Fleas are not always simply an uncomfortable irritation. Some cats can be so hypersensitive to flea saliva that they’ll suffer an allergic reaction. Left untreated, fleas can pose some serious health risks.
Pet owners have a responsibility to ensure their cats get treated for fleas. This also helps them protect themselves, other animals and their homes from flea infestations.
So, what are the best ways to get rid of fleas and how do you stop them from coming back? Read on to find out.
Signs Your Cat May Have Fleas
There are tell-tale clues to watch for. Your cat may be continually scratching. That can lead to patches of hair loss and red, irritated skin.
Taking a closer look at your cat, you might notice areas of thickened skin, particularly around the edges of your cat’s ears. You might also see the fleas themselves moving about as dark specks in the fur.
You may also notice that you yourself have a few unexplained insect bites after spending time with your cat.
How to Recognize Your Cat Has Fleas
The best way to be sure is to groom your cat using a fine-toothed comb. Hold it over a piece of white kitchen or tissue paper and any fleas or flea droppings will get deposited on the surface.
When you add a little water on top, any droppings will turn a reddish-brown color meaning it’s highly likely your cat has fleas.
Fleas are tiny, wingless and flat. They have 3 pairs of legs which help them burrow into the fur, bite the skin and ingest blood. These bites are itchy and can lead to inflammation. Although barely visible, fleas resemble small black flecks and you might sometimes be able to spot them moving around the fur.
You may also see flea feces in the fur that appear as small brown-black flecks like dirt. Once fleas get into the home, they’ll quickly multiply. House cats can pick up fleas from other pets. Outdoor cats can get fleas from other cats or animals while exploring new territory.
How Long Do Fleas Live on Cats?
Adult fleas can grow to about 3mm in length and tend to live in the home for 3 to 6 weeks. However, given the right conditions, the entire life cycle of the flea could be over in as little as 15 days.
Females will begin laying eggs within a couple of days of finding a host like your cat. Their eggs then fall off the cat into the home along with flea droppings, a useful source of food for flea larvae once they hatch.
The larvae may hatch from the eggs in as little as 2 days. You’ll find them wherever your cat likes to hang out. This could be their bed, favorite cushion, or rug. Larvae don’t like light and often bury themselves deep into carpets or soft furnishings, making them harder to spot.
The larvae then develop into pupae, each encased in a sticky cocoon. This can happen in as little as a week. Adult fleas then grow in the cocoon and emerge when they sense a potential host. They can lie in wait inside the cocoon for months on end.
Once out of their cocoon, adult fleas can attach themselves to a host in seconds. Some kinds of flea can jump more than one hundred times their own body length to find a host they can attach themselves to.
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What Do Flea Bites Do?
Fleas feed by sucking the blood from their hosts. Their bites can make you or your pet uncomfortable and itchy. They can also lead to a variety of problems in cats. These include:
- Allergic reactions: cats can be hypersensitive to flea saliva
- Loss of blood: can be very serious in kittens or older, weaker cats
- Soreness and skin infections due to scratching
Fleas can also pass on certain, serious diseases from animal to animal. They can cause problems too when their larvae get infected with tapeworm eggs. If your cat eats one, perhaps when grooming an itchy part of the body, it can then become a host for tapeworms too.
What Are the Best Ways to Get Rid of Fleas?
It’s vital to treat both your cat and get rid of any fleas in your home at the same time. You can easily administer flea treatments yourself. Ask your vet for a recommendation or to prescribe one. They’ll know which are both safe and can produce the best evidence-based results.
The most effective types of products are often ‘spot-on’ treatments. You’ll typically squeeze a few droplets onto the skin at the back of the neck every 4 weeks or so. Some of these treatments will also kill off other kinds of parasites.
Always read and follow the instructions carefully. Check the treatment is safe for kittens or pregnant cats when necessary.
Flea treatments are also available in tablet form, powders, and sprays. There are special flea collars available too. You should never use a product intended for dogs on a cat. Some can be toxic to cats, especially those containing permethrin.
Treating Your Home for Fleas
Regular vacuuming is one of the best ways to get rid of fleas. If you know you have an infestation, remember to empty the vacuum cleaner bin or throw away bags in the garbage straight away.
In very serious cases you may need to steam-clean carpets or even call a specialist company that deals with infestations. Wash all bedding and soft furnishings you know your cat likes to sit on regularly.
You may want to try using sprays too but never use them near fish tanks as they can be toxic. You may have to treat your cat and home all year round especially if you’ve a central heating system. It can create the perfect breeding ground for fleas to thrive.
When to Contact a Vet for Flea Treatments
It’s always wise to check with a vet about the most effective treatments and how often you should apply them. If you’ve been treating your cat for fleas and they are still displaying signs of itchiness or sore skin, you should also talk to our vet.
We have a team of highly-trained, fully qualified vets who can offer immediate support and advice.
Get in touch now for flea treatment recommendations or advice about any flea-related issues. You’ll find plenty more useful articles in our blog section. Read here about how to protect your cat from ticks.