes the color of notebook paper.

She's in a rather precarious situation.  You are not going to be able to get a catheter in her, without stressing her out.  Which means she crashes then and there.  Sedating her is not an option either.

So I got a capstar down her, sprayed her with flea spray,  gave her a shot of b vitamins, and packed her in hot water bottles, and papoosed her in a towel.  To fumigate and get her temp back up. Or try and get her temperature back up. 

The fleas had literally sucked her dry.  You can see the dead ones on the inside of the towel and on the table.  The white things on the table that look like grains of salt are flea eggs.  You wouldn't believe how many of those fell off her just in the few minutes she sat on the table. Just loaded. 

Flea Eggs
 Her only hope is that she can hang on for 2-3 days to let her blood levels build back up.  She made it through Thursday night.  Her temperature was still low on Friday morning, but I did get it back up to 101 by lunchtime.  I was hopeful.  I got a little nutrical in her, gave her a little bit of fluids under her skin. Not too much to dilute out her blood volume further.

She was sleeping with hot water bottles, wrapped up in a towel, and under a heat lamp. When I went to check on her about 3:30 pm,  she had passed away.  It was all just too much for her to try and hang on.

There is a small possibility that Belle has some underlying medical condition that made her weak or anemic in the first place, and the fleas didn't help any.  Without a blood sample to test, or possibly an autopsy, we'll never know.  But that was a lot of fleas, flea eggs, and flea dirt on her.  And  "flea dirt" as it is called is just flea poop made up of digested blood from her.

The owner has another cat and 2 dogs in the house. She said she has been using Frontline on all of them.  I have no way to verify what she was exactly using. Or what she had sprayed the house with. I did send her home with Siphotrol to spray the floors and upholstery with.  It has much more active ingredients than most store brand of flea sprays.  If she has been treating the other pets, and spraying the house in the past few months, I bet she has spent way more than she would have if she had purchased the "good stuff" in the beginning.   I also bet if she had called me a week, maybe 2 weeks ago, she would still have her cat, and not be having to get her cremated.  But that is hindsight, isn't it.

No dog or cat should have to live with fleas. Certainly not die from them.

Often people will say, "Oh, my cats stay inside, they don't need flea stuff."  And this is true, up to a point, they are less exposed compared to an outdoor cat. In the beginning anyway.  But if a flea problem ever develops, and it can happen very fast without one realizing it,  the indoor cat is at a disadvantage.  The outdoor cat can move. If there are fleas in the barn, the outdoor cat can go elsewhere.  The inside cat can't get away from them.

Just a few notes about flea products. Read the label and know what you are buying. Or better yet, ask your vet.  I know from experience that when people complain about a flea problem, and I ask what they are using, the answer is usually a flea collar.  Or flea shampoo.   Well, there you go. Problem solved. That'll be $85 for the consult.

A flea problem isn't about the fleas that you can see. It's about the flea eggs and larval stages that you can't see. For every flea one sees, there are 10 more waiting to hatch. The flea you see on Thursday probably isn't the same one you saw on Tuesday.   Flea medications don't repel fleas as if your dog or cat lives in a bubble.  Fleas hatch and have to get on the dog or cat long enough to absorb the stuff. Treating the carpets, upholstery, bedding helps too.

Many of the over the counter flea products for dogs contain permethrin. You can't put permethrin on a cat.  Or you shouldn't as it is toxic to cats- make them seizure or have uncontrolable twitches. I see that more than I would like to.

One ingredient in some flea medications is methoprene.  Methoprene is a insect growth regulator. It is supposed to help keep flea eggs from hatching.  I have seen some OTC cat flea medications that only contains methoprene.  It doesn't actutally kill anything.  (And they wonder why they have a flea problem . . . ) Sometimes it's combined with something to kill fleas.  Like Frontline plus.  And that combination is fine.  Personal opinion though, is that Frontline Plus doesn't kill fleas any faster than Frontline, (that ingredient is the same in both).  So I don't think the "plus" is worth the extra money that it costs. If you really want something to keep flea eggs from hatching, look for an ingredient called Lufenuron.  It's in a product called Program for Dogs and Cats. (I actually have it compounded into dog's heartworm medication saving a client money).

