When an cat picks up a flea its surroundings (usually your house) quickly become infested with eggs and larvae. Preventing fleas is simple but once the cat’s surroundings are infested it is a lot more difficult to eliminate fleas.
Prevention is better than a cure.
Why treat My cat for fleas?
- Fleas cause itching and distress to your cat.
- The skin can become damaged and infected when the cat scratches or overgrooms.
- Flea bites can trigger a flea allergy in some cats, this is known as ‘Flea Allergic Dermatitis’ and it can cause even more itching, overgrooming and distress.
- Large infestations of fleas can suck so much blood from an cat that it can become anaemic (low in red blood cells). This occurs mostly with kittens or very ill cats.
- Fleas can carry tapeworm. Cats can become infested with tapeworm if they swallow a flea when grooming.
- Fleas can bite humans causing itchy red marks on some people.
How Do I tell if my cat has fleas?
- In a heavy infestation you may be able to see fleas. Fleas are reddish brown, wingless insects approximately 3 -4mm long.
- You are might see black particles of ‘flea dirt’, droppings formed by the adult fleas. To differentiate these from sand or dirt perform the wet paper test (below). If your cat has flea dirt in its coat it is a definite sign of fleas even if you can not actually see any fleas. Once you have treated your cat and house for fleas it may take a while for the flea dirt to be removed from the coat.
Wet Paper Test
- Comb your cat’s coat vigorously
- Collect any debris from the comb onto a piece of white, wet paper.
- Leave aside for a few minutes.
- If flea dirt is present you will see black particles surrounded by a rusty red pigment.
- The red pigment is your cat’s blood which has been swallowed by the flea. If you see this it means that your cat has fleas.
- Occasionally cats will lick and groom themselves so much that you won’t see any of the above signs, even if they have fleas. If your cat is itchy always suspect fleas. The best way to rule out fleas completely is to treat regularly with a flea product recommended by your vet.
Flea Life Cycle
To understand how to eliminate and prevent fleas you need to understand their life cycle.
- The cat picks up a flea outside the house, most commonly from another cat.
- Female fleas lay eggs in your cat’s coat.
- The eggs fall off the cat into the house or kennel.
- The eggs hatch into larvae.
- The larvae change into fleas which lie waiting in cocoons. These can survive in the house for months.
- Fleas hatch out of the cocoon when they are stimulated by heat and vibration when your cat is nearby.
- Newly hatched fleas jump onto the cat and the cycle begins again.
Flea eggs will be dropped everywhere your cat goes with the highest concentration in its sleeping areas.
In general, fleas are only a problem when they have infested the cats living area. If you see fleas on your cat it usually means that your house is also infested.
Get advice from your vet about the best form of flea treatment for your cat. Many ‘over the counter’ preparations do not work very well. To prescribe prescription only medicines your vet will need to see your cat.
Flea treatment products can come in ‘spot on’, spray, tablet or injection form. Flea powders and collars are also available but are generally not very effective. Flea treatments work in two main ways:
- 1. Killing the fleas
- 2. Preventing reproduction (including preventing eggs from developing into fleas)
- If your cat has fleas it will need treatment that works in both ways. Some products do both or two products can be combined to get both effects.
- If your cat does not have fleas at the moment products that prevent fleas reproducing will usually be sufficient protection. They mean that any fleas picked up outside will be unable to infest the house.
- If your cat has an allergy to fleas it may require flea treatment that works in both ways – ask your vet for advice.
To prevent house infestation treat your cat for fleas regularly. If your cat is up to date with good quality flea treatment, any flea picked up outside will die, or be rendered infertile before it gets into the house and starts breeding.
Dealing with a Flea Infestation
To get rid of a flea infestation you need to:
- Treat your cat
- Treat your house
- Treat all other cats and dogs in the house
- Treating your cat
Your cat will require a flea treatment that kills fleas as well as preventing reproduction. Ask your vet for the most suitable product for your cat.
- Treating the house
- Wash all of your cat’s bedding on a high temperature washing cycle.
- Turn the heating on and vacuum the entire house. The heat and vibration will stimulate the fleas to hatch out of their protective cocoons.
- Use a knock down spray to spray the entire house. (Some house sprays are poisonous for fish and caged birds – check the instructions before spraying.)
- Spray underneath furniture.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
If you are concerned that your cat is itching or has fleas please use the Cat symptom guide to find out if you need to call the vets.