Table of Contents
Cat flea problems are among some of the most common issues that all cat owners face. They show up when you least expect it, and the effects can range from plain annoying to an outright health hazard. To make matters worse, the problem isn’t exclusive to your kitty but can affect the whole household (including you!)
Though it may seem hopeless, considering how rapidly and excessively these insects reproduce, there are several methods you can use to reduce and ultimately remove the problem altogether. Check out the tips below for more information.
Know How to Recognize Cat Flea Problems
Fleas are some of the most challenging parasites to spot and manage for your pets. They’re small, fast, and elusive, hiding among the strands of your fur-baby’s coat and evading your gaze at every turn.
When they’re successful at keeping themselves out of sight, they can inflict a great deal of damage on your cat’s skin and overall health. These effects, listed below, are some of the first signs that can alert you to potential cat flea problems:
Constant itching (can be restricted to a specific part of the body or all over)
Sneezing, coughing, and wheezing
Discharge from the eyes
These are some of the primary symptoms that should alert you to a potential problem right away. Of course, a few of these signs are more attributed to clinical flea allergies, as opposed to a general symptom resulting from an infestation.
Additionally, these effects can also be attributed to other illnesses, so you can’t confidently conclude that your cat is suffering from fleas without the technique described below.
Examine Your Cat with a Flea Comb
Flea combs are some of the most effective tools you can use to quickly detect fleas living in your cat’s coat with high accuracy. Plus, researchers assert that this is the best option for cats’ flea checks, given that our feline pals are less likely than dogs to tolerate “vigorous” brushing with fingertips.
Further, the flea combs (especially “extra-fine” designs) can pick up on even the worst infections. This is essential, as cats typically suffer from worse flea infections than dogs. Flea combs, extra-fine or not, can detect these parasites’ following life stages:
To take advantage of this tool, follow the instructions below:
- Have your cat sit or lay on a light-colored or white surface. This will help you see the fleas and their dirt much better.
Using a fine-tooth flea comb, comb in the moist, warm areas on your cat’s body. (These are where the fleas prefer to congregate.) This includes the following spots:
Behind the ears
Between the legs (especially the hind legs)
Under the tail
Note whether there are black specks or “salt and pepper” -looking debris falling from your cat’s coat and skin. Even if there are no fleas, eggs, or flea dirt on the comb, this residue can clue you into the infestation.
Double-check that the debris is indeed from a flea infection by taking a wet Q-tip and gently rubbing it into the fallen residue. If it turns red (confirming that it is dried-up blood), you can safely conclude that there are ongoing cat flea problems.
What to Do If Your Cat Has Fleas
Finding fleas in cats’ fur is only the first step to managing such a parasite infestation in the house. After all, these insects do not live on your cat alone but reside in the house, only using your pets as an occasional source of food.
Know that a common side effect of cats’ infestations is the occurrence of cat fleas on humans. This means that neglecting to control the insects you find on your cat could lead to sickness for you, too, including but not limited to:
Skin irritation or dermatitis
Bacterial disease spread (such as typhus)
With all these risks in mind, you want to control the infestation quickly and thoroughly. You can do so by using the management techniques listed below:
- Vacuum every surface of the house that your pet regularly interacts with. This includes places on the floor where your cat sleeps, its eating area, furniture it hops on, and anything in-between. This will ensure that you eradicate as much of the infestation as possible, sucking up the eggs, adult- and larval-stage insects, and their “dirt.”
Wash your cat’s beds and toys in hot temperatures. All washing and drying cycles should be on the hottest (and safest) setting. Do this at least once per week until the infestation is gone. There are specialized detergents available to help ensure that the fleas are killed during the cleaning.
Steam and shampoo carpeted floors, upholstery, and rugs. Please keep in mind that flea eggs might hatch because of the warmth and moisture provided by the steaming. As long as you continue vacuuming persistently, you don’t have to worry about this, as the infestation will be removed before they can mature and wreak more havoc.