Thanks for reading to the end of the ridiculously long post. I hope you learned something and that it helps to improve your pet's quality of life.  I hope I never see a cat, or dog, in Belle's situation again.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Andy. It was very educational and sad.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Andy. Very educational and sad. How about garlic?

Preserve Jewelry Studio said...

This owner is obviously neglectful and should not have pets. The house has to be infested. If this cat survives, please convince the owner to let it have a better life somewhere else.

Andy Mathis said...

I think this is one of those situations where the owner honestly didn't know how bad the problem was until I showed her the cat's gums. She took stuff home to help the dogs and other cat, before Belle passed away, so maybe she'll be able to get things cleaned up. She does feel bad that she got in such bad shape and passed away.

Maybe she'll be better prepared to stay on top of the situation in the future.

If the situation is a financial one where she can't afford to take care of the pets, then yeah, it would be the nice thing to try move them out of the house, either permanently or as foster care for a few months. However, if the pets leave the house, then they'll start biting her instead.

Either way, someone is going to have to treat the house to clear up the problem. Pets or no pets.

and about garlic- I don't think hungry fleas care if you smell and taste like fettucini alfredo, or not. :)

Michele said...

My heart goes out to the owner. I was even in tears. These days so many people cannot afford to provide themselves with medical care much less their animals. It reminds me of a good friend, who owned a black cat like me and who I had not seen in a long time because of getting sick and disabled. When I did visit, I could tell something was wrong with Skippy. (Everyone tells me how scary I am because I seem to be able to sense these things in animals...and people.) I told her she needed to take him in asap. She could not see what I saw. Which I felt bad for doing knowing she was having financial difficulties. But, she took him anyway and he died two days later. Then she had problems paying the bill. Since I felt responsible I helped her out (I was not working). I can see how money and not having it can cause people to put things off hoping that the illness passes.
We should help our friends we know are in financial straits when the need it. We do it when they need help with human illnesses, and if their pets are just as precious and vulnrable.
I can say we have never in the 23 years I have been owning pets, had fleas. In Hawaii they were prolific and I swore if I ever had pets I would make sure mine would never have them. Even a friends house was infested soooo bad, if your feet were on the floor, you had hundreds jumping on your legs. I left after seconds!! I could not believe they let it get so bad!
Thanks for the education, I will make sure to get the best stuff to insure I never get them on any of my animals. It is less expensive to treat prophylactically then to wait. We should open our eyes and help those we see that need a helping hand. Maybe these kinds of things can be prevented by others that care and can give assistance before it is too late.

Andy Mathis said...

That's true as well, Michele. About noticing that a pet might be ailing if one hasn't seen them in awhile.

If one sees a pet everyday, it sometimes is difficult to tell if they are loosing weight. If someone only sees a pet once a month, they notice any changes sooner.

I am forever weighing patients as they come in, especially older cats and patients. A cat might loose some weight but the weight loss is hidden by their fur and coat to look at them. It's when you look back at what they weighed a year ago, that's when it's noticed.

Art with Liz said...

Thank you Andy for this insight. Poor wee Belle, you made her comfortable in her last hours. And I hope there are many, many people who will read this and learn.

mmcdoniel33 said...

Poor little Belle...I have 6 cats, and I am over the top paranoid about fleas. The flea products can be expensive to use in multiple cat households...but during times when the budget's been really tight, I have literally used a flea comb and combed them 3 times a day to keep them under control. Whatever I had to do to make sure they weren't being sucked dry. Yes, it was a lot of work, but I didn't mind.

I had a foam cup filled with water and dishwashing soap, and when the comb popped a flea off, I would put it in the water. The soap drags them to the bottom.

I am sorry, didn't deserve to go this way. RIP little girl.


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