Did your cat start scratching more than usual and got you wondering whether she might have fleas? Or worse, did you see some on her?
If so, you should do something about it. Unlike ticks, fleas can make your cat anemic (weakness caused by a decrease of red blood cells). They also carry an intestinal parasite that can cause your cat to catch the tapeworm, which is never fun.
For these reasons, fleas need to be taken seriously, and you should act immediately. Otherwise, the problem will get worse and more difficult to treat later on.
Fortunately, if you know what to do, getting rid of fleas on your cat is not too difficult (it needs persistence though). Below, we’ll tell you exactly what to do, so read on, and get ready for some tidying up.
Flea facts for felines
Let’s start from the basics:
What is a flea?
Fleas are a type of parasite.
If you saw the Oscar-winning movie Parasite (no cat makes an appearance though), you’ll know that “a parasite is an organism that lives in another organism, called the host, and often harms it.”
Fleas do exactly that. They find a way to get on your cat, feed off of his blood and multiply. This is why they make your cat weak and tired; they drain his blood and energy.
There are more than 2,000 different types of fleas and the most common ones are cat, dog, and human fleas. Fleas don’t have wings, but they can jump as far as 12 inches or more, which is more than 150 times their height. This amazing ability to jump is what allows them to get on your cat so easily and to escape when you try to catch them.
Fleas are common in cats that spend time outdoors, but can also get indoors and affect indoorsy cats. While they are more active in the summer months, it is also possible to find them on your cat at other times of the year.
The flea life cycle
Fleas can lay up to 50 eggs per day. This is what makes them multiply so quickly and this is why it takes time to eradicate them. Their eggs usually fall into the environment (your home) and for this reason, any flea treatment will involve cleaning the house. Indeed, it is estimated that 95 percent of eggs, larvae, and pupae live in the environment, not on your cat.
Danger for your cat
Now that we have an idea of what fleas are, we can better understand the dangers that they pose to your cat if untreated. There are mainly 3 problems that could arise:
As we mentioned, fleas suck your cat’s blood. Anemia “is a deficiency in red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body and keep organs functioning properly”. If unchecked, fleas will quickly multiply and the blood loss can become severe, sometimes even fatal for kittens.
Symptoms: According to Dr. Carroll, tiredness, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and rapid breathing are the most common symptoms. However, it might not be easy to spot them until the anemia has become severe. What you could check is your cat’s gums, which should usually be of a healthy pink. If you see the gums pale, almost whitish, that could be a strong sign of anemia.
Cats bothered by fleas may accidentally eat some as they try to get rid of them. That can make things worse, as fleas can carry tapeworm eggs, which will get your cat infected. While not really dangerous, a tapeworm will cause itching to your cat and will rob him of nutrients. In large numbers, tapeworms will cause diarrhea and make your cat lose weight.
Symptoms: If you see white segments in your cat’s poop, that is a sign that your cat might be infected by the tapeworm. The small segments you see are actually pieces of the worm. There are other species of tapeworm that do not give any hint as their segments can be extremely small. In that case, the main symptom will be if your cat is frequently licking his posterior or dragging his butt over the floor, trying to stop the itching.
- Parasitic Blood Infection (Haemobartonellosis):
Fleas can also be vectors for a blood infection. This usually happens when a flea has fed off another infected animal first. This infection is called feline infectious anemia since it causes many of the symptoms that occur in anemic cats. A parasitic blood infection, can, however, also cause fever and severe illness. It is usually diagnosed by blood tests and treated with antibiotics, and in severe cases, blood transfusions. Fortunately, this infection is relatively uncommon in cats.
Checking for fleas
Ok, if you are like me, after reading the section above you might be freaking out and praying that your cat and house do NOT have any fleas.
Remember that fleas are quite common and, that it is not too difficult to get rid of them once you spotted them. But how to check if your cat has them? This might seem like a simple question for cat veterans, but here on meow101 we want to make sure to leave no one behind.
It is really simple to check if your cat has fleas.
These four questions will give you a first clue:
- Is your cat scratching or licking a lot (more than usual)?
- Do you see signs of scratching or blood near your cat’s ears?
- Does your cat show areas of hair loss, spots or redness and irritation?
- Did you or someone in your household recently have any insect bites?
If you answered yes to any of them, then you should go ahead and start checking your cat more closely. Fleas usually hang around “hidden” parts of your cat, such as the armpits, groin, ears and around the neck. So it might be hard to spot them, even more so because, they move and jump very fast.
