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How to Tell If Your Cat Has Fleas

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant and author of Brain Training for Dogs.

cat itching it's neck

cat itching it's neck

It is not too uncommon for owners of indoor cats to be quite surprised when their veterinarian finds ''proof'' of fleas on their cats. They will say, ''But my cat stays only indoors, how could she possibly have fleas?'' The answer to this question is that fleas are pretty persistent creatures, and it is not uncommon for fleas to hitchhike a ride on the cat owner's shoes and clothes and get to their final destination: the cat.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are brown, pretty tiny insects with long rear legs allowing them to hop around horizontally for up to 13 inches and vertically for about 7 inches. This makes them find their prey easily.

Fleas are very hardy insects, they have a hard body that resists well to pressure, a survival feature that protects them to withstand the long nails of a cat scratching!

A couple of fleas on a cat may easily translate in hundreds within a small period of time. All it takes to grasp the idea is to realize that each female flea has the potential of laying around 500 or more eggs during their lifetime.

Five Ways to Determine if Your Cat Has Fleas

There are several ways to detect if your cat has fleas. Here are some of the most common signs:

1. Scratching

Scratching may be an obvious sign of fleas in cats, but alone it cannot be absolute proof of fleas because there are many other skin conditions that may cause a cat to itch and scratch. Therefore, to diagnose the presence of fleas in cats, owners should rely on other signs.

2. Bumps

The constant scratching will often produce several crusty bumps that owners may detect by petting their cat carefully. Often, such bumps are produced as a skin reaction to the fleas' saliva known as flea allergy dermatitis. Such bumps are more easily detected in short-haired cats.

3. Anemia

Severely infested kittens may have so many fleas that they can get anemic from too much blood loss. When this occurs, kittens are covered in fleas, will appear lethargic, and exhibit pale gums.

Very young kittens may need the fleas removed with a good flea comb because most topicals can be applied only to kittens over eight weeks old (read labels carefully).

4. Presence of Flea Dirt

Fleas deposit feces on the cat, something often seen resembling dirt on the cat. Such dirt is easily visible on light-colored cats and presents as little black specks. The best way to confirm that such debris is actually flea dirt is by performing an easy test.

The Test

  1. Wet a white piece of paper towel and deposit some flea dirt on the wet surface.
  2. Allow the dirt to soak into the paper towel a bit.
  3. If the debris leaves a red tint, this confirms it is flea dirt. Flea dirt actually consists of the fleas' feces; therefore, it turns red it because a fleas' feces consists mainly of digested blood.

5. Presence of Tapeworms

Tapeworm segments that resemble rice can be found in the cat's rectal area or in areas the cat likes to sleep. Fleas act as vectors for tapeworms. In other words, a cat gets tapeworms when it ingests an infected flea; therefore tapeworms are proof of a flea infestation.

Treatment/Prevention of Fleas

Once there is no more doubt that your cat is infested by fleas, it is time to take action and win the battle. You will need effective veterinarian-approved products such as topical Frontline or Advantage. Over-the-counter flea products can be dangerous—some have a history of causing severe irritations, seizures and even death.

While these monthly applications work great on your cat, you must also keep in mind that you will need to eradicate the fleas from the environment. This is accomplished by using insect growth regulators that will kill fleas in all their life stages—eggs, larvae, etc. Always read labels carefully before using such products.

Tapeworms are treated by giving tapeworm dewormers and getting rid of the fleas that caused tapeworm in the first place.

The season in which fleas are more active ranges from early spring to late fall. In the winter fleas are not very common unless they find shelter and thrive in homes. Do not let fleas take over your cat and your home—keep your cat flea-free and happy!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Comments

moonlake from America on August 01, 2011:

One way of finding out if there are fleas in your home or on your pets. Take a paper plate put corn syrup in it and place it under a light (40 watt)on the floor when you go to bed. If there are fleas in your house they will come to the light and jump in the syrup and you will know. I know it sounds silly but it does work.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 01, 2011:

It could very likely be she has fleas. Look for flea dirt on her fur, -if she is black this may be a bit difficult- it looks like small specks that if put on a wet paper towel turn reddish. Scratching however may also be due to allergies and other skin conditions.

dixies owner on August 01, 2011:

i just recently adopted my 6 month old kitten when i adobted her she seemed happy and comfortable at the place where i had adopted her,but then 2 days had passed and i noticed her scatching multiple times through out the day.she is an indoor kitten and has never set foot outdoors.does this mean my kitten has fleas?

Fleas on June 17, 2011:

Call around to vets near you. You need to purchase a can of flea/flea egg fog. Make sure it has both. Sometime you have to have two different cans. One for adult fleas and one for eggs. If you do not kill both you will be retreating in a few weeks when the eggs tin your carpet hatch out. The cans will tell you have many to purchase based on the sq footage of your home and if it has more levels. Remove all food on counters and anything that you have in your bath that you use orally IE; toothbrush, water cup. Make sure all windows are closed and your air is turned off. Follow the instructions and do not enter you home earlier than the instructions say. You should be able to return in approx 4 to 5 hours. Wipe off all the counters when you return and I washed all my bedspreads pillows. Hope one time will work for you.

Jane on May 15, 2011:

My cat, who's about 9 months old, is scratching a lot and this morning I found a black spot on her. It started to move a little since probably because we had put on flea medicine a couple days before to kill any she had. I don't know what to do and we don't have enough money to get medication from the vet.

SamKelley on March 13, 2010:

Fleas are definitely a real problem for cats. Even worse for young kittens because you can't treat them with flea treatments suitable for adult cats.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 25, 2010:

One thing cat owners often forget is that the cat is not the only one that should be treated for fleas but so does the environment. While the topical product may kill the fleas on the cat, there may still be an abundant amount of flea eggs in the home that will hatch and create more fleas. You may need to purchase a flea spray that will kill the eggs and larvae and bring the flea infestation to a halt. Your vet may carry some,ask for something with ''insect growth regulator''. Read label carefully before using. good luck!

Lynn on January 24, 2010:

Hi, i gave my cat flea medicen about 3 weeks ago and i got a rash around my neck and it looks like flea bites but i don't know. Also i was siting on my couch and a lil bug jumped on to my eyelash and it looked like a flea but idk........