How to Manage Fleas in Cats
Outdoor cats should be routinely treated for fleas. Regular prevention and treatment of fleas helps to limit disease transmission, decrease skin irritation from flea bites, and eliminate flea infestations within your home.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Fleas are small (about 2-4mm in length), dark brown insects that are barely visible to the naked eye. They can’t fly but do jump long distances to reach their host. A flea will start feeding on an animal host within minutes of landing on them.
Fleas are not species-specific - they will feed on your cat, dog, rabbit, or even your ankles! Fleas thrive in indoor or outdoor environments and would love to hitch a ride on your cat during her daily outings and adventures. Remember that your outdoor cat can also carry these fleas inside to your other pets…or you!
Symptoms of a Flea Infestation
- Excessive scratching
- Areas of hair loss or scabs
- Redness and irritation of the skin
- Thickened or crusty skin, especially around the ears, neck, or back
- Dark specks in the fur (“flea dirt”), or visible live fleas
- Insect bites on people in your household, especially around the ankles
It’s important to note that cats often spend a lot of time grooming. Fleas may be ingested during the grooming process, making it difficult for you to find them in their fur.
Instead of live fleas, you may see black specks in your cat’s coat. These are the flea’s feces, often called “flea dirt”. “Flea dirt” can be identified by combing some of the debris onto a paper towel. Add a drop of water and watch the specks slowly dissolve into red-brown marks. This indicates digested blood and confirms the presence of flea feces.
How to Treat Your Cat
There are a lot of flea treatments on the market. It’s important to know that not all flea treatments or spot-on medications are the same. Those sold in pet shops and supermarkets may contain different active ingredients and are significantly less effective than those prescribed by vets. Please ask one of our vets at FirstVet or your own vet for further advice about which product is best for your cat.
Deworming your cat is also important. Fleas often carry the larval stage of the tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum. Cats become infected with tapeworms by ingesting fleas during grooming.
Other pets that live in your house (or yard if your cat has contact with them or their bedding) will require flea treatment. You must use a treatment that has been developed specifically for that animal! Not all flea treatments are safe for all species and can be deadly if used on the wrong pet!
Another alarming fact: Only about 5% of a flea infestation is made up of adult fleas on your pets. The other 95% is in your home in the form of flea eggs, larvae, and pupae. This means that to control a flea infestation, you need to treat ALL pets AND your home. Fleas like to lay their eggs in cracks, crevices, and soft furnishings. The eggs can survive for up to 1 year, so treating your house is essential.
How to Treat Your House
Treat your house and all pets at the same time. If you live in an area with large flea populations, you may need to keep your pets on monthly preventatives and treat your home at least once a year.
Never use a flea product on a pet that is meant for home or yard treatment. Read all instructions carefully before use. You’ll likely be required to remove all pets from the area to be treated. This includes pet birds, reptiles, insects, and spiders. Where possible, remove aquariums and other pet enclosures.
Be sure to follow all recommendations and allow plenty of time before returning pets to the house. Once safe, ventilate the area by opening windows and doors for at least 1 hour before allowing pets or children back into the room. If you’ve sprayed your pet’s bedding, make sure it’s dry before they use it again. Bedding can also be washed in hot water to effectively kill flea eggs and larvae.
Vacuum all floors and upholstered furniture daily for at least 2 weeks after using the treatment. Vibrations from the vacuum will attract larvae from within the carpet, ensuring that they hatch and can be killed by the chemical you’ve used.
It can take 3 months of meticulous flea treatment to control an infestation. Work with your veterinarian to develop a successful and safe treatment plan. Your vet can also give advice on preventing future infestations.
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