So, you’ve just discovered that your cat has fleas. You need to find the best cat flea treatment – ASAP!
Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas – almost everyone’s familiar with that phrase, but what some cat lovers don’t realize, however, is that fleas unfortunately love our feline friends too! Cats and fleas have been, if not friends, then definitely close companions for thousands of years, with fleas still finding free-roaming tomcats and indoor tabbies to be equally hospitable hosts today.
For such a small creature, the flea is a mighty survivor. Small, blind and wingless, these insects are brownish black in colour, with a hard protective outer shell and a flat, compressed body that make traveling through your cat’s fur easy work. There are over 2,000 noted species of flea, each with a preferred type of mammal host, but interestingly, it’s the ‘cat’ flea species (Ctenocephalides felis) that tend to prefer cats and dogs as their own personal food sources, and they need a blood meal from your pet in order to survive and breed. These tiny pests may not be able to fly, but that doesn’t stop them for long – they’re some of the best jumpers in the animal kingdom, relative to body size; if a human could jump as powerfully as a flea, we would be able to jump a distance of 90 meters!
Have you noticed your kitty scratching a little more than usual? Think she might have fleas? Don’t fret. With the number of different preventatives available, your cat will be feeling better in no time. Your home will be insect-free soon if you take a bit of time to learn about what you are up against – the flea!
What Are Cat Fleas?
Cat fleas are a dangerous infestation of tiny, horrible creates that can cause your cat incredible discomfort and also infect it with various ailments that could, in the worst case, lead to death. Fleas tend to latch onto your cat due to a lack of grooming and hygiene, and this can cause your cat’s health and hygiene to deteriorate even further. Extremely itchy and irritating for the cat, it can lead to numerous cuts and sores for the cat.
The Consequences of Not Treating Cat Fleas
The consequences of not dealing with cat fleas are actually very serious, and they can lead to anemia in your cat, caused by the infestations overrunning the cat and leaving it with various health problems and a loss of blood throughout. The main sign will be pale gums on your cat.
Another problem is your cat picking up a transmission from the fleas that will cause a serious form of feline anemia – this needs medical treatment via antibiotics and it can even require a blood transfusion if left unchecked for long enough.
Tapeworm is also a common problem and this will cause a lot of problem for your cat in terms of losing its vibrant coat, losing weight and appearing to be extremely lethargic. Notice these symptoms? Then take your cat to a veterinarian and they can provide it with pills to kill the tapeworm.
Flea life cycle
Since our initial human reaction to fleas is naturally a negative one, most cat owners are more than eager to get rid of these pesky parasites as soon as possible! Understanding the flea life cycle first is going to be the most effective way to get rid of them for good, however, and more importantly, for cats, it’s essential to know which flea control products are safe to use, and which might be toxic for our feline friends.
To learn the best way to kill these creepy-crawlies, you need to know the flea life cycle. First, let’s take a close look at how fleas live and reproduce. There are four major stages of flea development: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult fleas, most of the products on the market will only kill one or two of these life cycles.
Adult fleas feed and breed on your cat, but the majority of the life cycle actually happens elsewhere. Once an adult flea jumps onto your cat, she begins to feed and lay eggs – as many as 40 per day. These eggs, along with her poop – also known as flea dirt – drop off the kitty as she moves around. They can go anywhere: on Kitty’s bed, in the carpet, on your sheets, or in the sofa. They will even find their way into your bed! Eggs make up about 1/3 of the flea population in your home.
A female flea will begin laying batches of up to 20 eggs at a time, which fall off your cat onto any surface, becoming concentrated in the areas where they sleep. A female flea can produce several hundred eggs during her lifetime!
Tiny caterpillar-like creatures emerge from the eggs in 1-2 weeks, and avoid sunlight, staying hidden in dark places like floor cracks and bedding. They feed off of adult flea excrement (dried, digested blood), dander and other organic material around the house. Once they are a certain size, they go through 3 stages of molting before they are ready to move to the pupa stage. Almost 2/3 of the fleas in your house are in the larval stage.
