The Complete Guide to Cat fleas

Do you love your cat? You certainly answered ‘yes’ to that question. If the same question were asked to cat fleas, the blood-sucking pests would also confirm their love for cats.

Cat fleas are the most common ectoparasite of home cats and dogs globally.

Since you definitely don’t want to share your cat with fleas, reading this article will give you all the information about cat fleas. I’ll tell you what cat fleas look like, how they get to your cat, how to know if your cat has fleas, how to get rid of cat fleas, and most significantly, how to keep your feline free of fleas. 

What are Cat Fleas?

Fleas are tiny pests that live on animals and feed on their blood. Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are among the more than 2,000 species of fleas in the world. Of these, a whopping 300 species occur in the United States.

Cat fleas
Robert Hooke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Although cats can be infested by dog, rabbit, rat, and hedgehog fleas, the cat flea is also the most common on cats and other domestic animals. Further, the cat flea is among the species of fleas that affect human health, causing itchiness and irritation with their bite and transmitting zoonotic diseases such as Bartonellosis and Rickettsiosis.

What Do Cat Fleas Look Like?

Cat fleas have different appearances in each stage of their life cycle. Cat fleas eggs are tiny white, oval objects approximately the size of a sand grain (around 0.5 mm long). 

As larvae, cat fleas look like tiny worms with sensory hairs on the upper part of the body. They measure around a quarter inch and are white, almost transparent enough to see through them.

In the pupal stage, fleas live in a cocoon and have most of the features of their adult body parts. They only leave their cocoon when a potential host is identified. If not, cat fleas can stay in their cocoons for weeks, months, or even years. 

Adult cat fleas are easy to see with your naked eyes and have the following characterizing features:

ColorBrownish black. They will appear reddish black when they have sucked plenty of blood from their host.
SizeAround 4 mm long (about1/8 inch).
ShapeLaterally flat with a large abdomen, making the cat flea appear puffed-up when full of blood.
HeadExtremely small compared to the rest of the body. Bears the mouth that pierces the host’s skin and sucks blood.
LegsTwo long, strong hind legs for jumping (no wings). Four shorter front legs.

How Do Cats Get Fleas?

Cat fleas and ticks are canny pests that always find their way into homes and onto pets. It takes a single female flea to get your cat infested with fleas. That’s because female fleas can lay up to 30 eggs a day, quickly increasing the flea burden on your cat and creating the conditions for a full-scale flea infestation of your home, yard, or other pets in the home. 

So, exactly where do cat fleas come from? 

To be infested with fleas, cats can get them from one of the following sources:

  • The outdoors.
  • Other pets and animals.
  • Human carriers.
  • Moving into a new home.

The Outdoors

Every time your cat goes out of your home, whether for a stroll in the yard or a visit to the veterinarian or groomer, the risk of getting fleas is real. All these places are visited by other animals that are potential cat flea carriers. If your cat picks a single flea from these places, then it is exposed to a full flea infestation.

Also, ensure you check your pet for cat fleas and ticks any time the pet goes outside, especially if you are surrounded by a grassy area. When checking your cat for fleas, focus mostly on the neck fur, armpits, and abdomen, as fleas are good at hiding in the furriest parts of your cat’s body.

Other Pets and Animals

As indicated earlier, cat fleas can live on other pets and animals, including dogs, rabbits, and other wild rodents. Since these tiny wild creatures easily find their way to your yard, even with a good fence, they can serve as carriers of cat fleas and ticks and put your feline at risk of infestation. The more of these animals visit your compound, the greater the risk for cat fleas.

It is important to keep away rodents and other wild flea-cat carriers by ensuring you don’t leave food around your compound. Leaving food around or uncovered waste bins will attract these animals to come rummaging for food. 

Dogs can also bring fleas to your cat from walks, parks, or boarding kennels. 

Human Carriers

Fleas are experts at jumping and can land onto your clothing or those of your visitors. Fleas on human clothing or hair can be picked from the outdoors during hiking sprees or walks. People who work with animals can also bring fleas home in their clothing. 

It is best to avoid bringing in clothing used when working with animals into the home. Also, remove clothes you use outdoors in the laundry to avoid bringing pests to the main living area.   

Moving to a New House

Cat flea eggs, pupae, and larvae in cocoons can live on carpets and the crevices in a house. If you are moving into a new house that has been recently vacated, ensure it is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before moving in. 

If you have suspicions of previous flea or other pest infestations, call the pest control experts for a professional pest control service. 

Since you now know how your cat can get fleas, it is also important to know the signs that indicate your cat has fleas.

Signs Your Cat Has Fleas

Adult fleas on your cat’s fur are easy to notice with the naked eye, especially if your cat has a white or clear coat color. Nonetheless, fleas are also good at hiding inside your pet’s fur and can disappear into the fur as soon as you notice them and touch your cat. 

