If you have seen your kitty scratching its skin agitatedly, cat fleas must be the reason behind this irritation. Fleas are one of the most common parasites that seek residence on our pets’ bodies and cause several health hazards to these fur fellows.
To protect your newly bought (or even old) cat from this annoyance, follow this guide and you’ll get detailed information about cat fleas. By the end, you’d be equipped with necessary information about fleas, the reason behind flea attacks, and preventive measures to ensure your feline’s safety.
What are cat fleas?
People often confuse ticks with fleas and try to treat both with the same procedures. However, from their outer shape to the life cycle, there are significant differences between ticks and fleas. Here's a thorough description of these nasty little beings that annoy your pet:
Cat fleas are slightly flattened, wingless, and chitin-loaded organisms that reside on a host’s body and complete their whole life cycle there. Fleas feed on the host, i.e., your cat's blood by biting its skin. They have three pairs of legs and translocate by jumping movement.
Size and color
Almost all adult fleas are 1-3 mm in size and are reddish-brown. We can easily detect their presence inside the fur because of their size and dark color. However, if a cat has brownish hair, it'd take some time before you finally notice fleas' presence.
Fleas’ average life cycle ranges from 30-90 days, starting from eggs to larvae and then old fleas. If a flea stays on a cat's body without being removed, it can survive for over a year. In domestic pets, on the other hand, they do not survive for more than three months.
Male and female fleas mate inside your pet's fur and lay eggs there. Once these eggs mature, a new generation of fleas replaces the older, and this cycle continues.
A female flea lays up to 50 eggs a day that hatch in 2-5 days normally and develop into fleas quickly. Newly-born fleas move relatively slow, and we can easily remove them with a comb. However, once matured, it gets tough to catch a flea with the comb.
They jump quickly between your cat's fur and eventually affect its whole body. As I said earlier, these fleas live anywhere between 2-3 months, and once died, they fall off from the host's body, most probably on your sofa/bed. Since fleas draw the host's blood out and suck it, their presence ultimately affects the pet's health.
Major types of fleas
According to research, there are 2500 types of fleas present across the globe. Out of these, 300 types are found abundantly in the USA on cats, dogs, mice, and deer. Since fleas prefer warmer regions, the growth is mammoth once their eggs latch onto the body of a fur buddy.
History of different cat flea types
All flea types have different primary hosts, feeding habits, sizes, and appearances. After they mature, some of the fleas jump from one host to the next and continue their life cycle on the new host's body. Not all cat fleas are cat-bound, some rely on the chicken while others come as larvae from raccoons and find residence on a feline.
Following are some pathways of cat fleas:
Ctenocephalides Felis is generally known as cat flea (we’ll only discuss this one in detail). This flea feeds on cats, humans, raccoons, and dogs. Felis is the most common, dreading, and fast-affecting cat flea amongst all. Since its primary hosts are cats, it’s always termed as cat flea.
Ctenocephalides Canis hosts primarily on dogs, and in some cases, shifts to cat bodies later on. However, unlike the cat flea, this is not a prevalent domestic type. Major regions where dog flea is still recurrent are Israel and Ireland. There this flea has reportedly developed resistance to pesticides, and a few cases of dog-cat infestations are yet being recorded.
Xenopsylla Cheopis is one of the deadliest flea types known to human history. This flea was the central force behind the spread of plague and murine typhus. These days, however, its impact has impressively decreased. But still, if Xenopsylla moves from mice to cats, it gets harmful. It rapidly damages the feline's health and makes it prone to infections.
Spilopsyllus Cuniculi, also called European rabbit flea, sticks to the body of host for extended periods with its sticky mouthparts and feast on warmblood supply throughout their life span. As this is a sedentary flea, it doesn’t reach cats very often. But if it does, the results are horrendous.
Echidnophaga gallinacea is another common domestic flea that comes with chickens and starts seeking different hosts. If you have a dear cat at home, don't bring a chicken inside unless it's vaccinated and flea-treated because this flea will jump quickly from the chicken to the cat.
Tunga penetrans is probably the tiniest cat flea as its size is merely 1mm. Its eggs reside freely in sand, mud, greenery, and beddings until they hatch. Once hatched and matured, this Chigoe flea either attacks your skin or your pet’s. In the list of nasty cat fleas, this is probably at 2nd number (after Ctenocephalides Felis) in terms of infection rate, diseases, and host-shifting.
