Q: Our cat Wendy was just diagnosed with severe blood loss. Our vet says her anemia is from fleas but if she had them I would know since she sleeps in my bed. If he saw fleas it’s probably because she got them there. Our vet wants to do an emergency transfusion, but Wendy seems fine. Please tell me what’s causing this.
A: If I had a nickel for each time a flea-riddled pet’s owner solemnly swore that their pet had no fleas, I’d probably have an extra few hundred bucks of spending money to play with. Such is the nature of fleas. And humans.
Let’s start with the humans: I’m fairly certain you didn’t bring Wendy to your veterinarian because she seemed “fine.” She’s likely to be sluggish, quiet, pale and probably has a poor appetite. Nor does it seem plausible that your veterinarian would misdiagnose or falsify this condition. Anemia is, after all, an easily diagnosed and readily verified disorder.
Here’s some info on this common problem:
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▪ Anemia is caused by the loss or destruction of a large amount of red blood cells, which can happen in the case of an infection with certain viruses and parasites (fleas included), some immune-mediated disorders, specific drug reactions, and diseases like cancer.
▪ Signs of anemia include lethargy, exercise intolerance (difficulty exercising), decreased appetite, and pale gums, though cats with mild anemia may not have any signs at all. A severely anemic pet may need a blood transfusion. And in all cases the underlying cause of the problem must be treated.
Which brings us to the fleas.
If your veterinarian has diagnosed flea-related anemia, I can promise you there’s evidence of fleas on her skin and coat. Even if the fleas themselves don’t make themselves known (sometimes that happens), the brownish-black debris fleas leave behind is a telltale sign no veterinarian is likely to miss.
As to your inability to see or otherwise sense fleas on your cat, you should know that most fleas have no interest in human blood. As long as there’s a more appropriate host around, they’re on them … not on you.
In any case, the fact that you disbelieve your veterinarian, reject his advice, and even accuse him of giving Wendy fleas (!) strongly suggests that you seek out the advice of another veterinarian … who will probably not tell you what you want to hear, either.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.