Fleas are small parasitic bugs that seek a host animal, such as a kitten, and can cause severe itching, discomfort, and anemia. Because kittens' bodies are so small, they are at a high risk of flea anemia due to the loss of blood from the fleas feeding. For this reason, flea infestations should be taken seriously and treatment should not be delayed.
CHECK FOR FLEAS
Check the kitten for fleas by combing through the fur with your fingers or with a flea comb. You may see active, live fleas which will appear as fast-moving, small, dark brown bugs that quickly run or jump through the fur, seeking refuge in the cat's face, belly, and armpits. Look for flea dirt, which is a sign that the kitten has fleas--even if you don't see live bugs. Flea dirt looks like small black flecks of dirt, and will be present along the base of the fur. If fleas or flea dirt are present, treat the kitten for fleas right away.
Never use a topical chemical treatment on a neonatal kitten, as this may be toxic to a young kitten. There is no topical flea treatment that is safe for kittens under 8 weeks old. Instead, you will need to provide the kitten with a bath.
TREATING FLEAS WITH A DISH SOAP BATH
A gentle bath with dish soap will help to kill the live fleas and wash away the larva and flea dirt. Exercise caution when bathing the kitten, as baths can be traumatic to a kitten if done incorrectly. Here are some tips for providing a kitten with a dish soap bath:
- Use comfortably warm water and a dish liquid such as Dawn, or a fragrance free natural dish liquid.
- Try to complete the entire bath in less than 2 minutes, as kittens can become panicked or chilled during this process.
- Wash from the neck down, avoiding the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. Never dunk a kitten's head under water.
- Create a ring of soapy water around the kitten's neck. This will act as a barrier so that the fleas do not run up the body and onto the head. Wash the neck first, then work your way down the rest of the body, lathering with warm water and dish soap.
- Wash the entire body from the neck down, including between the toes, under the arms, and on the tail.
- Rinse completely with clean, comfortably warm water.
- Immediately towel dry the kitten. It is safe to use a blow dryer with a kitten as long as it is on a low setting, is held at least 2 feet away, and is oscillating to avoid overheating. Dry the kitten completely.
- Spot clean the head with a washcloth or a cotton round and warm, soapy water. Avoid the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
- Place the kitten back into a warm environment (such as a heating disk or baby blanket.) Kittens can easily become chilled from a bath, and it is of utmost importance that the kitten be kept warm.
Learn more about fleas from Kitten Lady's veterinarian, Dr. Erica Ellis, below.
Fleas in Kittens by Dr. Erica Ellis, DVM
What is the culprit?
The cat flea’s official name is Ctenophalides felis.
How is it transmitted?
Fleas are excellent jumpers. They are great at surviving winters in shady soil or in a carpet for months before they are hatched. They are consistently found on outdoor cats and they also infest wildlife like rodents, raccoons and opossums. All cats, even those living in single pet homes in third story apartments in the middle of winter, are vulnerable to fleas.
What symptoms will the kitten show?
Itching, small black flecks called flea dirt at the tail base and under the chin, and you MAY see live fleas crawling. You may see fleas or flea dirt with the use of a flea comb. You also may not despite thorough inspection; cats are great at catching and eating adult fleas on their body.
How can I prevent it?
Make sure that every permanent feline and canine resident of your home is on monthly flea prevention. The author recommends the once monthly topical Revolution for life for animals over 8 weeks of age, which also protects against ear mites, hook worms, round worms, and fatal heart worms. It is not labeled for kittens under 8 weeks of age however, and so these steps are in place to prevent the kittens from transmission only via other household members and this is not fool proof.
How might my veterinarian diagnose it?
Itchy cats and kittens have fleas until proven otherwise. It cannot be overstated that seeing fleas is not necessary for a diagnosis and that over the counter products are often ineffective or even dangerous.
How might my veterinarian treat it?
Many kittens will be too young or small for an approved treatment. Bathing and flea combing to kill adult fleas should help to manage the issue until the kitten is large enough and old enough for a more effective therapy. The author has authorized usage of flea therapies in young kittens in mortal danger due to fleas, but the safety of these products in such young kittens is not guaranteed by the FDA as appropriate studies have not been conducted.