Pet Care

Fleas

Cat getting a neck scratch

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are the most common external parasite to plague companion animals. They are wingless insects that feed on blood, can jump up to two feet high and make a very comfortable home in your pet’s fur. They can live for as few as 13 days or as long as 12 months—and during that time, can produce millions of offspring. Though there are many species of fleas, the one that most often affects both dogs and cats in North America is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis.

How Do I Know if My Cat Has Fleas?

If you see your cat scratching often and persistently, it’s time for a spot check. Invest in a fine tooth comb and run it through your cat’s fur, especially around the neck and at the base of the tail. If you see small, fast-moving brown shapes about the size of a pinhead in her fur, your cat has fleas. Also check for black spots in between the teeth of the comb. The black spots are called “flea dirt”—dried blood excreted by fleas. And if you see tiny white grains, these may be flea eggs.

What Are Common Symptoms of Flea Infestation?

If your cat exhibits the following symptoms, she may have fleas and should promptly be taken to the vet:

  • Itchy/irritated skin
  • Persistent scratching
  • Chewing and licking
  • Hair loss
  • Tapeworms (small, white, rice-shaped objects in your pet’s feces or in the hair around her anus)
  • Pale lips and gums

How Did My Cat Get Fleas in The First Place?

It’s easy for people and animals to bring fleas in from the outdoors. All it takes is one flea to begin a cycle of infestation. Adult fleas spend most of their lives on one animal, laying eggs in the fur. These eggs drop out onto rugs, upholstery, bedding and furniture; the new adult fleas will, in turn, find their living host, either human or animal.

How Can I Get Rid of My Cat’s Fleas?

The best way to tackle the problem is to consult your veterinarian for a flea control program designed specifically for your pet and your pet’s environment—one that treats fleas in all stages of life. There are increasingly effective flea control products available both as prescription and over-the-counter formulas. These formulas often require just one monthly application to the skin to effectively kill adult fleas and prevent egg development. Some of these products are Frontline®, Advantage® or Revolution®.

How Can I Get Rid of Fleas In My House?

  • Thoroughly vacuum rugs, upholstery, your cat’s bedding and her favorite places to sleep and eat—and throw out the vacuum bag right away. Vacuum daily in high traffic areas, weekly in other areas. This will help eliminate flea eggs, pupae and young fleas.
  • Wash your pet’s bedding weekly.
  • Apply a safe area spray, fogger or powder directly to your pet’s sleeping area, rugs, chairs and other areas she frequents.
  • If using a fogger, keep in mind that some brands may not kill flea eggs. You also may need to re-fog two weeks later when eggs have hatched. During each application, everyone—humans and all animals—may need to clear out of the house for the amount of time recommended on the label.
  • Treat all animals in the house, not just the pets with obvious infestations.
  • For severe infestations, a professional exterminator may be of help.
  • While cleaning, remember that fleas naturally hide in dark areas such as behind furniture and under bedding.

How Can I Get Rid of Fleas In My Yard?

Flea control outdoors may not be necessary if you keep up your indoor program. If you are going to treat the yard, the following tips may be useful:

  • Clean up organic debris, such as rake clippings, leaves and straw.
  • Use an environmentally safe spray and follow label directions.
  • Repeat treatment as directed.
  • Remember that fleas like to hide in dark, moist, shady areas.

Can I Use My Dog’s Flea-Control Product on My Cat?

Absolutely not! Canine flea-control formulas can be lethal to cats. Felines are extremely sensitive to insecticides, and many cats die annually from the improper use of flea control products. Feline sensitivity to permethrin insecticides is one good example. Many products using this ingredient are labeled for dogs only, as even a few drops of concentrated permethrin could be lethal to a cat. Please read product labels carefully and consult your veterinarian before implementing any flea control program.

Please also make sure that all products are age-appropriate and compatible when used together. Some formulas may not be healthy for kittens under four months of age, so heed the manufacturer’s instructions. Always consult a veterinarian before using any product on very young kittens.

What Happens if a Case of Fleas Goes Untreated?

If a cat with fleas goes untreated, she may develop anemia, skin problems and parasite infestations.