When the larvae are ready, they spin a cocoon that is almost impenetrable. Currently, there are ZERO flea products that can effectively kill this life stage. Inside this cocoon, the pupa changes into an adult and can wait up to a year before hatching. They wait for outside signals that a host is approaching before hatching.
- The adult flea
The pupa waits for signals that a host is near: vibrations, carbon dioxide, sounds and light. When they detect a meal, they hatch and make a break for their first meal. Once the flea finds your kitty, she begins to feed and lay eggs within 1-2 days. About 5% of the fleas in your house are adults.
On average, the flea life cycle, from egg to adult, is around three weeks, though it can be faster in warm, humid conditions. What this means for you and your cat, however, is that one or two fleas can expand their family very quickly; one or two fleas can become several hundred in a mere matter of weeks if they have the right food source.
Finding fleas on cats
As you are well aware, cats love to keep themselves clean. This can make it especially difficult to locate fleas on a cat. They often eat the fleas inadvertently during grooming, making them hard to find.
Many cats visit the veterinarian for an unknown skin problem, with the owner swearing that the cat does not have fleas. Often a flea combing will find the little buggers themselves, or tell-tales signs that fleas have been feeding – called flea dirt.
Finding these critters on your kitty may prove difficult, but it is always a possibility. Never rule it out when you notice your cat scratching.
Spotting fleas is relatively easy on a light furred cat – you’ll actually be able to see them moving. However, catching the treatments otherwise is going to be hard work for cats with darker fur. The fleas will blend in and cause you a significant problem along the way, ensuring that the fleas will only be noticed due to the cat’s actions as well as the spotting of small black dots all across your cat. Using a fine toothed comb, you will spot this with relative ease.
How Do I Know if My Cat Has Fleas?
Aside from the obvious scratching, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out if your cat has a flea problem, since they’re fast moving and tend to stay hidden on less visible areas of your cat’s body. Unless your cat is literally hopping with them, a more effective way of looking for fleas is to take a very fine-toothed comb and run it through your feline friend’s fur several times, from the crown of their head to the base of their tail. Examine the loose hair that’s caught in the comb afterwards – if you see live fleas or even just the presence of a blackish, peppery substance (flea excrement), then your cat has a pest problem. If you’re still not sure, wet the black specks with a few drops of water – actual flea poop will turn a reddish brown, since it’s made up of digested blood.
Cats can ‘pick up’ fleas more easily than you might think; outdoor felines can pick up these hitchhiking pests from other cats, from their prey, or even just by travelling through outdoor areas inhabited by fleas. Other household inhabitants like dogs can also bring fleas into the home, where they’ll be just as happy to include your kitty in their daily meal plan, and even people can transport fleas from place to place on clothes or in bags. Finally, situations like boarding kennels or grooming establishments are perfect places for fleas to travel from host to host.
So, Why Are Fleas Such a Big Problem?
Beyond the typical bug-bite reaction that most mammals have to flea bites, fleas can also be hazardous to the health of our both felines and human families. Some cats can develop a condition called ‘flea allergy dermatitis’, which is an extreme reaction to flea saliva that causes intense itching; cats with this condition often have hair loss, scabbing and occasionally secondary skin infections, since they bite, lick and chew at their skin to try to relieve the itch. Cats (and kittens especially) are at higher risk for flea-related anemia.
A flea infestation can also be the source for the transmission of some diseases as well – fleas are hosts for tapeworm, which can lead to infection in both humans and cats if the fleas are ingested. Fleas are also capable of transmitting certain types of bacteria by biting and saliva injection, like the organisms responsible for cat scratch fever, typhus, and (much more rarely) bubonic plague.
Diseases spread by fleas
Fleas have the ability to pass deadly parasites and bacteria to your cat. Under the right circumstances, fleas can even kill cats. It is very important to protect your pets against this pest.
Cat scratch fever
This is a bacterial disease spread through saliva of the cat. It does not make the cat sick, but can potentially spread to humans.
