Fleas are the most common parasite affecting cats and can be easily spread to your pet from the environment or close contact with other infested animals.
Adult fleas bite and feed on blood, causing skin irritation and distress to your cat. In kittens a heavy flea burden can cause serious illness and weakness, fleas are also responsible for spreading tapeworm.
The life cycle of a flea involves an egg, larva, pupa and adult, it is only the adult female that will live on your pet, using their blood as a food source. The female flea will lay up to fifty eggs a day, these eggs do not stick to the coat but slide off into the environment, anywhere your pet spends a lot of time, typically in bedding, carpet, or the garden.
These eggs develop into larvae then form a protective cocoon for themselves, they will hatch into adults when the temperature and conditions are right. Indoors this life cycle can continue year round due to central heating, but those pupae in the outdoor environment need to wait until temperatures rise, which is why we see a rise in flea problems during the summer.
How do I know if my cat has fleas?
Your cat may be at risk of fleas if you have missed an application of their flea treatment or used a poor quality flea treatment product.
Many cats show only subtle signs of fleas to their owners, therefore a lack of obvious symptoms does not mean that your pet is flea-free, some cats are just more sensitive to the presence of fleas than others. Scratching and excessive grooming are the most typical signs of fleas, these symptoms will be more severe in pets that have an allergy to flea saliva. Other changes you might notice are restlessness, head shaking and chewing their skin. The classic area of irritation is the lower back, just above their tail base. Run your hand gentle backwards over this area to feel for short, stubby hairs that have been bitten off. As the irritation progresses, you may even notice patches of thinning hair.
Checking my cat for fleas.
You may not notice fleas on your cat if you are not looking, they are very small and fast after all. The best way to find fleas is to look at the tail base, armpits and around their ears. Use a fine-toothed comb along the back to look for fleas and their faeces, this is easier in light coloured cats. Fleas can move away from you as you are examining your pet, however they leave behind tell-tale faeces in the coat. Flea faeces are digested blood, they can look like small specks of black dirt. To distinguish flea faeces from dirt, take the hairs from the comb and spread them on some damp white tissue paper. The water in the paper will moisten the blood in the faeces and create a small red halo around the dark speck. If you see this red halo, it is an indicator that your pet has an active flea infestation.
I have found a flea on my cat despite using my vet recommended product monthly.
Flea products can take up to 24 hours to kill a new flea that jumps on to your protected pet. These ‘hitchhiker’ fleas will killed before they can reproduce. Finding a ‘hitchhiker’ flea may be a sign that your cat is coming in to contact with fleas from other animals or from their environment. Ensure that your home and all of your pets have been appropriately treated for fleas.
For further information on keeping your cat flea free look out for more Protect My Pet blogs.
Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS.