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9 telltale symptoms of fleas on cats

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Cats have different personalities. Your moggy might be a playful mouser, a cuddly lap cat, or a nervous type. But when they’ve got fleas, they might seem a bit out of sorts – the only thing on their minds is to itch that scratch! Read on to find out how to recognise symptoms of fleas on cats, so you can tackle an infestation as soon as possible.
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If you don’t use a regular effective flea treatment, your cat can easily pick up bloodthirsty fleas from the environment. Flea bites can be highly uncomfortable for your cat, leading to excessive itching, triggering skin allergies and changes in behaviour.

Signs of fleas on cats to look out for

Fleas can cause both physical and behavioural changes in your beloved kitty, which will vary depending on their health, age and the number of fleas they have feeding on them. 

When you know how to tell if a cat has fleas, you can rescue your cat from a flea infestation.

1. Scratching or biting

Flea bites are very itchy, so it’s likely your cat may be scratching more than usual. They may be desperately using new tactics to relieve the prickly sensation, such as biting or chewing their fur and skin.

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Cat fleas can cause your cat to scratch excessively

2. Excessive grooming

We know cats like to look and feel their best by grooming their fur regularly. But they can go into overdrive when fleas strike as they attempt to soothe itchy flea bites.

If you spot your cat grooming more than usual and licking their fur so much that it becomes noticeably wet, it may be a sign of fleas hiding in their fur. The problem is the extra grooming may be so effective that cats will actually remove the fleas from their fur before you get a chance to spot them. However, this is only temporary, new fleas will soon hop on when they’re looking for their next meal.

3. Hair loss

Unfortunately, when cats excessively scratch, bite and groom their fur, it can result in bald patches. You are most likely to notice it on the back of the legs, neck and at the base of the tail.

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Cat fleas can cause excessive scratching

4. Red patches of skin

Some cats are allergic to flea saliva. Called Flea Allergy Dermatitis, or FAD for short, the condition affects a cat’s skin. This intensifies the itchiness of flea bites, taking the discomfort to a new level. As your cat goes into a scratching frenzy, it can cause skin to turn red raw and may lead to little red ‘hot spots’. If your cat continues to scratch the skin, it can leave it open to infection.

Your vet can prescribe medication to help reduce skin inflammation and prevent skin infection.

5. Adult fleas on coat

Spotting an adult flea on your cat may sound like an obvious first step to take. But in fact, cat fleas only measure 1mm to 2mm long, so it’s easy for them to hide in their coat without ever being seen.

To find one, you’ll need to go looking. Armed with a flea comb, you should brush through your cat’s fur on their back and legs, making sure you stay close to the skin. The fine-toothed comb will help pick up and pull out fleas in the fur.

Fleas are flat-bodied and dark brown in colour but they can be black depending on how much blood they’ve gorged on. You may want to have a piece of white paper handy so you can see the combing findings more easily. Ensure you have a bowl of soapy water nearby to kill any critters you find.

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Close up view of a used flea comb containing adult fleas and dog fur

6. Flea dirt

If you don’t find an adult flea in your pet’s fur, you might instead discover black pepper-like specks. This is called ‘flea dirt’, the name given to flea faeces, which is a telltale trail fleas leave behind, signaling your cat has a few unwanted visitors. The droppings are essentially dried blood, which you might also spot around the house, on the carpet, in your pet’s bedding and even in your bedding.

The problem is sometimes regular dirt and flea dirt look similar. To check, wet a paper towel and press on any black specks you find. If the towel shows a reddish-brown colour, that indicates the digested blood from a flea.

7. Tapeworm eggs in stool

Did you know, cats can contract tapeworm from fleas? Fleas can carry the tapeworm parasite and if a cat eats an infected flea while grooming, it will form into a fully-grown adult tapeworm, living in the cat’s intestines.

You might be able to recognise a tapeworm infection in your cat by looking at their poop because as a tapeworm matures it sheds segments of itself. The segments pass through the cat and appear as white rice-like grains.

8. Irritable and restless

If you had fleas, you wouldn’t be too happy about it, so it’s no surprise to discover that cats may get a little grumpy when they are having to withstand itchy flea bites. Your cat may become irritable or behave out of character.  

9. Signs of anaemia

Anaemia occurs when cats don’t have enough red cells in their blood, which can leave them feeling lethargic and weak, and they may display pale gums. Anaemia can strike in cats with a heavy flea infestation due to feeding fleas consuming the animal’s blood.

Be particularly vigilant if you have a kitten, older cat or an unwell feline friend as they are at higher risk of anaemia if they have fleas.

Watch this handy demonstration, which shows you how to find fleas on your pets.

Noticed flea symptoms in your cat? Here’s what to do

If any of the signs we’ve listed above point to fleas in your cat, it’s important to act quickly so you can nip the infestation in the bud.

Treat your cat for fleas – an effective flea treatment will stop fleas living on your pet. You can choose from a range of products on the market to suit your pet and your lifestyle, such as tablets, spot-ons and collars.

Seresto Flea and Tick Control collar works by releasing its active ingredients at a slow and steady rate throughout the cat’s fur and skin, killing fleas and ticks through contact, no biting required.1 And Seresto is effective for up to eight months, so you can simply put the collar on.

Find out more about Seresto Flea and Tick Control collar for cats

Treat your home – remember, it’s not just your cat who will have fleas, but your home will be infested too. Even if you’ve not spotted any adult fleas on your pet, when your cat is infested, you can be sure flea eggs, larvae and pupae will be hiding in your home. By using a combination of tactics, you’ll disrupt the flea life cycle, which will stop them developing and breeding and help you clear the infestation quickly.

You’ll need to fight the infestation by vacuuming carpets every day, putting soft furnishings, such as cushion covers, curtains and bedding on a hot wash, and using a veterinary recommended household flea spray to target areas that are hard to reach. Be prepared for a battle, as it can sometimes take several months to get rid of fleas.

Read more detailed advice on how to remove fleas from your home.

Prevent fleas in the future

Once you’ve removed fleas from your cat and your home, you’re still not out of the woods. Treating your cat and all pets in the household with a regular flea product will help to avoid re-infestation.

Read on for more tips on how to fight cat fleas.

References:

1. Information is regarding mode of action and is not intended to imply parasites can be completely stopped from biting. 

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