By and large feral cats put up with fleas; that’s how they deal with them. They accept them as a way of life and tolerate them because they have to. It’s strange because I’ve just written a story about a cat hoarding man in the UK. He was hoarding domestic cats and people outside his home saw fleas on the windowpanes inside the home! So, you could ask how do domestic cats deal with fleas? They, too, put up with them unless their caregiver intervenes. Fleas are a very successful skin parasite and in very bad examples of flea infestations, kittens can die of anaemia.
Fleas are vectors for tapeworms, too. So, when feral cats groom themselves, they ingest fleas. The eggs inside the fleas become eggs inside the cat and the cat gets tapeworms. Sometimes feral cats become allergic to the flea bite and they scratch a lot causing self-mutilation. It isn’t just fleas because you will see feral cats with ticks on them. I recently wrote a story about a kitten with a carpet of ticks all over her face. It was quite horrendous.
I’ve painted a very negative picture but it is probably a fairly true picture. Although, many feral cat colonies in the USA are managed by volunteers under TNR programs. I would hope and expect that these cats are less troubled by fleas. They are after all sterilised and vaccinated; therefore, they’ve been taken to a veterinarian. I don’t know whether TNR volunteers use spot-on flea treatments on their feral cats. I doubt it because of the expense but they may do on occasion. There is nothing on the Internet which tells me that TNR volunteers treat feral cats for fleas.
It seems that not all feral cats suffer the discomfort of cat fleas. One lady writing on the Quora.com website, Kathryn, said that she has a colony of 10 feral cats and has never seen an issue with fleas. This is almost certainly highly unusual. Feral cats are going to get fleas from mice that they attack and eat as one source. And then they will pass fleas on to each other if living in a colony.
Any neglected cat, domestic or feral, is very likely to have fleas in varying degrees of infestation. Every time we read stories of cats rescued from cat hoarding homes we hear of the same medical conditions and diseases such as upper respiratory tract infections caused initially by a virus and then by bacteria. In addition, the cats are almost invariably infested with fleas. Fleas are in the top bracket of health problems encountered by all neglected cats either domestic or feral.
One website says that feral cats have sturdier immune systems than domestic cats. I’m not sure that this is correct. I think it is more correct to say that they are more tolerant of fleas but their immune systems may be weaker due to poor nutrition and the harsh life that most of them live.
In terms of health, most cats will tolerate a low-level infestation of fleas if they have to. It’s a question of how bad it gets and the robustness of the individual cat.
As a postscript, the best way in my view to deal with fleas on domestic cats is to take consistent, proactive steps to prevent a flea infestation. That means keeping the home clean and as best as possible free of places where fleas can wait before jumping onto a cat such as carpets. And I recommend flea combing your cat every single day at least once but ideally twice with a proper flea comb and carried out as thoroughly as possible each time. This way you monitor the flea problem and you please your cat at the same time because they learn to love it.
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