Why do cats catch fleas?
No matter how much you confine your kitty to indoors, the chances of it getting fleas still lurk around. Some pet parents, who pay special attention to the tidiness of their home, often question: "my cat is always clean, insides, and protected, should I still worry about fleas?”
The answer is, yes, you should. Since we cannot easily spot a flea, it succeeds sneaking inside our home. And once it’s there, the growth is rapid (remember I told above that a flea lays up to 50 eggs a day?)
This fast-growing speed ends up infesting your whole home. Inside your beddings, rugs, clothes, curtains, and whatnot; fleas can stick everywhere. But here arises a question, how do they get inside in the first place?
Here’re the prominent reasons behind your cat getting a flea attack:
Yes, you heard it right. If people visit your place frequently, your cat’s chances of a flea-attack rise. When people walk on different roads, pathways, and lawns, the flea eggs hop on their shoes and travel with them.
Now imagine you have a guest over who came to meet you right after his camping tour, flea alarm! When people visit you, try to confine them to the drawing-room; after all, your kitty's health is essential.
Taking your kitty on a leash walk will keep it healthy, active, and happy. But, if the grass on which your cat is walking has fleas, get ready to pick numerous bugs from your cat's body later on. Fleas seek moisture, shade, and a continuous source of food. And as parks/lawns/ gardens have all these factors quite plentifully, fleas can be found there easily.
This is the biggest culprit behind a flea attack on a cat. As dogs are more active wanderers than cats, they routinely interact with neighborhood pets, go on small strolls, and engage in random fights as well.
Just like cats, dogs' bodies are ideal places for fleas. If you have a dog, the chances of flea-attack on your feline increase automatically. Similarly, rats, rabbits, and other rodents are also active carriers of cat fleas. Even if you don't welcome other pets/animals in your home, those nasty rats running inside your home walls can carry flea eggs in copious amounts.
That's another surprising reason for flea attacks in cats. As I mentioned above, cat fleas jump from one place to another speedily; they frequently do this to reach your fur ball's body. For example, when your home windows are open, a flea from the outside can jump in, and stick to any furniture/fabric item. Once it feels the presence of your kitty around, that flea will hop over it sooner than you think.
Infested pets, outdoor mud/sand, moisture, and damp air; these are some of the causes why cats catch fleas. Now that we know the reasons behind this nuisance let's dig a little deeper and find the harms these fleas carry for your cat's health and wellness.
What harms do fleas carry?
Albeit their small size and hardly decipherable body parts, fleas are a primary source of skin problems in cats. Not only do these fleas disturb your cat's hygiene but also affect its mood, eating habits, and play-time schedule. These are common harms that fleas do to your cat's body:
As fleas bite on your cat’s body to cut through its blood vessels, those bites disturb your cat. Once there are adult fleas in your feline’s fur (even if they are a few), you’ll notice your cat keeps itching on its skin. Central areas where the fleas accumulate are under the cat’s tail and around its neck. As soon as a pet is infested with fleas, it won’t sit calmly.
The fleas keep biting your cat here and there, resulting in frantic itching and continuous shifts in its sitting position. When your cat doesn’t sit in your lap and likes rubbing its back on the sofa, fleas are always in action.
Although you must have observed that your cat sometimes joyously rubs its back against the wall and stops soon after, it isn't the same with flea attack. A cat with fleas cannot sit in a relaxed way, get up from sleep repeatedly, and roams around furiously.
Skin soreness and red spots
Dry itching is often the initial stage of flea harms. Sores, scabs, and blisters, on the other hand, are advanced symptoms of fleas’ presence. These reddish spots start growing in number, and soon after, your cat’s body turns red with a whole lot of marks.
At this stage, you won’t be able to calm your cat. It will throw tantrums, scratch itself agitatedly, and might even bleed if the scratching continues. If the flea attack isn’t stopped timely, your cat will lose a significant number of red blood cells, which eventually weakens the kitty's immune system.
Though very rare, fleas can also impact a cat's internals. For example, if your cat gets an insect in its claws while scratching, it might swallow that reddish slowly moving thing. And since fleas have tapeworms, bacteria, and other viruses, this can be dangerous. Especially if the flea has a tapeworm (which you'll only know when your cat starts vomiting and gets nauseated), the harms can get hazardous.
