Risks of Fleas on Kittens
Fleas are tiny parasites that not only cause itching and discomfort for your new kitten but also can pass on several potentially serious flea-related diseases, such as bartonellosis and flea allergy dermatitis, as well as parasites such as tapeworms.
Because kittens are still learning healthy self-grooming techniques, they are at risk of a much heavier flea burden than adult cats. Due to their small size, kittens are more susceptible to anemia, a condition that can be fatal if left untreated.
While not every kitten with fleas develops anemia, every new kitten owner should be on the lookout for the signs of anemia, including:
• Pale gums
• Decreased appetite
How to Check Kittens for Fleas
As a kitten owner, you should get in the habit of checking your new pet for fleas. You can do this with a special flea comb. Flea combs are designed with narrow teeth to pull out live fleas and flea eggs living on your kitten. Live fleas are small and dark brown, about one-eighth of an inch in length.
Also be on the lookout for black specks, known as “flea dirt.” Flea dirt is flea feces, which are almost black due to the high percentage of partially digested blood. To determine whether a black speck is flea dirt or just regular dirt, flick some of the specks onto a clean, damp white paper towel. If it turns red or leaks a red substance onto the wet paper, you’re dealing with flea dirt that has been rehydrated.
Flea Treatments for Kittens Under 8 Weeks
Many flea treatments are not suitable for kittens under 8 weeks of age. An appropriate option for kittens this age is daily combing with a flea comb.
Another safe treatment option for kittens under 8 weeks is to bathe them. Use these tips when bathing your kitten:
- Use warm water and a fragrance-free pet shampoo. Avoid antibacterial shampoos. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate shampoo for cats.
- If possible, keep bath time to under 2 minutes because kittens can become anxious or chilled during a longer bath.
- Wash your kitten starting from the neck down. This method allows the shampoo to act as a barrier to prevent fleas from hiding on the head or face of your kitten.
- Always avoid the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. Never put your kitten’s head under water.
- Don’t forget to gently wash between the toes, under the legs, and the tail.
- Towel dry your kitten immediately after the bath is completed to help prevent a decrease in body temperature.
- Use a washcloth to gently spot clean your kitten’s head, continuing to avoid the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth.
These techniques are effective, but they only fight the fleas that are currently living on your kitten. Treating the home environment may be a necessary step to help prevent fleas from reinfesting your kitten, especially for young kittens before they are old enough to receive effective flea control treatments.
Flea Treatments for Older Kittens
There are a number of effective flea control products that can be used to treat kittens as young as 8 weeks of age. Check individual product labels for the appropriate age and weight ranges. Effective flea treatments kill fleas quickly, and they work to break the flea life cycle preventing flea infestations.
Remember: Preventing flea infestations is easier than treating existing flea infestations.
Always be sure the flea treatment you use is appropriate for your kitten. Never use a flea product meant for dogs on your kitten as it can be toxic. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.
Here are tips for controlling an existing flea infestation in your home environment:
- Routinely check your kitten for fleas. Daily flea checks will help you discover a flea infestation sooner rather than later.
- Vacuum often. Empty the vacuum cleaner bag or canister in an outside trash container.
- Wash beds and other areas where your kitten spends the most time. If your kitten sleeps with you in your bed, wash that bedding, too.
- Use topical flea treatments—check individual labels for appropriate age and weight ranges. Some flea products kill fleas on your kitten and stop future infestations by disrupting the flea life cycle.
Flea infestations in the home are less likely to occur if every pet in the household is being treated monthly with a flea control product. Remember: Preventing flea infestations is easier than treating existing flea infestations.
- 1. Overview of Life Cycle. Companion Animal Parasite Council. Accessed Jan 19, 2023. https://capcvet.org/guidelines/fleas.