How Do Cats Get Fleas?
Fleas are tiny, pesky parasites. Although we frequently hear about them being a nuisance for dogs, cats – even strictly indoor cats – can get fleas as well.
Fleas can become a big problem within a few days of landing on your cat. Not only do they need to be eliminated as quickly and effectively as possible, but they must also be prevented from returning.
Before we get into all that, let’s start by answering the main question you’re probably wondering: how do cats get fleas?
How Do Cats Get Fleas?
Contrary to popular belief, fleas cannot fly. Instead, they use their strong legs to jump and land on a cat’s body. Fleas can jump an average of 8 inches, which is quite far, given their tiny size.
The cat flea (also known as Ctenocephalides felis) can easily hop on indoor cats who occasionally spend time outside with their owners. Indoor cats who freely roam outside are also easy targets for fleas.
But how do indoor cats get fleas if they rarely or never venture outside? Unfortunately, cat fleas have found clever ways to get inside your home and onto your kitty:
Other pets. If you have a dog, your dog can carry fleas inside the home after a walk or playtime outside. Even if your dog is on a year-round flea preventative, fleas can ingeniously hop off your dog and onto your cat before getting killed
Humans. Cat fleas can hitch a ride inside on your clothes or shoes.
Rodents. Rodents can have fleas. If you have a rodent problem in your home, fleas will have easy access to your cat.
Traveling. Traveling can be as simple as going to the veterinarian’s office. Other pets in the waiting room may have fleas that can jump onto your cat.
New home. A new home may look spotless, but immature fleas may be biding their time in the crooks and crevices of the house, waiting to become adults and jump onto your cat.
Old furniture. Did you recently buy furniture from a yard sale or consignment store? That furniture may also have immature fleas.
The Flea Life Cycle
Understanding the flea life cycle goes along with knowing how your cat can get fleas.
Adult fleas land on a cat and promptly start feeding on their blood. Adult female fleas then begin laying eggs – up to 40 to 50 per day! These eggs fall off the host and hatch after about 12 days as flea larvae. The larvae wrap themselves in a cocoon and mature into pupae.
The pupae can be dormant in their cocoons for months, even years. When the pupae sense that a host is nearby, they will emerge from their cocoons as mature adults. Mature adults will jump onto their host within a few hours of coming out of their cocoon, and the cycle begins again.
It’s also important to note that adult fleas comprise only a small percentage (5 percent) of the flea population in a home. Eggs make up 50 percent, larvae make up 35 percent, and pupae make up 10 percent.
How to Tell a Cat Has Fleas
Fleas are tiny and difficult to find on your cat. But they irritate a cat’s skin and can cause significant discomfort. Here are the common signs and symptoms of a cat flea infestation:
- Patches of hair loss
- Excessive grooming
- Constant itching and scratching
- Red, scabbed skin from scratching
Fleas also leave behind flea dirt, which is rust-colored flea poop. You can see flea dirt on your cat and where your cat likes to spend time, such as their bed or a cat tree.
Because fleas take a blood meal, a severe flea infestation can cause anemia, especially in kittens. Signs of anemia include lethargy and pale gums. This can be life-threatening in kittens and requires immediate veterinary treatment.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats
Before going over the different flea treatments for cats, it’s important to note few considerations:
- It can take at least three months to eliminate all flea life stages successfully.
- All pets in the home need to be treated for fleas simultaneously, not just your cat.
- Your home (indoors and outdoors) must be treated to eliminate all fleas and sources of fleas.
When it comes to eliminating fleas on cats, there are several treatment options available. Some treat active infestations, while others break the flea life cycle and prevent future infestations.
Shampoos. Flea shampoos are fast-acting and kill adult fleas on contact. However, they don’t provide long-term flea control.
Spot-on treatments and oral tablets. Both of these options break the flea life cycle and do provide long-term flea control (up to several months). They may contain an adulticide or an insect growth regulator (IGR). IGRs break the life cycle at the larval stage, preventing fleas from maturing into adults.
Natural remedies. Natural flea treatments often contain essential oils and have become more popular recently. However, they are not nearly as effective as insecticide-containing flea treatments. Also, if not used properly, essential oils can be toxic to cats.
Flea comb. Because the typical flea treatments are generally considered unsafe for kittens younger than 8 to 10 weeks old and weighing less than 1.5 to 2 pounds, the best option for them is a flea comb. After combing through your kitten’s fur, immediately dip the comb in a bowl of soapy water to kill the fleas.
Flea treatments are available over-the-counter (OTC) or with a veterinary prescription. OTC flea treatments are less expensive but may not be as effective or long-lasting as prescription flea treatments. Also, prescription flea treatments for cats can provide additional protection against heartworms and intestinal worms.
With so many options for flea treatments for cats, it’s best to work with your veterinarian to select the most appropriate one for your particular kitty.
However, you must never use dog flea products on cats. Dog flea products may contain permethrin, which is toxic to cats. If you have a dog, ask your veterinarian about permethrin-free flea treatments.
How to Get Rid of Fleas in Your Home
It will take diligent work to eliminate the flea eggs, larvae, and pupae lurking inside and outside your home. Here are some strategies:
- Vacuum frequently, focusing on where immature fleas like to hide: bedding, soft furniture, carpeting, and cracks and crevices. Empty the vacuum bag outside your home
- Wash your cat’s bedding and soft furniture, such as pillows, in hot water
- Hire a pest control service to get rid of rodents
- Mow your lawn regularly and get rid of piles of leaves. Fleas love to hide in tall grass and leaf piles
Flea Prevention for Cats
Fleas are a big nuisance, so prevention is key. A year-round flea preventative for your cat and all household pets is the best way to avoid fleas.
Also, regularly check your cat’s fur for fleas with a flea comb. If you detect fleas, use the treatment strategies described above.
Continue to vacuum and clean regularly to ensure no flea eggs, larvae, or pupae are in your home.
Keep your cat indoors as much as possible, and check them for fleas whenever they do venture outside or travel with you.