Rabbit fleas on pet cat in Blanchardstown Veterinary Hospital

Fintan Browne, veterinary surgeon at Blanchardstown Veterinary Hospital, writes about an interesting parasite infestation in a pet cat.

Fleas are the most common external parasite seen in cats and dogs in Ireland, and not many days go by in Blanchardstown vets where we do not diagnose flea infestations in pets presented to us. Most fleas show a distinct preference to feed on a specific host species. For example Ctenocephalides felis is most commonly found on cats (although it does have quite catholic tastes and is commonly found on dogs too) and Ctenocephalides canis is generally found on dogs.

Yesterday during a consult for another reason a well loved and well cared for adult cat was seen to have numerous live fleas crawling over the ears – we plucked five off during the 10 minute consult! It was testament to how ineffective many supermarket flea treatments are, as one had been applied previous to the visit. In contrast most prescription flea treatments (as available at your vets) are effective at killing >99% of adult fleas within 24 hours of application. Later I examined one of the recovered fleas under my microscope. I was not surprised to see that this was in fact a rabbit flea – Spilopsyllus cuniculi (pictured below under our practice microscope). This cat’s visit was in fact a follow up to see how he was recovering from a previous skin lesion which was probably caused by the bite of a bank vole (as deduced by the bacteria present). So his wildlife hunting antics had yet again left him with problem that required treatment.

As an interesting aside it is probably through cats carrying rabbit fleas that most pet rabbits run the risk of exposure to the myxomatosis virus, which is an insect borne disease. We sometimes see cases of myxomatosis in back garden rabbits that have no possible exposure to wild rabbits. It is generally thought that in this scenario cats passing through the back garden may carry rabbit fleas, which can then infect the pet rabbit with myxomatosis. There is an effective vaccine available to help protect rabbits against this fatal disease. Treating rabbits against fleas also helps to minimise the risk.


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