Everything you need to know about cat fleas
Fleas are one of the most common parasites affecting cats, and outdoor cats are likely to come into contact with fleas on a reasonably regular basis. But even indoor cats can get fleas because they can hitch a ride into your home in other ways, for example on you, another pet, or an uninvited guest like a rodent. If you maintain a regular treatment schedule for your pet you will hopefully never have to deal with an infestation, but it’s still important to know what you’re up against.
How fleas thrive
Cat fleas are tiny wingless insects that live on your cat’s body, feeding on its blood and laying eggs in its fur, which drop off into your home. A single cat flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in its lifetime, and its full life cycle – from egg to larva to pupa to adult – can take place in a matter of weeks. Although they don’t live in human hair, cat fleas do bite humans – especially on the ankles and lower legs – and they will quite happily jump onto other pets in the household too.
Why cat flea bites can be dangerous
Cat flea bites are painful and itchy, and they can cause a range of additional problems too. One of the commonest is a condition called Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD) – an allergy to flea saliva that can set off a severe reaction from even just a few flea bites. Your cat’s skin may look sore and crusty, and she can lose fur from over-grooming – as well as exposing herself to the risk of infection. Kittens and elderly cats can also become anaemic from blood loss if bitten too many times, and if fleas infected with tapeworm eggs are swallowed while grooming, your cat can end up with a tapeworm infection as well.
Cat fleas can also spread disease, including a bacteria called Bartonella (which can cause “cat scratch disease” in people), and also more rarely a serious human disease called typhus.
Spotting a flea infestation
It can be quite hard to spot fleas on cats and the first symptom you may notice is scratching. You can check your cat regularly by combing her gently with a flea comb, and shaking the fur onto a damp piece of white tissue. If dark specks (‘flea dirt’) appear and turn reddish brown, this indicates that your cat has fleas. In many cases it may not be obvious that your pet has fleas though, as fleas burrow deep down into your pet’s fur and aren’t always easily visible.
Getting rid of cat fleas in the home
Wash your cat’s bedding on a hot wash and vacuum your cat’s favourite snoozing spots – including carpets, rugs, soft furnishings and even your car. Wash your own bedding too if your cat sleeps on your bed! Use a veterinary approved household flea spray thoroughly on your home, including on sofas, curtains, under beds etc. It’s easy for your cat to bring in another ‘hitchhiker’ flea, even after all of your hard work, so it’s important to keep your cat protected with a regular flea prevention protocol. There are lots of different treatment options available including spot-ons, tablets, collars and sprays. Advantage spot-on is applied to the base of your cat’s neck, from where it spreads throughout the skin, and is able to kill fleas before they bite.1
Did you know…
Fleas can live for 100 days and produce up to 2000 eggs in their lifetime. So if your cat has 50 fleas, that’s 100,000 eggs falling into your home waiting to hatch!
Find out more about the options for preventing and treating cat fleas here.
1 This information is regarding mode of action and is not intended to imply fleas can be completely stopped from biting; Mehlhorn et al. Parasitol Res (2001) 87: 198-208