Dealing with fleas is an essential part of cat care. It’s an unfortunate, but common problem that these little critters will get on to your cat’s coat, especially if your kitty goes outside. Below, Cat in a Flat looks at the flea treatment and prevention facts you need to know as a kitty owner or pet sitter.

The cat flea is one of the most common parasites in pets. The so called “Ctenocephalides felis” is about 1 – 3 mm in size, red-brown in colour and feeds on the blood of the infected animal (the host). Although they cannot fly, they can jump up to 20cm vertically and 13cm horizontally.

A cat flea
A cat flea

Are cat fleas dangerous?

Fleas aren’t usually dangerous to cats, and most infestations won’t have a serious impact on your kitty’s health. However, they can transmit diseases and multiply extremely fast, so cat owners should take treatment and prevention seriously. At the least, you could end up with an itchy, unhappy kitty and some unpleasant red flea bites yourself.

Kittens and frail cats are particularly vulnerable to flea infestations and can quickly become weak and anaemic. Cat fleas can also carry tapeworm larvae, which your kitty could ingest when grooming and subsequently become infected. For this reason, make sure that your cat takes worming tablets as well as being treated for fleas.

Pets can also be allergic to fleas and suffer unpleasant reactions to the parasites, including flea allergy dermatitis. Fleas can also carry harmful diseases from animal to animal. One of the most common is cat scratch disease, or Bartonella, a bacterial infection with dangerous and unpleasant side effects. 

Kittens are particularly vulnerable to the side-effects of a flea infestation
Kittens are particularly vulnerable to the side-effects of a flea infestation

How to check if your cat has fleas

  • Check your cat first: If your kitty has a bad case of fleas, you might see the parasites hopping around, or on and off Mr Whiskers.
  • If you can’t see them at first: Fleas move quickly so might be hard to see on your cat’s coat but check in the armpits and groin area, where they like to live, for signs of infestation. Raised red bumps and hair loss from excessive scratching are both strong signs of a flea problem. 
  • Other kitty symptoms you might spot: Cats with fleas will also groom, scratch and chew parts of their body more than usual and can seem unsettled. Scratching around the ears and shaking the head is a particularly noticeable sign of fleas. 
  • Look at the area around where your cat has been sleeping: lots of black spots could be evidence of flea dirt. TOP TIP: You can wet some of these black specks on a paper towel to check they are from fleas and not regular dirt. As flea dirt is formed of excreted blood, it will look red or brown when wet.
  • Try a flea comb: You could also buy a flea comb, which has very close-set teeth, to groom your cat’s coat. Running a flea comb over your cat’s body should dislodge any fleas hiding in the fluff. Keep a bowl of hot water and soap nearby to clean the comb and get rid of fleas as you go. You can also dislodge and look for flea dirt in this way. 
  • Signs on you and around the house: If you don’t spot fleas on your kitty, you might also see fleas jumping around your house and notice insect bites on your own body, especially your ankles.

Methods of cat flea treatment and prevention

Always consult your vet on the best methods of prevention and treatment of fleas. Vets can sell medications to which high-street retailers don’t have access. 

  • Spot-on treatments go on the back of cats’ necks and can prevent fleas for a few weeks or even up to three months depending on the brand.
  • Vets can also prescribe tablets if cat owners find them easier to administer.
  • Some vets may recommend a flea collar, though these are less common. Never use a flea collar that hasn’t explicitly been prescribed by your vet, as they can be ineffective, or even dangerous.
  • Several other treatments are available at supermarkets or pet stores including powders and sprays. However, nothing can be guaranteed to be safe and effective unless prescribed by a vet. 

Never use flea prevention or treatment products made for dogs on your cat, many of them contain the chemical permethrin, which is poisonous to kitties. 

Cat owners should always be consistent in using flea prevention medication. Gaps in the application of treatment can lead to resurgences in infestation and can cause flea-allergic dermatitis in your kitty. 

Tips for treating fleas in the home

Fleas spend most of their life cycle in the surrounding environment of the host rather than living on their skin. It’s crucial, therefore, to treat your home as well as your cat if you notice fleas. To get rid of fleas, vacuum carpets, floors, skirting boards, mattress and soft furniture regularly and dispose of the dust bag away from your home. You can also use baking soda on carpets to make vacuuming more effective. Wash your sheets, cushion covers and your pet’s bedding regularly in hot water.

Ask your vet about treating your home if you think you have a flea infestation. Flea sprays and bombs are available in shops, but many only kill the adult flea or can be toxic to cats or other pets. If the infestation becomes acute, you might need to call in an exterminator. 

Every cat enjoys a scratch under the chin but watch out for excess itching
Watch out for excess scratching

What should cat sitters do if they spot fleas on their kitty client?

First of all, don’t panic! It’s common for a cat to get fleas, especially if they go outside or come into contact with other animals. 

  • If you have confirmed your kitty client has fleas, please inform the cat owner to check what treatment they would recommend.
  • If you cannot reach the owner, contact the cat’s vet. Vets will be able to recommend the best plan of action and can prescribe flea treatment medication where necessary. 
  • Check yourself and your home for fleas so that you do not pass them on to other cats.
  • Keep contact with the cat and the flea infested home as low as possible without neglecting your duties as a cat sitter.

Cat owners should always make sure to leave their vet’s details and emergency contacts with carers. This way cat sitters will be prepared for all types of situations.

Find out Cat in a Flat’s top tips for cat owners before going away by clicking here