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Everything you need to know about cats and fleas

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Cats can pick up fleas surprisingly easily, and these parasites can quickly spread around your home unless you act quickly to prevent an infestation.
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A cat scratching his ear

Fleas are one of the most common parasites affecting cats, and outdoor cats will likely come into contact with fleas on a regular basis. Yet even indoor cats can get fleas if the parasites hitch a ride into your home: on you, another pet or an uninvited guest like a rodent.

If you maintain a regular treatment schedule for your pet you will hopefully never have to deal with an infestation, but it’s still important to know what you’re up against.

The basics about fleas  

Fleas are tiny, wingless insects that live on your cat’s body, feeding on blood and laying eggs in your cat’s fur, which then drop off throughout your home. A single flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in its lifetime, and its full life cycle – from egg to larva to pupa to adult – can take place in a few weeks. Although they don’t live in human hair, fleas do bite humans – especially on the ankles and lower legs – and they will also jump onto and infest other pets in the household.

Why flea bites can be dangerous for cats 

Flea bites are painful and itchy for your cat, and they can cause a range of additional problems, including:

Flea allergic dermatitis (FAD)

FAD is an allergy to flea saliva that can set off a severe reaction and intense itching from just a few flea bites. If your cat has FAD, their skin may look sore and crusty. They can also lose fur from over-grooming, bringing a higher risk of skin infection.

Anaemia

Kittens and elderly cats can become anaemic from blood loss if bitten too many times.

Tapeworm

If your cat swallows fleas infected with tapeworm eggs while grooming, your cat can end up with a tapeworm infection.

Spreading diseases 

Cat fleas can also spread disease, including the bacteria Bartonella (which can cause a potentially debilitating disease called ‘bartonellosis’ or ‘cat scratch disease’ in people), and Rickettsia (which can cause a disease called rickettsiosis in people), and also more rarely, a serious human disease called typhus.

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A close-up image of a flea

How to spot a flea infestation 

It can be quite hard to spot fleas on cats, and the first symptom you may notice is scratching. You can check your cat regularly by gently combing with a flea comb and shaking the fur onto a damp piece of white tissue. If dark specks (‘flea dirt’) appear and turn reddish brown, this indicates that your cat has fleas. In many cases it may not be obvious that your pet has fleas though, as fleas burrow deep into your pet’s fur and move away quickly when the fur is parted, making them hard to find.

How to get rid of fleas on your cat and in your home

The first step in dealing with a flea infestation is to give your cat a flea treatment, such as a spot-on, tablet, collar or spray. Trying to decide which flea treatment is best for you and your pet? Choose one that doesn’t require fleas to first bite your cat in order to be killed. Advocate®  and Advantage® are two spot-on treatments for cats that are applied to the base of your cat’s head, spreading throughout the skin and are able to kill fleas on contact1.

To more quickly remove fleas from your home, wash your cat’s bedding on the hottest possible setting, vacuum your cat’s favourite snoozing spots and use a vet-approved household flea spray throughout your home.

Seresto is a collar that also kills fleas quickly and on contact, providing 8 months of continuous protection against fleas and the flea-borne bacterial disease, Bartonella henselae.

Alternatively, if you choose a product such as Advantage, Advocate or Seresto®, they will also work to kill flea larvae that are in your home, which will help to more rapidly bring a flea infestation under control. Read our comprehensive guide for more information and helpful tips.

1. Mehlhorn et al. Parasitol Res (2001) 87: 198-208

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