Tapeworms pass from one host to another, and carrying a lot of germs inside, are the nastiest worms ever to exist. This is an alarm sign for you, if your cat has the probability of getting flea attack, take measures at your earliest.
Fleas suck your cat's blood like crazy; this should be your biggest concern, right? If a flea attack lingers, your cat/kitten will lose a massive number of RBCs that eventually lead to anemia. In kittens, mainly, this frequent loss of blood can be fatal. If spotted timely, you can prevent these severe circumstances.
When fleas play on your cat's scab, it leads to endless itching. And when most of the fleas are gathered at one point (mostly neck area or tail), the cat will anxiously scratch that portion. This causes hair/fur loss in felines. Most of the time, pet parents notice the presence of fleas once these bald spots start appearing.
This hair loss reduces the cat's charm, and more importantly, makes the skin accessible for fleas. Fleas will cut and suck in these bald spots quickly, which again adds to the misery of your cat.
How do you ask? Well, if fleas don't stop bothering your cat and it's always busy picking these disgusting beings, your feline fellow will inevitably lose its appetite. When that happens, the cat will also start losing muscle weight along with inner strength.
When the fleas don't let a cat stay calm, sleep, and walk regularly, you'll get to see mood swings for sure. When you need some cozy time with your kitty and fleas are lurking all over its fur, the result would be a lousy mood, disturbed play schedule, and loss of interest.
Major diseases that fleas transmit in cats
Other than biting and irritating cats' skin, fleas also transmit some severe diseases. Flea shells and droppings cause most of these acute ailments.
Commonly known as Cat scratch fever (CSD), this disease is transmitted to cats from the flea feces, which they leave on a cat's body. As we know, fleas' entire life cycle grows inside your feline's fur, including excretion, there is a high possibility of your cat catching Bartonellosis.
CSD is caused by a bacteria present inside fleas' feces named Bartonella henselae. If your cat accidentally ingests flea feces, this bacteria strain will move inside its body, causing CSD.
- Swollen gums
- Puffy eyes
- Lack of appetite
Flea allergy Dermatitis
This is a type of skin irritation but a bit more advanced stage. When fleas' saliva enters a cat's body, its immune system starts working, which eventually causes intense itching, scathing, and rubbing. When this becomes prevalent, your cat develops permanent bald and red patches (mostly between its rear legs and tail).
If uncured, FAD causes fever, mood swings, and nausea in cats. However, this is not a fatal ailment for cats.
- Intense scathing
- Tail-biting habit
- Slight fever
- Dominant red spots all over the body
Cats often face abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea once fleas attack them. This occurs when a kitty ingests tapeworms (as I told earlier, too). Due to nonstop vomiting and diarrhea, the possibility of dehydration also increases.
- Drooling (sometimes)
- Presence of white spots between cats’ legs (eggs of worm)
- Bowl disturbance.
General harms of flea infestation
If your cat is strong and doesn’t catch a severe virus, the fleas still affect its appearance, body-form, and beauty.
Fleas make your cat’s body hard-to-groom, dirty, scathed, and full of red dots. Once a flea attack gets severe, it will disturb your cat’s hygiene as flea scars are sensitive to soaps, shampoos, and chemicals. Every time you try to bathe your cat, it will react furiously, trying to run away and avoid the cleaning chemicals.
Similarly, if you love keeping everything super clean and wish the same for your kitty, you’ll get a hard time adjusting with this nuisance. Your cat will lose its fur speedily, and will keep scratching over its marks; both of these are grave hygiene problems for pet parents.
Parasites prevalence in your home
If cat fleas manage to enter your home, other parasites will follow them too. Fleas and ticks are closely related and have a similar life cycle.
When there are plenty of fleas in action inside your cat's fur, they'll make its skin and an open invitation for ticks, flies, and worms. The cats that are left unchecked with fleas end up attracting ticks, mites, heartworms, and tapeworms.
Fleas are the primary reason behind various cats' diseases. They carry harmful worms, suck their blood, cut their skin, and eventually make their lives wretched.