Flea allergy dermatitis
Some pets are extra sensitive to flea bites, and all it takes is one bite every 4 days to drive them crazy. These pets need to be on flea control year-round.
Heavy flea infestations can lead to blood loss, and could kill a small kitten or older cat if not caught in time.
These intestinal parasites suck vital nutrients from your cat’s intestines. The cat becomes infected after swallowing a flea during the grooming process.
Flea Treatment Products
Choosing the right product depends on your needs and preferences. Some products only prevent fleas, while some work well on infestations. Some products need to be applied frequently, and others only need to be applied every few months.
You should choose a product that kills multiple life stages. Many products only address the adults, which are only a small fraction of the population.
Infestations require that all pets in the house be treated simultaneously, and may need to continue for several months to be sure that all life stages are killed.
Most cases of fleas can be treated at home with the right combination of products. More severe cases may require veterinary intervention for a successful outcome.
Check your labels
Be sure to check for a weight range on the package. Make sure that your cat also meets the age requirements for the product. You do not want to underdose or overdose your kitty.
Young kittens do not tolerate pesticides, so they cannot be used. Their nervous systems are still developing, and the potential for a reaction is very high. You may be able to bathe the kitten in mild, soapy water and use a flea comb to remove fleas until the kitty is old enough for topical products.
Cats and dogs differ in the way they metabolize drugs, especially pesticides. Ensure that you purchase a product specifically for cats. It may be tempting to share a few drops of your large dog’s product with your cat, but this could be a deadly practice.
All of the following products are available without a prescription, through Amazon.co.uk:
Spot on flea drops
Spot on products are the easiest and most effective of the treatments available. A small amount of liquid is placed on your cat, which then spreads over the skin to protect her from fleas. They work well even when Kitty gets wet. They usually need reapplication every month, but some can work for as long as 4 months. They can be used to treat and prevent infestations. Depending on the type of spot-on treatment, these liquid medications are typically the most effective ways to prevent and control pesky fleas for good; fleas are exposed to the product no matter where they are on your cat’s body.
Another popular name for pets that have flea problems, Frontline charges head long into battle and protects against fleas, lice and ticks equally.
It’s effective for any kittens over 8 years old and weighing more than a kilo, so you can use this treatment on older cats. It kills the fleas on contact, so it’s incredibly powerful for dealing with and further preventing infestations. Frontline Spot On Cat can be used on cats over 8 weeks of age and kills fleas as well as ticks.
One of the first products on the line, this eliminates present flea infestations and also can be used to prevent a future outbreak. Advantage is one safe and long-lasting product that many veterinarians prefer, since each treatment lasts up to 2 months and kills adult fleas on contact (helping to prevent itchy reactions to bites and disease transmission).
It’s effective within 48h and can be extremely good value for anyone looking to give their cat the help it needs in becoming fitter, healthier and recovering properly. Advantage comes in 2 strengths and treats/prevents flea infestations for 4 weeks. Kittens must be 8 weeks old for safe use.
This is from one of the most trusted pet brands around and can be relied upon to deal with the problem quickly.
Each tablet will kill off fleas already there on a cat within 24h and can easily be added into a cat’s food for an easy way to take in the product. Suitable for any cat over 4 weeks and over 1kg in weight.
Perfect for cats that need long-term protection – going on holiday, for example – this lasts for 4 weeks and can be used for cats and kitten older than 12 weeks of age. With 4, 12 and 24 week packages available you can keep your cat in perfect condition and make sure that fleas won’t be a problem any longer.
Biospotix Cat Spot is an all-natural spot on that can be used on kittens over 3 months old.
Effipro works for 4 weeks against fleas and 2 weeks against ticks.
4Fleas Protector works on kittens weighing more than 1kg. It kills eggs and larvae.
Flea sprays are available that can be used either directly on the pet, or in the environment. They are usually very similar to the topical product.
offers a chemical-free spray for use on kittens older than 3 months. It should be used weekly.
