6 min read

The Complete Guide to Cat Fleas: The Who, What, and How

Medically Reviewed by

Tracy Isenberg, LVT

Being a cat parent requires a lot of patience and practice. Cats are uniquely independent and tend to take care of themselves. But all that independence can lead to trouble if fleas find their way to your cat.

While your furry friend might not need your help most days, if they run into these parasites you’ll need to intervene.

Learn all about what cat fleas are, how they develop, and why cats get them in the first place.


Do cats get fleas

Even though cats are great self-groomers, cats can still collect all kinds of pests. Whether your pet lives in an indoor or outdoor environment, fleas can make their way to your pet and household.

Fleas are very tiny insects that live all around the world. These wingless bugs survive exclusively on the blood of birds and mammals — like cats and dogs.


What are cat fleas

Thousands of flea species exist in the world, but only 300 or so live in the United States. The most common is the cat flea (ctenocephalides felis).

What do they look like

Cat fleas are usually a dark brown color but can appear red after feeding. Adult cat fleas have 6 legs and antennae. They are usually flat-shaped and can grow to ⅛ of an inch long.

What are they known for

Cat fleas transmit flea-borne (murine) typhus and cat scratch disease (CSD). They can also cause severe skin irritation and allergic reactions like flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Some symptoms of these diseases include:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Weight loss or inappetence
  • Weakness, lethargy, shaking
  • Red eyes or pale gums
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Itching and scratching
  • Skin irritation, bumps, and redness
  • Bad breath
  • Hair loss

What is the cat flea life cycle

The cat flea life cycle has four primary stages from flea egg to adult flea. This cycle takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 1 year depending on the climate. Unless removed by grooming or insecticides, adult fleas begin feeding right away and may stick around for several months.

Flea Eggs

Eggs

Quickly after feeding, the female flea will lay eggs. This product stage can last up to 14 days. Once the pearly white, oval-shaped eggs settle in they will start to hatch over the next six days.

Finding flea eggs on cats is nearly impossible without a microscope. This is why it is important to:

  • Keep your cat groomed
  • Visit a vet to check on their health
  • Use preventative flea treatments
  • Protect your house with flea control sprays
Flea Larvae

Larvae

To become larvae, flea eggs need shaded, damp environments like decks, porches, and cracks in the flooring. Your backyard sandbox is a great place for cat flea larvae to develop. This stage can last anywhere from five to 18 days.

Flea Pupae

Pupae

After the larval stage, fleas develop into pupae. These egg-shaped, silk-like cocoons nest in dark, moist environments. This stage lasts one to two weeks until the adult flea makes its way out of its cocoon.

DID YOU KNOW?

If the pupa doesn’t emerge from its cocoon, it can remain in your home for almost a year.

Adult Fleas

Adult flea

After emerging from their cocoon, adult fleas begin to look for a host. When the female flea finds a host, she will immediately bite to find blood. After feeding, she will try to mate and begin laying eggs — starting the life cycle over again.

Common types of fleas on cats

Cat fleas are the most common type, but they aren’t the only ones that can harm your pet. Here are the other types of fleas your cat could encounter:

  • Dog fleas
  • Ground squirrel fleas
  • Oriental rat fleas
  • Tropical hen (sticktight) fleas
  • Human fleas

Where, when, and how cats get fleas

Preparing yourself for flea infestations is easier said than done. It’s not necessarily common sense to know how to get rid of fleas.

Learn where, when, and how cats get fleas to make sure you can take care of the problem right away.

Where do cats get fleas

Where Do Cats Get Fleas

Like other pests that invade your pet, fleas like to settle in dense, protected areas. This is why fleas tend to nest deep in your cat’s fur. And unlike ticks that stay in one place, fleas run all over your cat’s body.

The most common places where you can find fleas include:

  • Head and neck (ears, eyes, and under their collar)
  • Legs (hind legs and armpits)
  • Stomach (abdomen and groin)
  • Tail (at the base and along the tail)

When do cats get fleas

You might’ve heard that fleas are seasonal and only a threat during the warmer months. It’s true, they hate the cold — but they will do anything to survive.

This is why (if unprotected) you may find fleas on your pet throughout the winter. Fleas tend to hunker down in crawl spaces, attics, carpets, and floorboards to protect themselves from the cold.

How do cats get fleas

How Do Cats Get Fleas

Fleas are agile creatures and can easily jump from one host to the next. Pets can pick up fleas from your backyard or by simply interacting with another animal that has fleas.

Here are the most common ways cats come into contact with fleas:

  1. Other animals or pets
  2. Humans (and their clothing)
  3. Your backyard or neighborhood
  4. Pet bedding and toys
  5. Kennels and pet hotels

How to tell if your cat has fleas

Dealing with fleas can be stressful. But, if you know how to check your cat for fleas you’ll be better prepared to tackle them head-on.

Here are a few signs of fleas on cats to look for:

Scratching.

If fleas had superlatives they would be “most likely to irritate.” Fleas cause intense skin inflammation and infection which makes your cat scratch and even cause hair loss.

Irritated skin.

Some cats may develop an allergic reaction to the saliva from a flea bite. You’ll know for sure if you see red bumps or welts on your cat’s skin.

Adult cat fleas.

Spotting a full-grown flea is a sure sign of a flea infestation, but they are often difficult to see right away. Fleas are often as small as a pinhead and appear dark brown and flat.

Flea dirt.

Finding flea dirt on cats can be tricky. It usually looks like round, black specks of black pepper but is digested blood. Use a flea comb to collect the flea dirt and drop it on a wet paper towel to see if it will turn red.

Fleas can multiply in no time at all. Knowing what to look for is a great first step, but don’t get discouraged if your pet contracts fleas. Remember, they’ll do anything to survive and your cat makes a fantastic home for fleas.

But there are some things you can do to make sure your pets stay protected.

Expert advice for keeping your pets protected

  1. Know the signs of flea bites on your cat.
  2. Vacuum and clean your pet’s belongings regularly.
  3. Contact your veterinarian to ask about treatments like flea collars and topicals.
  4. Prevent fleas with a monthly flea treatment (never use your dog’s medication to treat your cat).
  5. Use flea sprays that contain an IGR to kill fleas and avoid future breeding.

The best protection against flea-related issues is prevention. Keep your pets safe with PetFriendly’s vet-quality flea and tick prevention — plus add on our household flea spray for extra control.

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