Harms that cat fleas cause to human
Flea harms aren't limited to cats only. Instead, you are also prone to catching some of these diseases. Some of these illnesses are transmitted to humans by flea bites, while others are transferred via the cat itself. If you aren't familiar with potential flea-related ailments, keep reading:
Murine typhus is usually related to rat fleas. But when your cat interacts with or eats an infected rat, it gets affected by those fleas. A bacteria named Rickettsia Typhi is present in the feces of the rat-cat fleas that cause murine typhus in humans.
If your cats accidentally/intentionally scratch your skin after getting affected by this bacteria, you'll get murine typhus. Although the number of cases where humans get such serious diseases from cats has significantly reduced over the years, chances still exist.
Significant signs of typhus are nausea, fever, headache, vomiting, dehydration, and diarrhea. Most people relate these symptoms to common colds and viral illnesses. However, if you have a flea-infested fur fellow at home, you shouldn't let these conditions linger on.
If you don't want to get hospitalized because of a cat scratch, get it checked at your earliest. In most cases, the doctors recommend mild antibiotics and cleaning chemicals to be applied around the scratched area.
If you tackle Murine typhus timely, you are good to go. But, if you ignore it and let the bacteria stay inside you, the circumstances will get worse. Especially if you have any kidney or immunity-related problem, DO NOT risk your health at any cost.
If a flea bites your skin, your red blood cells’ breakdown increases and start losing energy. Anemia is a serious blood deficiency state where our red blood cells decrease in number and they do not support our immune system any longer. When fleas repetitively bite a person, his/her blood flow reduces, eventually making him un-immune, weak, and lethargic.
However, the transfer of anemia by flea biting is scarce in humans. If someone has weak immunity or is undergoing organ-failure, his chances of getting anemic are higher than a healthy person.
Preventing cat-related anemia is possible if your body is healthy and has sufficient Vitamin-C, Iron, and Vitamin B-12. By eating vitamin-rich food and supplements, you can reduce the chances of anemia. Also, if you get a wound, never let your cat lick over it. By doing so, you can ensure the anemic germs never enter your body.
- Lack of energy
- Pale skin
- Dilated eye pupils (rare)
- Thin blood
Tapeworms move from fleas to cats' intestines and reside there for long durations. Transfer of tapeworms from cats to your body is rare unless you accidentally swallow the flea shedding. When that happens, tapeworms stick to a person’s intestines and grow speedily. Unlike adults, these cases are frequent in kids who end up ingesting small flea shedding from mats/carpets.
Stopping tapeworms is feasible if you play special care to hygiene. After playing with your cat, always wash your hands (take special care in case of your kids) as this will remove any flea feces that transfers from your cat’s fur. Similarly, before eating anything, cook it properly and never let it stay uncovered. Fleas can find their way to reach edibles, and if that happens, you’ll get tapeworms.
- Abdominal pain
- Constipation (rare)
Bartonella henselae is a harmful bacterium found in flea feces. This bacterium first infects a cat by entering its body. Then, if a cat with bartonellosis scratches your skin or licks your wound, this bacterium moves to your body.
Once you get CSD, you might not feel its presence since initially, fever is the only symptom. However, if CSD is left untreated, painfull bumps and spots will show up and your condition will get worse. If your cat gets a fever, test the presence/absence of Bartonella henselae in its system.
If you don’t want CSD, never let your cat scratch you. Pets often lick our eyes and mouth to show healthy affection, but if a cat has fleas, you shouldn’t allow this. CSD can be prevented by maintaining healthy habits and a safe distance from the flea-infested cat. Also, regular follow-up of anti-flea treatment will help you in staying safe.
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Painful protrusions behind the ears
- Red spots on skin
- Puffy eyes
- Consistent fever
Will cat fleas affect your kid more than you?
Yes, they will. Due to a weaker immune system and careless habits, kids have a high probability of catching flea diseases from cats. For example, in adult humans, Bartonellosis is very rare as they take better care of hygiene, keep their food away from an infected pet's territory, and wash hands often.
Kids, however, don’t take care of these elements. Eventually, most patients that catch Bartonellosis from cats are under the age of 5.
Similarly, tapeworms also damage kids’ health more severally. Kids often throw, pick, and then eat their edibles. In this process, flea shedding or feces can stick to their food and then move inside them.