Indorex Spray, kills adult fleas for up to 2 months, and prevents eggs and larvae for 12 months. A single can will take care of your entire house.
for the home works on spaces up to 15 square meters and kills adult fleas and larvae.
Flea powders need to be applied into the coat. They need to be reapplied often, usually on a weekly basis.
Beaphar Flea Powder
does not contain any chemicals. It works by desiccating (drying out) the flea’s body. You apply it to your pet, and then shake the excess out of the coat.
For treatment of living areas including carpets, rugs to kill fleas and their larvae.
Collars for cats are usually made to break away, in case your kitty gets herself into a sticky situation. Some cats absolutely hate collars and others don’t mind wearing them. You’ll have to see how your kitty reacts.
Flea collars are one of the most traditional ways of controlling fleas – but not all of them are equally effective. Look for collars that contain an insect growth regular (a product that kills fleas before they can lay eggs) like the Bayer Bolfo Collar, but keep in mind that since collars aren’t a systemic treatment, fleas that are further away from the collar may be less affected by the product.
Beaphar Soft Cat Flea Collar
comes in either plastic or soft material. The soft collar comes in a variety of colors and they both remain effective for up to 4 months.
has a collar that is completely free of chemicals and is safe for kittens older than 3 months.
Shampoos are generally not recommended for cats, unless you are the proud owner of a cat who likes baths. Most cats will injure their owners (not on purpose) if they are given a bath.
Still seeing fleas?
It is possible to see a live flea on a pet that has been treated with a flea product. They do take time to work, and it can be challenging if the infestation is particularly bad. Some products have a reduction in efficacy near the end of their life. It is possible that it can take longer for a flea to die after exposure to the product, but they will still die nonetheless.
Keeping Your Feline’s Fleas Under Control
Whether you’re simply preventing a flea invasion, or treating a major infestation, the most effective flea control routines involve interrupting the life cycle at different points. Some flea invasions can take several months to resolve, so it’s essential that all your four-legged family members and your home are treated regularly for several months to prevent fleas from gaining (or regaining) a foothold.
NEVER use a product meant for dogs on your cat! Some canine flea products are potentially deadly for our feline friends. Some other ways that you can decrease the flea population as well are:
- Vacuuming – The noise and vibration stimulate flea pupae to hatch, forcing them to come into contact with flea control products more quickly (or be sucked up and disposed of!)
- Make a weekly habit of tossing your cats’s bedding, blankets, toys and rugs into the washing machine. A hot water cycle with vinegar will do away with flea eggs and larvae in no time!
- Keep your feline friend inside, or, if they must roam outdoors, use a monthly topical flea treatment on your cat that will kill adult fleas as soon as they hop on for a ride!
When to see your veterinarian
If Kitty is still scratching after all your efforts, it is probably a good idea to visit your veterinarian. The doctor can prescribe a stronger, prescription-strength flea product for you to use. They can also prescribe oral medications that can be used together with the topical products, in order to kill the fleas from many angles. Oral medications such as Comfortis or Bob Martin Flea Tablets can kill all the adult fleas on your cat within an hour, giving fast relief for the itchiness.
Other signs that your pet needs a little extra help include:
- Hair loss
- Red, inflamed or raw skin
- Crusty lesions or scabs on the skin
- Any change in your cat’s behavior or appetite
- Lethargy or weakness
- A large number of fleas present on your cat for more than one or two months
- Your cat is under 6 months of age (certain flea products are not safe to use on kittens)
- Self-mutilation by your cat because of unbearable itching
- The presence of parasites such as flea- transmitted tapeworm
These signs could mean that the fleas are too much to handle yourself. They could also indicate that your cat has a skin infection as a result of scratching. Sometimes medications to treat skin infections and to relieve itchiness are needed to help the kitty feel comfortable. These will help alleviate the symptoms while the flea treatments have a chance to work.
Any young kitten that has a flea infestation should be checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out anemia or intestinal parasites.
This guide just touches on the basics of the complicated parasite known as the cat flea. If you are plagued with a flea problem that’s hard to shake, or you need more information to choose a product, consult your veterinarian.