A single flea stands in a field of white pet hair.

What to Do with a Cat Flea Infection

Cat fleas are a very common and extremely annoying problem for not only cats but also their owners. Before we go any further, please make sure you understand this. It is critical to never use dog flea control products on your cat without the approval of your veterinarian.Using the wrong treatment on a cat can be fatal.

What Are Cat Fleas?

Fleas are small, wingless and brown insects that love to jump on cats as part of their life cycle. When they do, their particular mouthparts pierce the skin and siphon blood. During the flea bite, the flea injects a small amount of saliva into the skin to prevent blood coagulation.

Some cats may have fleas without showing discomfort, but an unfortunate number of cats become sensitized to this saliva causing an allergic reaction referred to as “flea allergy dermatitis.” In highly allergic cats, the bite of a single flea can cause severe itching and skin infections. Cat fleas are one of the most Common Cat Health Problems You Should Know About.

The Lifecycle of the Cat Flea

Fleas love warm weather and humidity and generally begin their optimal breeding cycle with temperatures around 70°F to 85°F and humidity near 70%. Fleas can become dormant in the winter but the heat will bring very fertile conditions ripe for infestations. Fleas can still reproduce in the winter depending on the temperature and environment. They can thrive all year in homes.

The flea’s life cycle has four stages that include egg, larva, pupae, and adult. The adult flea jumps on your cat to obtain a blood meal and breed leading to the first phase…eggs.

You can quickly see how one or two fleas can quickly become an infestation. During the peak months, however, one flea can become as many as 100,000 in just 30 days!

Symptoms of Cat Fleas

Symptoms of cat fleas include:

Diagnosis of Cat Fleas

The diagnosis of cat fleas involves the identification of fleas, evidence of “flea dirt”, or lesions consistent with fleas. Because the flea spends the majority of its life in the environment it can be difficult to see a flea on your cat. It is also common for the meticulous cat to sense a flea on himself or herself and bite, chew and eat the flea thus destroying the evidence.

You can check your cat carefully for fleas or for signs of flea dirt. Be sure to focus on the area over the back just in front of the tail. A flea comb can be helpful.

A flea comb has narrow tines that are closer together than the typical adult flea. Running a flea comb across your cat can yield fleas that can otherwise be evasive.

You can also evaluate the flea dirt to determine it is indeed flea dirt and not just dirt. Because the flea feces contains digested blood, you can often detect subtle red coloration when placing the flea dirt on a moistened white tissue or paper towel.

What To Do If You Have Cat Fleas

Fleas can be annoying but also spread disease, cause skin infections, and tapeworm infections. If you see any of these signs or have concerns about fleas, please contact your veterinarian.

There are many types of flea control products on the market. There are flea collars, shampoos, sprays, powders, and dips as well as newer and more effective products such as oral and systemic spot-on insecticides.

Battling cat flea infestations requires killing the fleas that are on the cat or kitten while also attacking areas where the eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults all congregate in the yard or carpet. Because some stages of a flea’s life can persist for months, chemicals with residual action are needed and should be repeated as recommended based on the product.

If you have a flea infestation, you need to treat your environment as well as the cats.

Dealing with Fleas on Kittens

It is important to note that many flea control products are not approved or safe for cats under the age of 8 weeks. You can use flea combs and baths for very small kittens as well as an oral adulticide called nitenpyram (Capstar®) that when given begins to kill fleas in 30 minutes. It is critical to NOT use a dog flea product on your kitten without the approval of your veterinarian.

Most flea products are approved for cats over the age of 8 weeks.

Dealing with Fleas and Adult Cats

For adult cats, there are several products on the market that can deal with fleas.

Many of the prescription flea products are safe, easy to use, effective and some have additional benefits such as efficacy against gastrointestinal parasites, ear mites, ticks, and mosquitoes.

As with kittens, it is critical to NOT use a dog flea product on your cat without the approval of your veterinarian.

Tips for Dealing With Cat Fleas

With all these choices, it is best to consult with your veterinarian regarding the very best products for your cat and your individual situation. Dealing with an infestation is different than planning flea prevention. The most effective and safest cat flea prevention centers on routine use of quality prescription prevention products for all pets in the home. Talk to your vet to decide what is best for you, and your cats.

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