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( Originally Published 1936 )
There is no excuse for the owner when fleas appear on an indoor cat, unless they are brought in by some visiting cat or dog. For the flea is a creature of filth, and its eggs are usually deposited in dust and grime, in neglected chinks and corners. Cats that are below par, cats that are not kept clean, cats that lead sedentary lives, or that are anemic from bearing and nursing too many kittens are always the most likely to be the prey of fleas.
Of course an outdoor cat is not easy to guard. Though fleas breed in hidden unclean places they get about a good deal, and they are often lurking in weeds and underbrush, waiting to invade your cat as it takes an innocent stroll. They infest rabbits, fowls, and pigeons, and hop lightly from them to cats and dogs, not caring who their host is so long as they get a good drink of mammalian blood.
The cat-flea egg is a whitish speck, from which comes a grub that in the course of several weeks develops into the jumping, biting flea. If your cat, dozing peacefully, suddenly starts up and scratches itself or makes a desperate grab with its mouth at some part of its anatomy, and if, on examination, you see an infinitesimal brownish longish speck which is there and then not there, probably it is a flea.
The flea itself is not dangerous, but it sometimes carries the eggs of the tape worm, which the cat, licking itself, takes into its stomach, to its future undoing. Cats cannot rest or sleep properly when fleas are at work on them; then, by scratching themselves, as they will, they bring on skin diseases and finally get moth-eaten looking and debilitated.
There are various powders for the eradication of fleas, but one must be cautious about using them except by expert advice. I believe Pulvex to be safe; veterinarians I know and trust say it can be used on cats, and they are mindful of the fact that these animals are more sensitive to drugs than dogs are. Pulvex should be dusted well under the hair and allowed to remain a few hours, so as to stun or kill the fleas.
I feel that when applying any powder or other medicinal agent to a cat's body you should put an Elizabethan collar on it to prevent it from licking itself. In the chapter on The Importance of Nursing you will find directions for making these collars. A little linen coat serves the same purpose, but it is more troublesome to make and put on.
When the Pulvex has done its work the fleas must be removed, and this is important, for they are probably only stupefied, not dead. I am told that if you stand the cat on a newspaper and brush it vigorously the unconscious fleas will drop on the paper, which can then be burned, but I never found fleas so accommodating; in my experience they stuck to the cat till I combed them out or picked them out with my fingers.
Some authorities prefer a bath to dry powder, using warm water with some soap or oil that is lethal to fleas. But such a bath should be given only under expert supervision, first, because the soap or oil must be selected with care, second, because there is danger that the cat will be chilled. It is best done in an animal hospital.
I always preferred to catch fleas alive, looking through my cat's fur till I found one and nipping it with a thumb and finger. With practice you can do it, but then my cats never had many fleas. When they come in battalions the thumb-and-finger method will hardly serve.
It is humiliating to think that our pet cats can have lice, but even the cleanest children have been known to come home from school with these pests in their hair. But lice have one virtue, they cannot hop about as fleas can; your cat acquires them only through direct contact with some infested animal or object. Like other vermin, lice flourish in unsanitary conditions and on cats that are debilitated from disease or that have long, thick, neglected hair.
The cat louse, a biting louse that eats scurf, is hardly visible unless you use a hand lens. The nits may be laid on any part of the body, and they are, by the way, very much harder to slay than the lice. When they hatch you can know it only by the cat's uneasiness and by the appearance of scurf. In time the hair loses its luster, and lesions appear on the skin. It is sometimes difficult to tell whether your pet has eczema or just lice.
When in doubt, or if you know it is lice, consult the veterinary, for it is not easy to destroy these pests. I once heard a discouraged practitioner say that he believed they flourished on vermicides. There are effective methods, such as creolin baths, but they are not for amateurs to attempt, for if not rightly given they are dangerous.
And remember that it is useless to take your pet to a doctor to be cleansed of lice if you bring it back to infested surroundings. Have a thorough housecleaning of the cat's bed and the other articles with which it has been in contact. And after it has been returned to you keep it healthy and well brushed, and parasites will stay away.