If you’ve found a kitten outside or notice excessive scratching, there’s a good chance your kitten has fleas. Fleas, small (about 3 mm long), brown parasites that survive by ingesting the blood of their hosts, can be very dangerous to a tiny kitten. A kitten covered in fleas can easily become anemic.
How do I check for fleas?
If you have a light-colored kitten, checking for fleas is pretty simply. Unless heavily infested, you might not see any active fleas. However, you will be able to see flea dirt.
Flea dirt is flea feces—a mix of blood meal and flea waste product—that appears as tiny, black specks on the kitten’s skin or fur. You’ll likely see this around the tail, up the center of the back, the groin area, and between the hind legs.
For darker-haired kittens (or if you’re still unsure about the presence of fleas), there are two methods you can try.
- Flea comb. Use a flea comb to see if it pulls and live fleas from the fur. Dip any live fleas in a cup of soapy water to kill them.
- Paper method. Hold your kitten over a piece of clean, white paper and run your fingers through her fur. If tiny black specks fall, you’re likely seeing flea dirt.
How do I get rid of fleas?
If your kitten is over eight weeks and 1.5 pounds, you can use a topical solution, like Frontline Plus, to kill the fleas and break the lifecycle. Heavily infested kittens might benefit from a dose of Capstar, which starts killing fleas within 30 minutes.
The most cost-effective method (and the only one safe for kittens under eight weeks), is a flea bath.
How do I perform a flea bath?
A flea bath will kill live fleas, wash away flea dirt and larvae, and help your kitten feel better. Baths can be traumatic, so try to be as quick (under three minutes) and gentle as possible.
Start with warm water (too hot can scald them, too cold can cause hypothermia) and Dawn dish soap. Put some soap on your fingers, wet and create a lather, then create a soapy ring around the kitten’s neck, being careful to avoid the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. This prevents the fleas from running up to the head while you bathe.
Start at the neck and work your way down, creating a lather with the warm water and dish soap. Be sure to get between the toes, under the arms and legs, around the genital area, and on the tail.
Rinse completely clean with warm water and immediately wrap in a towel. With the kitten wrapped, spot clean the head with a soapy cotton round or washcloth.
To prevent chilling, it’s safe to use a hair dryer to dry the kitten. Just be sure it’s on a low setting and held at least two feet away. I like to put the kitten on my lap and use my spare hand as a barrier between the hair dryer and the kitten. This also allows me to run my fingers through the fur to help the drying process—and comfort the kitten.
Put the kitten back in a warm environment to relax and prevent chilling—which can be fatal to a young kitten.