white cat with fleas

Can Fleas Kill Cats? 4 Fatal Diseases Fleas Can Cause

If you’ve ever had a cat with fleas you will be well aware of just how irritating fleas are, they get in your carpet and your clothes and your cat will scratch themselves incessantly to the point of breaking their own skin!

Yet beyond the obvious irritation of itchiness and uncleanliness fleas can actually be much bigger problem capable of causing fatalities – yes fleas can kill your cat.

Thankfully death by fleas is quite rare but it is not unheard of. Young kittens, old cats and cats with pre-existing health problems are at much greater risk of being killed by fleas.

Fleas are parasites which feed off the blood of mammals. This means that they will carry whatever disease or virus their host has and transmit this to whichever cat or dog they go and live on next.

Some potentially fatal things that your cat could catch from fleas include:

  • Bubonic Plague
  • Tularemia
  • Anemia
  • Typhus

Ask a Vet

If your cat has fleas and you are concerned that they appear unwell speak with a vet ASAP to help you work out what’s going on and what needs to be done. JustAnswer allows you to talk in real-time to veterinary experts for a small fee.

Source: Fleas (Siphonaptera); 247 Pest Control

Make sure that you use the best cat flea treatment available to prevent your cat from contracting any of these diseases.

1. Bubonic Plague

Yes, the same plague that wiped out 25 million people in Europe in the 1300’s is still alive and kicking. Thankfully these days it can be controlled with antibiotics.

Rats are still the main carrier of bubonic plague which means that cats who hunt rats are at high risk of catching the disease and bringing it back into your house!

Symptoms of bubonic plague include:

  • Fever
  • Low appetite
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Skin abscesses
  • Eye discharges
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weak pulse
  • High heart rate

If you notice any of these warning signs, get your cat to a vet ASAP. Bubonic plague progresses rapidly so starting treatment quickly is key to ensuring your cat survives.

Bubonic plague can affect any cat at any age, whether it is a kitten, adult or senior cat.

To minimise the risk of your cat coming into contact with bubonic plague you should keep your cat indoors and use flea treatment.

Visit MSDVetmanual.com for more information on plague in cats.

2. Tularemia

This is a disease which is common in rodents and rabbits, it can be transmitted to cats through flea bites.

It is a nasty disease which thankfully has been eradicated from the UK however cases are still routinely seen in America, particularly during summer when cats are likely to chase rodents and rabbits.

It is a nasty disease which leads to abscesses in your cat’s liver. Unfortunately even if it is diagnosed early the prognosis for cats with Tularemia is not good, usually resulting in death.

Warning signs of Tularemia include high fever (40+°C), swollen painful lymph nodes, jaundice, stomach pain and in later stages, organ failure.

Visit VCAhospitals.com for more information on Tularemia in cats.

3. Anaemia

Anaemia is a lack of red blood cells – fleas drink red blood cells.

Small cats and kittens that have a heavy flea infestation can lose so much blood to the fleas that they become anaemic to a point where they can die.

Ensuring that your cat is treated for fleas quickly combined with intense flea grooming to remove flea eggs before they hatch will prevent this from happening.

Anaemia symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Fast open-mouthed breathing
  • Weakness
  • No appetite
  • White gums
  • Fits

Visit PetBasics for more information on Anaemia in cats.

4. Typhus

Typhus in cats is often commonly referred to as feline distemper – it can be fatal to cats.

It is spread from a scratch or bite from another cat or, more commonly, through a flea infestation.

Hyper-Acute Typhus

All cats should be vaccinated against Typhus as kittens. Hyper-Acute cases where fatalities occur usually happen to kittens or elderly cats that are unvaccinated. It is rare in vaccinated adult cats.

Acute Typhus

Acute cases may also occur in vaccinated cats, symptoms will usually consist of high fever, lack of energy and no desire to eat. Then dehydration will occur and their temperature will start dropping. The later stages of acute Typhus consist of vomiting and chronic diarrhoea.

If treated early enough death is avoidable recovery will typically take two weeks.

Around 55% of cats with acute typhus will die within 4 days.

Sub-Acute Typhus

Sub Acute typhus may affect all cats and will usually consist exclusively of diarrhoea and vomiting however this is not usually fatal (although it can be).

Click here for more information on Typhus in cats.

This list is by no means exhaustive, there are numerous other blood-borne diseases which fleas infect your cat with which could also cause fatalities.

That said if your cat has fleas there is no need to immediately jump into panic mode; over 99% of flea cases cause no serious problems.

It is rare that a cat is ever killed by fleas, simply treat the fleas as recommended by your vet.

However, if you do have any concerns about your cat’s health and they seem to be having issues beyond just scratching themselves then consult a vet.

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