Cat fleas

As such, the surest way to tell if your cat has fleas is to thoroughly comb your pet with a flea comb and look out for flea dirt and adult fleas dropping off your pet’s fur or lodging in the comb. Do this by making your cat stand on a white cloth or paper and then combing the pet meticulously so that any flea dirt in the fur falls on the white surface. Adult fleas will also drop off the pet’s fur during combing. 

Use a good cat fleas comb that’s safe for your cat’s skin, like the Hartz Groomer’s Brush from The brush has extra fine bristles with a safety coating on tips to help protect your cat’s skin while you comb the pet’s fur down to the skin to remove any fleas along with mats or tangles. The cat fleas comb is also washable with warm soapy water after every use. 

If you are not sure that any dark dirt falling off your cat’s fur is flea dirt, use a damp piece of cotton wool to collect the dirt. If it is flea dirt, it should turn into red-brown marks, a clear indicator of flea presence on your cat’s fur.

Other signs Indicating Fleas

Apart from seeing fleas on your cat’s fur and doing the ‘flea dirt test’, there are also several other signs you can look for to tell if your cat has fleas:

  • Your cat keeps scratching persistently and may show spots with lost fur. (Note that cat fleas bites will not cause itching on every cat, so scratching may not be your most reliable sign of a cat with fleas). 
  • Your cat overgrooms, causing bald spots on its coat.
  • You notice cat flea bite spots or flea allergy signs such as red spots, sore areas on the skin, or cat flea scabs.
  • Black specks in the cat’s fur and beddings, a sign of flea dirt deposits.
  • In heavy flea burden cases, the cat will show pale gums and lethargy, symptoms of flea-related anemia. This is especially true in young kittens.

Besides anemia, there are other cat flea-related health conditions in cats and humans. As such, the treatment and prevention of cat fleas are extremely important.

Treatment For Cat Fleas

Cat owners can find a lot of cat fleas treatment options from pet shops, supermarkets, and veterinarians. These treatments vary in their composition, mode of application, and effectiveness.

Not all of these flea treatment options are reliable. Therefore, to ensure you use the most effective and safest cat flea treatment, it is crucial that you work with a vet. That’s because veterinarians have access to the latest information on treatment for cat fleas and know what works best. 

In this light, even though we discuss the different options for cat flea treatment below, it is crucial that you pass them first by a vet for approval as the best options for your cat.

We’ll classify cat flea treatment options into three major categories:

  • Topical treatments.
  • Oral treatments.
  • Natural products and Home remedies.

Topical Flea Treatments 

Topical flea treatments are those applied directly onto the cat’s fur and skin. Applying topical flea treatments targets the fleas directly where they live on the pet’s coat.

Below are five types of topical treatments used to treat cats with fleas.

Cat Flea Powders

    Flea powders also referred to as flea dust, are a traditional way of treatment. Cat flea powder treatments are sprinkled onto the cat’s fur. The cat owner has to ensure it stays on the fur long enough to be effective

    There are several cat fleas powder treatments available off the counter, but most of them are not FDA-approved, although they may be EPA-registered. 

    Also, because of their mode of administration, flea powders can be messy and are not always effective. Besides, they can be dangerous for your pet if inhaled or swallowed. 

    The charitable organization, International Cat Care (icatcare), does not consider powders a good choice of treatment for cats with fleas and recommends using other more effective and safer treatments. 

    Cat Flea Spot-ons (Topical Solutions)

      As the name suggests, spot-ons are topical solutions that come in a small vial or tube and are applied on a spot (or a few spots) on your cat’s skin.

      Spot-on flea treatments have become quite popular lately, especially because they have a simple mode of application. You only part the hair on your cat’s neck or back (as directed on the label) and empty the contents on the spot. 

      As with other flea treatment options, it is best to go for spot-on cat fleas medicines that are reliable. Those approved by the FDA include:

      We’ve included the links to the cat flea spot-ons in case you are interested in the products’ details or want to make a purchase.

      Cat Flea Sprays

        Cat flea sprays work a bit like powders. They are sprayed on the head, neck, ears, chest, back, and legs. The eye, nose, and mouth should be covered while spraying. Once spraying is complete, the cat owner rubs the spray around the eyes, nose, and mouth with the fingers, being careful the cat does not get the medication inside these parts.

        An example of the cat flea spray is the Advantage Flea and Tick Treatment for Cats which, like all other flea medications, should be used after consultation with the vet.

        Cat Flea collars

          Cat flea collars are treated with active ingredients like pyrethroids, permethrin, organophosphates, or other flea-inhibiting substances like Methoprene

          Although they may serve as consistent prevention, cat fleas collars are not considered the safest or most effective cat flea control method. 

          Flea collars can cause injury or skin irritation from consistent wearing. A case in the US was launched against the use of the popular EPA-registered Seresto Flea and Tick Collars that had caused thousands of deaths and injuries to pets. 

