Does my cat have fleas?

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Are you worried your cat might have fleas? Here's our advice on how to know if your cat does have fleas, where they can get fleas from, how fleas affect your cat, and how you can treat your cat for fleas...

What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny, wingless parasites which are reddish-brown in colour and have long legs designed for jumping. The most common type of flea affecting cats is the cat flea. As adults, they feed on the blood of their host and are the most common skin parasite affecting cats. A flea can live for between 14 days and two years.

In just 60 days, a single, fertilised flea and its offspring can produce more than 20,000 eggs, which is why it’s so important to try to prevent an infestation from occurring in the first place.

Where can cats get fleas from?

Although fleas are commonly associated with spring and autumn, they are a year-round problem for cats, thanks to the warm environment of centrally heated homes. Outdoor cats are more prone to catching fleas, due to spending time near grass and wild animals, such as squirrels and hedgehogs, who can carry them. Humans can also carry fleas (adults, larvae, and eggs) on the soles of their shoes into the home, which means that indoor cats can catch them too. Cats can also pick them up from the vet’s, a cattery, or a groomer’s.

How do fleas affect my cat?

Some cats can be very tolerant when bitten, but when a cat is allergic to fleas, even an occasional bite can cause severe skin disease because the flea injects saliva into the cat. That saliva in the bloodstream can trigger skin irritation and cause the cat to excessively groom, and the abrasive nature of his tongue can cause damage to his skin. This can cause bald patches in the fur, but often progresses to scabs (sometimes known as miliary dermatitis). In severe cases, secondary bacterial infection can occur, making affected areas raw and weepy.

How can I treat my cat for fleas?

There is a vast array of different flea treatments available from vets, pet shops, and supermarkets, including powders, collars, drops, tablets, and spot-ons, so it can be a bit of a minefield knowing which one is right for your pet. Each product varies in terms of its length of effectiveness, ranging from 24 hours to three months. If in doubt, always seek veterinary advice and make sure you follow the product instructions carefully. Always treat all animals in the house, even if you think that only one pet is affected. Never use products designed to kill fleas on dogs, as an insecticide called permethrin is often used in these treatments, which is toxic to cats and can prove fatal.

How can I stop my cat from getting fleas?

Exercising good hygiene in your home is vital, including frequently hoovering soft furnishings, cracks, and skirting boards where fleas can hide. It’s important to wash your pet’s bedding in warm water regularly, including any blankets that he likes to sleep on in the house — even if you think there are no fleas, there could be eggs left behind from a previous infestation. Monthly spot-on treatments will also protect pets from catching fleas, and you can also treat your home; speak to your vet about the best products to use.