Fleas in cats: your ultimate guide

Discover how to spot, treat and prevent cat fleas, with help from our veterinary expert.

If your cat spends a fair amount of time outdoors, protecting them from fleas is essential. Even if your cat lives indoors, they can still catch fleas! These small parasitic insects can come into your home on clothes and shoes, or transfer onto your cat during a trip to the cattery or vet.

The flea life cycle includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Warm, humid weather means they’re more common outside in spring and summer, but thanks to central heating they can survive in our houses during autumn and winter, too. Flea allergies in cats are relatively common, so it’s important to look out for signs of fleas and treat them before your cat starts to suffer.

Signs of fleas in cats

You might not see any fleas, but watch your cat’s behaviour and appearance for telltale signs. These include:

  • Scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Irritated or sore skin
  • Excessive grooming
  • Black specks in your cat’s coat
  • Lethargy or pale gums (especially in kittens)

When grooming your cat, you might notice small black specks of what looks like dust. If you shake these onto a damp piece of kitchen towel and the dirt makes a small red-brown mark, this isn’t dirt, it’s flea droppings!

Flea prevention in cats

Prevention is always better than cure, and you’ll save your cat (and yourself) a lot of irritation if you proactively treat them – before you notice any signs – to prevent an infestation. Prescription-only parasiticides from your vet are your best option, so ask your vet to recommend one that suits your cat.

Treatments for fleas in cats include:

  • Spot-on products. These liquids come in a pipette and are dropped onto your cat’s neck. They’re usually effective for up to a month. Some brands target all stages of the life cycle, while others only kill adult fleas.
  • Tablets. These stop flea eggs from developing into adults, which breaks the flea life cycle. Some cats don’t like taking tablets, which can make these difficult to administer.
  • Powders. When dusted over your cat’s skin these kill adult fleas, but don’t affect flea eggs or larvae. It can also be tricky to make sure your cat’s entire body is covered.
  • Collars. These contain chemicals to suppress the development of fleas, but they’re not always effective. Cats with sensitive skin may have a reaction to flea collars.
  • Shampoo. This is designed to kill adult fleas, but doesn’t treat eggs or larvae. Given many owners find it difficult to bathe their cats, this isn’t usually the easiest option!

Make sure that any medication you use is designed specifically for cats and approved by your vet. Using a product meant for other animals, such as dogs, will likely result in poisoning your cat. Natural remedies for fleas in cats are available, but aren’t always effective. Some may contain essential oils, such as tea tree oil, which can be toxic to cats.

How to get rid of fleas in cats

If you do discover your cat has fleas, it’s important to treat them using a veterinary-recommended flea treatment as soon as possible. As 95% of the flea life cycle occurs in the environment, it is essential to treat your home, too.

As well as causing discomfort, fleas can trigger a range of health conditions, including transmitting tapeworms. Heavy flea infestations can also cause cats, especially kittens and seniors, to become anaemic due to blood loss. Watch out for lethargy or pale gums, and if you’re worried take your cat to the vet as soon as possible. In a multi-pet household, fleas can pass from cats to dogs and rabbits – and if you do have a pet bunny, be aware that fleas can also transmit myxomatosis, so you’ll want to make sure they’re vaccinated.

How to get rid of cat fleas in the house

If your cat has fleas, the bad news is your house will also need to be treated. Even the cleanest homes can become infested, and because most of the flea life cycle can be completed away from your cat, their bedding and your soft furnishings may hold eggs, larvae and pupae. These can stay dormant for a long time, and may only hatch in the right conditions.

It’s a good idea to vacuum soft furnishings and carpets, especially any areas where your cat spends a lot of time. Wash any fabrics like your cat’s bed, and cushions they sit on. You can also find insecticide sprays designed to target fleas. Take care to choose one designed for use around cats, and keep your cat out of any rooms you’re treating.

Regular preventative treatments will help keep your cat (and home!) a flea-free zone – but if you’ve already noticed signs of fleas, it’s important to treat them first.

For an overview of fleas on cats, download our one-page info sheet – perfect for popping on your fridge or sharing with friends, family and cat-sitters.

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