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May 8, 2014

Look at the state of poor Pele’s ears! Pele suffers from flea allergic dermatitis, a reaction to the saliva from flea bites which causes him to come up in itchy hot lumps around his ears and sometimes to lose patches of fur on other parts of his body.

This latest outbreak is no doubt the result of the recent “rabbit incident” – he returned home a couple of days ago inordinately pleased with himself, carrying in his mouth a live half-grown bunny (which I am pleased to report eventually escaped to freedom apparently none the worse for wear)!

Flea infestations on cats mostly consist of cat fleas but cats can also be hosts to rabbit and hedgehog fleas, and having your head down a rabbit hole is a sure-fire method of getting bitten! I also noticed a single flea on Gus’s ear this morning, undoubted caught via Pele or the bedding on which they sleep. Time to up the flea control!

Flea allergy dermatitis

I have rarely seen evidence of fleas on my cats (more on how to detect this below) – well, there was the one time that Merlin came home with his head hopping with them, again the result of a head-down-a-rabbit-hole incident – but because of Pele’s condition, we have a fairly rigorous flea control regime in this house.


Unless your cat is heavily infested, you may not notice adult fleas in his/her coat. A meticulous cat will often ingest any fleas that they find whilst grooming. If they are heavily infested you may see them clinging on to the edges of the cat’s ears, or near the base of their tail (or indeed hopping round your ankles in the carpet!!). However it can take just one bite from just one flea to trigger a reaction in sensitive cats.

The most effective way to tell if your cat has fleas is to comb their fur with a fine toothed flea comb over a sheet of white paper. Something like this is ideal . Any “flea dirts” (the excrement, containing dried blood) or flea eggs will fall off on to the paper, looking like black or brown specks. Place some of the debris on to a piece of moist cotton wool. If it is flea dirt it will slowly dissolve on the cotton wool leaving a reddish brown mark.

Our vet does this routinely when the cats go for their annual vaccination booster and check-up, and I can’t remember an occasion when he has found evidence of fleas on any of them thankfully.


This morning I have given all four cats an application of Advocate Spot-On, and I have washed all their bedding. I’ll also spray all the carpets and soft furnishings with Acclaim, a long-lasting household environmental insecticide.

There is a vast array of products on the market for treating your cat against fleas, including spot-ons, tablets, powders, insecticidal collars and sprays.

International Cat Care (formerly the Feline Advisory Bureau) has a good article about flea control at . ICC recommends against powders, insecticidal collars and aerosol sprays in most circumstances as these older methods are not as effective, nor as safe for your cat and the environment, as the newer approaches.

I’ve used spot-ons (applied as drops to the skin at the base of the neck) with my cats for many years. However they vary a lot in how they work and how effective they are – some kill adult fleas whilst others work by disrupting the development cycle. It is worth getting your vet’s advice as to which product is best for your animal.

At the moment I am using Advocate (see ) with my cats as it is effective against not only fleas but other parasites such as mites and roundworms.
Advocate is only available on prescription, although there are other good products which can be bought over the counter.

Tip: Your vet may be willing to issue a prescription which will enable you to purchase the product online at a cheaper rate than they could provide themselves. I have a repeat prescription for a year’s supply which I purchase from

Our flea control regime

Over the winter I have reduced the flea prevention to a couple of doses of Advocate but if you have done this, now is the time to get back to a monthly regime.

It is important not to just treat when you find evidence of fleas but to see this is a regular prevention programme. Even if your cat is not allergic to flea saliva as Pele is, a flea infestation will be uncomfortable for him/her and is also implicated in spreading tapeworm and “cat scratch disease”.

The spot-on treatment will protect Pele, Gus, Dolly and Humbug for about 4 weeks and we’ll repeat this regularly throughout the spring, summer and autumn.

I also treat the environment in which the cats live as the eggs and pupae drop into carpets and bedding to perpetuate the development cycle the next time an unsuspecting cat passes by. Regular vacuuming of the carpets and washing of the bedding helps, but the only way of making sure that the cycle is broken is to spray the carpets and soft furnishings about twice a year with a long-acting household environmental insecticide such as Acclaim (

Dos and Don'ts


  • Check for the presence of fleas by regularly combing with a flea comb and inspecting the debris for flea dirt
  • Treat ALL the cats in the household
  • Check the weight of your cat before choosing which strength of spot-on to use
  • Make sure you part the fur at the base of the neck (where they can’t lick it off) and apply the drops to the skin rather than saturating the fur
  • Repeat the dose at the recommended intervals (usually 4-6 weeks) rather than intermittently
  • Vacuum carpets frequently
  • Wash bedding regularly and discard any that has been heavily infested
  • Treat ALL the carpets and soft furnishings in the house with a long-acting household environmental insecticide a couple of times a year


  • WARNING! Don’t ever use a flea product on your cat that has been formulated for dogs (or let your cat mix with a dog that has been recently treated) – these are extremely toxic to cats and can cause DEATH.

Tags: allergies, dermatitis, fleas, Pele


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