Can fleas kill kittens?

Yes, fleas can kill kittens and we have a story today in the online news media to substantiate that statement. A ‘callous breeder’ in the UK abandoned ’25 terrified cats and kittens to starve to death in a flat’. And the Mirror newspaper reports that the RSPCA assessed that two kittens ‘died after their blood was drained of iron by a rabid flea infestation’. So how do fleas kill kittens?

Flea infested flat
Flea infested flat. Image: MikeB from photo by RSPCA/Triangle News.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

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Well, it is pretty straightforward actually. It is a bit like bleeding to death. The fleas drink blood. If there are enough of them a vulnerable kitten loses so much blood that they become severely anemic. Severe anemia can kill animals and humans.

Anemia is characterized by blue gums because of a lack of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen. Less blood means less oxygen and if this is severe enough and lasts long enough and the animal is already vulnerable as kittens are, it can cause damage to the heart, brain and other organs and ultimately lead to death.

The reason why the RSPCA refer to iron being drained from the kittens is because red blood cells contain the protein haemoglobin which contains iron. The iron is responsible for the structure and action of hemoglobin. It functions by binding and transporting oxygen from the lungs’ capillaries to the rest of the body.

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In the sad story I refer to, 25 cats and kittens were rescued from an apartment in Birkenhead, Liverpool, UK. The kittens were very young at one week old and therefore incredibly vulnerable. Under the circumstances of starvation and no water it would seem to be a near foregone conclusion that they’d die and it was fleas that end up being the primary killer.

Kitten with bad flea infestation
Kitten with bad flea infestation. Picture in the public domain.

The cats had been abandoned for so long that they had become terrified of people. However, they are said to have sweet characters. The branch manager of the local RSPCA, Kay Hawthorn said: “All the cats and kittens were in such a mess. They were flea-infested and filthy and obviously very hungry so we got to work helping them straight away.”

With plenty of great care they have come around and started to trust people. They have not found the person who abandoned them. It should be easy to find them as they were almost certainly tenants and therefore the landlord should know their name. I am confident in saying that the police will take no action. That’s the police for you in the UK, I am afraid – next to useless.

Below are some articles on cat flea treatments.

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