This is where a flea comb comes handy. The comb’s teeth are designed to go deep under the haircoat, grab and pull eggs, larvae, and adult fleas. Also, we’d recommend you place a white sheet of paper under your cat while you comb him/her. If you see dark little specks of dirt falling down, it is possible that you are looking at flea feces (a clear sign of fleas on your cat!). To double-check, sprinkle some water on the dark specks, if they turn dark red, it is a sign that those are indeed flea feces (digested blood from your cat). Gross!
I hope you did not see any of those. If you did, though, it is time to move on to the next section.
Treating your cat, your house, and prevention
As we mentioned, it is estimated that 95 percent of eggs, larvae, and pupae live in the environment, not on your cat. This is why it is so important to pay as much attention to treating your home, as you do treating your cat.
Comb and wash your cat (if you can)
The first step is going to be to remove as many as you can from your cat.
You can do that by using a flea comb such as this. The common recommendation is to dip the comb in warm, soapy water after each pass. That will make sure to eliminate the fleas. Unfortunately, this is not a one-time-off thing. If you’ve spotted fleas on your cat, for optimal results, you should go ahead and comb him/her a few times a day for 2 weeks or so.
A nice addition to combing, if your cat allows, is to give your cat a nice, warm bath. You could do so using a specialized flea shampoo, but a gentle shampoo should work as well. This won’t be absolutely necessary but it’s a nice-to-have so you won’t have to force your cat if she doesn’t want to.
Flea prevention treatments
Once we removed most of the fleas, we can focus on preventing new fleas from jumping on to your cat. This is extremely important as it is the only surefire way to keep fleas at bay in the long term.
There are many flea repellant products in the market. You can talk to your vet if you want a specific recommendation for your cat.
In general, though, you should simply make sure to follow the age/size guidelines specified on the package. As obvious as it may sound, be sure to AVOID USING DOG PRODUCTS (sorry for the all caps there, but this is very important); they can be extremely toxic for cats.
The majority of the mainstream (cat) products work well. They all require a once-a-month application (as the product wears off with time) and should be used for at least 3-4 months to kill existing fleas. However, almost any vet will recommend you to use the product year-round for maximum protection, especially if your cat had fleas before.
It is very easy to use these products. You can have your vet show you for the first time (or watch the video below) and then start doing it yourself every month.
In short, make sure to follow the guidelines. Drop the product directly on the neck’s skin and make sure that your cat does not get wet in the following 24 hours.
Once done, the product will be absorbed by your cat’s skin, it will slowly release and repel fleas over the following 30 days. This is the best way to get rid of them from your cat.
Now that that’s done, we can get rid of the rest of the fleas and eggs that are probably hanging around your house.
How to get rid of fleas in the house?
By now, you know that 95% of fleas are usually not on your cat but in the environment (your house).
This is why it is absolutely necessary to not skip this step if you want to keep your cat bug-free in the future. If you are wondering how to kill fleas in the house, you can follow these steps recommended by the EPA.
Daily: Vacuum “carpets, cushioned furniture, cracks and crevices on floors, along baseboards and the basement.”
Every 2-3 weeks: “Wash all pet bedding and family bedding on which pets lie in hot, soapy water” and (if you have a steam cleaner) “steam clean carpets: the hot steam and soap can kill fleas in all stages of the life cycle”. Here’s a guide on steam cleaning if you are interested.
As you can guess, this should be an ongoing process, as fleas and eggs could be hiding and multiplying in different corners of the house. If you persist though, you will be able to free your cat and your house from those annoying bloodsuckers and leave happily ever after.
Putting it all together
We know. We covered a lot in this article and it might have gotten overwhelming.
In this section we’re going to put everything back together to give you a quick reference in case you are dealing with fleas.
- Fleas are dirty bloodsuckers that can make your cat weak and give him/her different infectious diseases.
- They reproduce extremely quickly and can lay up to 50 eggs/day all around the house.
Checking for fleas
- Use a flea comb on your cat to uncover fleas, eggs or poop (dried blood).
If you find them
- Continue using your comb to try to get rid of as many fleas, eggs, etc.. as possible. If your cat allows, give her a nice, warm bath.
- Use a prevention product such as this one every month.
- Carefully vacuum all surfaces of the house and wash your beddings in hot water.
Here it is, a 2,000 word article summarized in 7 points. Comment below if this was helpful!
Best of luck getting rid of those dirty bloodsuckers.