Health Lucy Chronicles

The Lucy Chronicles: A Really Bad Case of Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

Learn about feline allergy dermatitis (FAD) and how it affected my long-term foster Lucy.

WARNING: Graphic pics and vid of Lucy’s FAD below. They illustrate the extent of her condition and help explain some of her behavioral probs.

My Long-Term Foster: The Early Days

On 12/26/2017, I walked into the isolation room inside ACCT Philly. While there, I met Lucy, a tuxedo cat who was in pain and in desperate need of foster care.

Her list of issues made my heart break:

  • Victim of owner neglect
  • Highly aggressive (growling, hissing, spitting, and swatting)
  • Severe case of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), from a major flea infestation
  • Possible pneumonia (bad cough)
  • No appetite
  • No touching (unless you didn’t need your fingers)

Basically, if I didn’t take her, she didn’t have many options.

Tuxedo foster cat with FAD
Lucy didn’t want to leave her carrier. You can see FAD above her eyes.

What did I do? You already know the answer.

Because she refused to leave her cage and go into a cardboard carrier, I transported her in the official ACCT Philly plastic container. I was left with the warning, “If she hurts you, or bites you, you have to call us and we’ll come get her.”

Eeeek! This was serious.

When I got home, I put her in one of my bathrooms, and baited her with wet food.

Phew! She was eating.

Great first step, but I knew progress was very far away. As you can hear in the video above, she growled without me even trying to touch her. Seeing her large pupils told me Lucy was under a lot of stress and anxiety, and in pain. Petting her was completely out of the question. When I got close, she swatted, growled, and hissed.

I already felt defeated.

What happened next was something I don’t do often: I had a good, long cry … one of those reeeeeeally dramatic, ugly cries (you know what I’m talking about).

Am I in over my head?

How can I help this cat if I can’t touch her?

What will happen to her if I fail?

Finally, I gathered myself and said to her, “I’m not giving up on you.” 

Her behavioral problems would take a long time to undo, but she needed to be healthy before I could tackle anything else. First, I had to treat her skin condition. Her skin looked awful, and she was clearly in pain and miserable from the flea allergy dermatitis.

What is Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)?

Lucy’s previous owners didn’t treat her for fleas and she was significantly infested – in December (clearly a sign of neglect). She was allergic to flea saliva, and scratching herself non-stop. By the time her owners surrendered her, it was clear she had been suffering for a while.

FAD is very painful, and many vets relate it to shingles. The shelter said Lucy’s was one of the worst cases they’d seen in recent years. Initially, they thought she was a burn victim  – that’s how bad it looked. Lucy’s skin was raw and covered in open sores and scabs that she continuously scratched open. My bathroom looked like a crime scene (didn’t help that I had white tile and a white vanity).

How is FAD treated?

  1. Bye-bye fleas. Not nice knowing you. The shelter treated her with flea meds, so the fleas were all gone and dead.
  2. Steroid to relieve itching. I took her to a private vet, Dr. Pete Lands, and he sedated her to administer the steroid. Even under sedation, she was growling and flipping her tail, clearly not happy with anyone.

Thankfully, the steroid worked! She stopped scratching and the red quickly disappeared.

So, she was in the clear? 

No. X-rays showed pneumonia in the lungs, which can be life threatening to any unhealthy animal. With the help of my friend Michele, we had her admitted the hospital for daily nebulization treatments and antibiotics.

That’s it, right? Nope! Her story continues. 

Her fur grew back, which is a big win, but she still has severe fear aggression and impulse control aggression. Because of the FAD’s severity, she likely has permanent nerve damage, meaning there are sensitive spots on her skin. She’s on 100mg of gabapentin 2x a day to help with any pain and to reduce anxiety, along with monthly acupuncture treatments.

20180525_185001.jpgWhy did I do all of this for a random cat?

Because she deserves more than what she got, and even if her life ended with me, at least she’d know some level of love. Don’t we all deserve that? And beyond the hisses and scratching and biting and growling … I love her, because I KNOW there is a good cat in there. It’s just beneath many layers of fear and bad experiences, which I think is something we can all relate to on a human level too.

I can’t wait to share more of her journey with you.

It’s full of ups and downs, but Lucy continues to amaze everyone who meets her. She’s risen above her experiences and is now just a moody cat that likes routine … I think we all know people who are the same.

By LizsKittyBootCamp

Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a cat behaviorist who provides advice and insights on cat behavior.

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