My cousin, Judy, (one of my late Uncle Sam’s daughters) in Florida writes: “Do you do counseling on cats? I think ours has gone psycho on us. We missed last month’s flea treatment and now are afraid we have fleas in the carpet. He avoids the floor, jumps on the counter (which he never did before), jumps from the couch to the chair and slept on the footstool a few nights ago instead of the floor, where he usually sleeps.”
Judy has described, perfectly, a behavior common to cats with fleas in their environments.
In fact, the usual behavior can even be more dramatic, with cats seeking out the highest pieces of furniture in a household. Instinctively they know that the higher they go, the farther they are from their black, leaping attackers. It is not unusual to hear of cats who achieve amazing heights, such as the tops of chifferobes, the height of which can approach the ceiling.
Interestingly, this is the first example I’ve heard of a cat attempting to traverse a room without touching the floor!
While it might seem reasonable to assume that the flea burden in such a situation must be very high, that is less likely than the possibility that Lawrence is especially sensitive to fleas. In fact, this may be the first evidence that Lawrence is allergic to the saliva of fleas, a condition known as Flea Bite Allergy (FBA) or Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD). (Click here to read more on Flea Bite Allergy) Lawrence has not been identified as an FBA patient, but cats exhibiting this level of sensitivity certainly are candidates. Signs can be subtle in FBA’s earliest stages.
Dogs and cats who suffer from FBA can have their allergic reaction triggered by as little as one bite from one flea. The saliva that stops the flea’s blood meal from clotting also triggers the victim’s immune system to react with an itching sensation.
Owners often comment that they never see fleas on their flea-bite-allergic pets. Research has shown that such pets are excellent self-groomers. In one study, two pets were introduced to sealed cages, each with 100 fleas. A flea-bite-allergic pet resided in one cage, a non-allergic control dog in the other. At one hour each dog was removed and the fleas were counted. The non-allergic dog still had 100 fleas either in his cage or flea-combed from his coat. The FBA dog, on the other hand, had consumed nearly half of her fleas in just 60 minutes’ time! Flea-bite-allergic pets come to know that the mere presence of a flea means that they will soon become uncomfortable, leading them to launch a search-and-destroy mission to kill that flea before it bites them.
I suspect that some time in the next year Judy and her husband will discover that Lawrence converts to a clear-cut FBA patient.
And, I hope I’m wrong.
To read more about flea control in the house and yard, click here.
See you next week, Dr. Randolph.