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Is it seizures? Nope, just a bad case of fleas!


By Kim Everson, DVM

I currently have the sweetest old kitty in my hospital for rabies quarantine. Here’s how that came to be…

When a dog or cat bites a person and that animal is not current on its rabies vaccination, that animal has to be quarantined for 10 days in an approved facility such as a veterinary hospital or animal shelter (at a considerable expense to the owner). During this time, the pet is examined three times by a veterinarian for any signs that it may indeed have rabies. If there are signs of rabies the person bitten will need to have preventative rabies treatment to save his or her life.

The cat in my hospital, Chatterly*, bit his owner during a “seizure” and I performed the first of his three rabies examinations early this week. I was particularly worried that this cat may indeed be rabid because he was having neurologic symptoms at home, so I questioned the owners closely. Turns out Chatterly has no recent vaccine history, he has been having “seizures” for some time, and although he was an indoor cat, he had escaped to the great outdoors during the previous summer for several weeks.


As I watched Chatterly walk around the exam room, I noticed him crouching strangely as if he were weak in the back legs. He was missing a bunch of hair on his back as well. When I touched his back, he began twitching uncontrollably and almost fell over — a typical “seizure” for him. Chatterly was absolutely crawling with fleas!

I just about laughed out loud with joy and amazement (actually, I think I did laugh which was probably bewildering to the owner). Chatterly wasn’t having seizures, he was itchy beyond belief! And that weird crouching? I haven’t run any blood tests yet, but I suspect he’s very anemic from blood loss (or possibly even feline infectious anemia)!

Legally, Chatterly still needed to be quarantined and examined for rabies, but first we cleaned him up and treated him for fleas. He and his feline companion at home will need a monthly flea treatment for at least three months in a row. The owners were instructed to wash all the bedding in hot water, vacuum all the carpets and furniture weekly for several months and consider using a flea bomb or spray as well.

The most shocking part of this story — aside from a mild mannered senior cat biting his well-meaning owner because he was out of his mind itchy — is that Chatterly is one of two patients I’ve seen this week with fleas.

In January.

In Wisconsin.

Chatterly probably has had fleas on him since his outdoor hiatus this summer. It is unclear how or when my other patient, a geriatric canine, acquired fleas. The point is that we Wisconsinites often become complacent in the winter about continuing flea and tick treatments on our pets. And we almost never think of it for our supposedly indoor only cats! Many veterinary dermatologists recommend year-round flea prevention for pets with allergies because a single flea bite can set off a horrible cycle of itching and infection. Chatterly is the second patient I’ve met who was so itchy he appeared to be having “seizures.”

In general, if your pet is an allergy sufferer, you should keep him on year-round flea prevention. The same applies if your pet vacations with you in Florida and other warm climates. Those of you with a large rabbit or rodent population and pets that catch or munch them, should consider year-round flea prevention as well. In the end, it’s cheaper and easier than the complications associated with itchy, infested pets!

* Name has been changed to protect privacy.

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