Remove flea attractants outside. Remember that there may be environmental aspects in your yard that could be attracting the fleas. Getting rid of accumulated debris and overgrown plants, closing crawl spaces and basement openings, and chemically treating outdoor pet areas (e.g., kennels) are all the most effective ways to control fleas in the home.
Of course, all these practices are virtually useless if you don’t treat your cat for the infestation. You can vacuum, clean, and manipulate the outdoor environment all you want, but if there are still eggs lurking in your cat’s fur, they’ll simply jump off and start the problem all over again once they hatch and mature.
To keep you from getting stuck in this vicious cycle, here are a few tips on how and when to treat your cat for fleas.
How Often Can You Treat Cats for Fleas?
Before you consider treating your cat for a potential flea infestation, please understand that you should never diagnose or administer solutions to your cat’s assumed health problem before consulting with a veterinarian. This means that, even if you’ve observed all the signs and symptoms listed above, it still may not be the best idea to move forward with a specific treatment method. Why?
According to William Miller Jr., VMD, choosing the wrong product or misapplying it could kill your fur-baby. Even a simple mistake like forgetting to supervise your cat when the medication has not yet dried could be the end, if your kitty decides to lick the medicine off its body.
So, before you commit to a specific treatment method, you’ll need to discuss the matter in-depth with your veterinarian. Getting an expert’s opinion is also essential in determining how often you need to repeat the treatment process.
Here are a few of the most popular options to give you an idea of the appropriate regularity of each type:
Topical medication: Fast-acting, temporary options like topical ointments (and even some oral solutions) only last a few hours or, at most, a single day. They only provide fleeting relief for your kitty, so you’ll need to replenish the supply each day.
Over-the-counter (OTC) oral medication: Some OTC options can remain in effect for up to a full month. Luckily, with some, such as Spinosad (commercially known as Comfortis), you don’t have to compromise the benefits’ rapid onset.
Injectable treatments: Some veterinarians offer preventative treatments that last up to six months. These are the best options for ornery kitties that don’t like to be handled too often.
Note: These injections contain an insect growth regulator (IGR), a substance known for its ability to disrupt the insects’ ability to grow from their larval stage to their adult stage, perfect for stopping flea infestations in their tracks.
The type of medication you choose will depend on the severity of the current infestation and your cat’s demeanor. For instance, if your kitty is perfectly fine with frequent physical interaction, then temporary topical or oral treatments work great.
However, if you don’t think your cat will appreciate the handling, it’s best to minimize any medical attention to every six months with an injection or similarly long-lasting alternative.
Preventing Flea Infestations in Cats
The prevention of flea infestations is all about controlling the environment. As mentioned previously, one of the most effective management techniques you can employ is the removal of any attractants outside or inside your home. This entails the removal of vegetation, regular check-ups with flea combs, and limiting the following activities:
Time spent outdoors. Although your cat should always be on a leash and harness when you’re spending time outside, you may still want to reduce the hours you spend outdoors. If there are environmental attractants near your home, excess time outside can increase the chances of an infestation until it’s taken care of.
Prevent contact with strays or wild animals. As cute as other critters like stray cats and raccoons might look, they could be the culprits for spreading flea infestations. The best way to protect your cat and your home from an outbreak is to eliminate access to your home for these animals.
Fleas are some of the most challenging insects to get control of after discovering an infestation. Fortunately, there are several ways to combat the problem, ranging from in-home care, direct medical treatments for your cat, and environmental controls outside. When you strike the right balance in implementing these techniques, you can eliminate the problem with little to no worry of a resurgence.
About the Author
Jazmin “Sunny” Murphy began writing informal scientific content on nature and animals in 2015. Four years later, she launched her freelance career as a digital content and copywriter. This work merges her academic perspective, rooted in her B.S. Zoology, and professional experience as a veterinary tech, university research assistant, and more with relevant marketing, SEO, and engagement techniques across various industries. Jazmin now covers pet care, pest control, cannabis, outdoor recreation, STEM research and news, and product reviews across several niches.