This won’t show any initial signs, but once the worms mature, your kid will face bowl disturbance, abdomen pain, and vomiting. If tapeworms aren’t treated timely, babies start excreting tapeworm eggs. This results in itching around kids’ anal opening and constipation in some cases.
Additionally, when fleas directly bite on your kids' bodies, it speeds up the process of RBCs breakdown. Anemia because of flea bites isn't frequent in adult humans. In babies, however, these cases are found easily.
Kids' immunity isn't strong, they don't take much care before eating, and above all, they love to cuddle with the cat. All these factors add to their trouble if your cat is flea-infested.
How to tell if your cat has fleas?
Pinpointing the presence of fleas isn’t that hard. One can easily put two and two together and declare their presence inside cats’ fur. From apparently harmless signs to severe ailments, fleas make you feel their presence in all negative ways.
Even if your cat’s intestine, abdomen, and other vital organs are safe, fleas can make its gums pale. Due to unstopped blood loss, cats' gums start losing their strength and get flaky. If you can't see fleas in your cat's fur, you can tell by its gums condition that there is something wrong.
Healthy cats have pinkish gums as they have an uninterrupted blood supply. But, once fleas infest a cat, the gums don't receive an ample amount of blood. Ultimately, their gums get pale and puffy.
Here’s a thing to remember:
Pale gums can be because of cat anemia, too, a disease that isn't necessarily related to fleas. So, if your cat's gums are disturbed, get its blood tested, and clear your doubts.
Loss of energy
This is an apparent sign every time your cat is sick. Seasonal fever, viral infections, injuries, and hormonal changes; with every change in its system, your cat loses its energy. If lethargy is unsolicited in your cat, fleas can be the reason.
These little pests keep disturbing your cat, halt its happy-time activities, and don't let the feline sleep. These factors lead to lethargy and sluggish behavior. After fleas infest your cat's fur, you should get ready to see your kitty turning into a grumpy one. Lack of sleep, loss of appetite, and continuous irritation are a few common indications of fleas’ presence.
Sudden weight loss (rare)
As the name says, weight loss isn't a common indication of a flea attack. This usually comes at a later stage when the cat stops eating and is busy rubbing its body against hard surfaces most of the time. Fleas' constant biting drains your cat's energy and keeps irking it all the time. These factors contribute to both weight loss and lethargy.
This is a no-brainer. If your cat has fleas, its body will inevitably have red marks, scratches, and scathes. The prevalence of these marks vary according to the number and influence of fleas, but they are always present. If your cat's fur is extra-thick, you should take steps to observe and pinpoint the presence of any abnormal scathing.
How to treat fleas?
After fleas attack on your cat is confirmed, the next step should be to eradicate this problem permanently. When flea effects have reached a severe level, consult a vet as soon as possible.
Unless a doctor checks your cat’s vitals and gives a good-to-go sign, don’t settle. The more you delay a vet visit, the more you sacrifice the kitty’s life.
Most vets give IVs, oral medication, and medicated sprays to kill fleas. You should thoroughly follow their prescribed medication as it will kill any ingested parasites and ensure that your cat's insides are safe.
Once you’re satisfied that the severity has decreased and your cat can cope up with this attack, regular follow-up practices will immensely help you.
Here’s a bummer:
People often test old treatment ways on their cats without thinking that now the parasites have significantly advanced and are graver. Especially if a parasite shifts from one host to another, it should never be treated casually.
These are some harmful natural flea treatments that people follow in some places:
- Pennyroyal oil
- Garlic and onion
If you want your cat to be healthy again, don't practice any home remedy on it. Consult a specialist vet and do what he/she suggests.
Ways to protect your cat from a flea attack again
After your cat's flea treatment is over, it doesn't mean this attack won't recur. Chances of flea attacks are always there, and if you don't plan smartly, you'll soon find yourself struggling with these pests again.
Here’re some tried and tested ways to prevent a flea attack in future:
These are aerosol cans with flea-specified chemicals. Just like we use mosquito/cockroach spray, fuming the house with flea fogger can greatly treat an infested place. These foggers are also called flea-bombs. To protect your home in future, get a testified fogger and use it as per the instructions. These chemicals absorb in soft objects and kill the fleas and eggs present there.
Block their way
Once you’ve de-infested your place, make sure this doesn’t relapse. Using mesh nets in windows, closing windows in windy weather, and regularly cleaning your garden are some of the initial steps you can take to stop this problem.
How to keep your cat’s body hygienic?
We cannot completely eradicate flea-carrying agents to come in our pet’s vicinity. A visitor with flea eggs on his shoes can cause flea infestation in your home or damp air can move these eggs from one place to another; the factors are numerous. To ensure that your cat is always sheltered from these threats, you should pay utmost attention to its hygiene.
Here are a few hygienic practices you should follow:
- Keep the cat’s fur clean
- To remove eggs and flea feces from the kitty’s fur, use metal flea combs. These combs work diligently and ensure the removal of extensive flea infestation.
- Also, by regularly washing your cat’s body with a good anti-flea shampoo helps you maintain its cleanliness, well-being, and softness. Fleas harm your cat’s fur, however, with a good shampoo, you can protect it.
- Fleas thrive better when their host’s fur/hair is thick. If your cat has extra-thick fur, you should frequently trim and groom it.
- Hygiene is the first step towards good health of your pet, make sure you never overlook it.
What foods can make your cat stronger after a flea attack?
When a cat is weak, it easily falls prey to these irritating blood-sucking parasites. The first step towards your cat's betterment should be a healthy, enriched, and natural diet.
If you give preservative-loaded food to a kitty who is already pest-infested, you are doing grave harm to its health.
Feeding your cat fresh, raw, and nutrient-filled meat should be your priority. If it is recovering from a severe flea infestation, make sure its food is strengthening. Mixing different meat types and presenting them to the kitty will help it regain its lost appetite. In severe flea cases, cats lose sudden weight and don't go near food as they used to do.
For bringing your cat back to a healthy life, never let it dehydrate, and don't add any chemicals to its food. Simple!
What are the preventive measures for cat fleas?
Once things are back-on-track, don't let them stray away. Your little carelessness can cost you a whole trauma again; you'll have to repeat all the steps that we discussed above. If you never want your cat to go through that irritating phase back, follow these simple preventive measures and make your place flea-free heaven for your fur ball.
Remove old rugs
Yes, remove them or get them thoroughly washed. When flea eggs fall from the cat's body, they get stuck inside soft threads of rugs, carpets, and mats. If you have thoroughly disinfected your feline, do the same with your carpets. Carefully cleaning/washing furniture and fabric items will remove dormant flea eggs, and they won't latch onto your cats again.
Keep your place dry
Fleas like moisture and warmth; they thrive in rainy months. To keep your home always flea-free, don't let moisture accumulate in it. Wipe dry the floor, don't let water storage cans stay uncovered, and fix leaking taps. When your home is clean and dry, fleas don't get a favorable environment to thrive.
Even if by any chance some fleas sneak into your place, they’d be limited to a certain number. And with some minor treatment methods, you could remove them.
Limit the pet’s outdoor visits
Confine your cat's outdoor roaming, especially evening/morning visits. This is the time when fleas are active and seek a new host to jump on. By limiting their un-attended outdoor visits, you can safeguard their health. Also, when you take the cat out for a walk, use a leash, and after coming back, wash its body (preferably).
Use flea comb
Sometimes we don't have time to wash the cat's body and need a quick solution. In such times, use a flea comb. Combing the kitty's fur once a day will remove adult fleas, and due to the comb's bristles, eggs will fall off.
Get the pet checked twice a year
This is like the last nail in the coffin! After performing your duty of a pet parent, let the professionals do their job too. Don't forget to take your cat for a detailed check-up. Although you can do these check-up sessions frequently, going there twice a year should be the minimum threshold.
And the flea story is finally over! In our detailed flea guide, we discussed flea types, their symptoms, harms, solutions, and prevention. If you ever doubt that your cat is unnecessarily restless, look through its fur. If cat fleas are there, you'll see brownish dust-like particles, which are flea shedding.
Upon confirming the existence of cat fleas in your feline's body, analyze the severity. If the problem has grown beyond a reasonable level, consult your vet. But, if it's in the initial phase, try a flea comb, anti-flea shampoos, and sprays. For your home, get some sound bug bombs and sprays.
Fleas will immensely disturb your cat’s life, and ultimately yours too. If you want to lead a peaceful life and wish to see your cute kitty lively, happy, and healthy, do every measure to eradicate cat fleas.