          The 15th June 2022 hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform submitted that the EPA had failed in its data collection and scientific review for the product. The committee advised that the collar should not stay in the market at the expense of pet welfare.

          If you must go for a cat flea collar, opt for one recommended by a reliable vet to be sure of the flea collar’s safety and effectiveness. 

          Cat Flea Injections

            Cat flea injections are usually used to regulate flea growth or prevent flea eggs from growing into adult fleas. Flea control injectables are often used together with topical cat flea treatments, especially when adult fleas are already present.

            An example of a cat flea injection approved by the FDA is Program (lufenuron) for cats.

            Cat Flea Shampoos

              Shampoo for Cat fleas is used like ordinary grooming shampoo to give cat flea baths. Once applied, the shampoo is worked to a lather, and the dead fleas will fall off when you rinse your cat. 

              There are many cat fleas shampoo options on the market, including the Advantage Flea and Tick Treatment Shampoo for Cats and Kittens. Talk to your cat’s vet before using any of the options to ensure it is safe for your cat.

              Cat Flea Oral Treatments

              Oral cat flea treatments are tablets, chews, or oral suspensions. They usually work by killing adult fleas when they bite after the cat has ingested the pill for cat fleas. Some oral flea treatments are also created to control flea populations by killing the flea eggs before they can go through the complete cat flea cycle. 

              Never administer oral flea treatments without the approval of a vet, as these can be lethal with the slightest mistake. 

              Examples of oral medicine for cat fleas approved by the FDA include:

              Whichever of the above flea treatment methods you use with your cat, the FDA recommends the following tips for the effective and safe use of cat flea treatments.  

              FDA Cat Flea Treatment Advice

              1. Always work with a vet for the right product for your cat.
              2. Never use cat flea treatments on kittens, medicated, sick, pregnant, or old cats without first consulting a veterinarian.
              3. Ensure you always read cat flea medicine labels properly before use and follow the directions to the letter.
              4. Do not apply a topical flea product to two cats in a home at the same time. Instead, apply them at different periods and separate the cats during the time of application.
              5. If you treat a dog for fleas with topical flea products in a home where there’s a cat, crate the cat while the dog is on treatment. Many dog flea treatments are toxic for cats.
              6. Always wash your hands after medicating your cat with flea treatments.
              7. Observe your cat after administering flea treatment to ensure it does not suffer any adverse effects. If this should happen, call your vet immediately.
              8. Report any issues or adverse effects with FDA-approved or EPA-registered cat flea medication immediately after getting your cat checked by a vet.

              Note that working with a vet for cat flea treatment also applies to natural products and cat fleas home remedies.

              Natural Products and Home Remedies Cat Fleas

              Some cat owners opt for natural flea remedies for their pets. These could be used as processed natural products or as homemade remedies. 

              Natural flea products are readymade products manufactured and passed through government agents for regulation. Home remedies are made by pet owners with readily available ingredients in the home. 

              Home remedies and natural flea products usually have the same natural ingredients meant to kill or repel fleas. 

              Examples of natural flea products include:

              • Pesticides made from Pyrethrin.
              • Diatomaceous earth.

              Natural plants used in home remedies for cat fleas are usually made from essential oils like:

              • Eucalyptus oil.
              • Tea tree oil.
              • Neem oil.
              • Citrus oil.
              • Pennyroyal oil.
              • D-limonene.
              • Cinnamon oil
              • Clove oil
              • Oil of Sweet Birch
              • Peppermint oil
              • Pine oils
              • Wintergreen
              • Ylang Ylang

              Some of these products are used in registered flea products. However, many of them have not gone through rigorous evaluation as vet-licensed products and should not be used without the consent of a vet. 

              In addition, many natural essential oils have been proven toxic for cats. A study found that exposure to plant flea preventatives has adverse effects on both cats and dogs. Besides, cats showed more hypersalivation and agitation from exposure to plant flea preventatives than dogs. 

              The bottom line is although some cat owners may opt to use natural products and home remedies as cat flea preventatives and treatments, these products should not be used without reliable vet consultation.

              Getting Rid of Cat Fleas in the Home

              Cat fleas and their eggs easily fall off your pet’s fur and can easily land on carpets, furnishings, and clothing. As such, you should treat your home after treating your cat to get rid of any fleas that could get back to the pet.

              Do this by vacuuming, using a flea insecticide to kill any fleas or flea eggs in the home, and then vacuuming again. You may need more than a single home treatment to eliminate all. Ensure the vacuum bag is disposed of into a sealed garbage bag outside the home.

              Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the pesticide label to ensure successful flea treatment and prevent toxic effects. Alternatively, call a licensed pest control professional to perform the flea treatment service.

              Remember that while flea treatment for your cat and home is important to get rid of existing fleas, preventing flea infestation on your cat is always the better option.

              Cat Fleas Prevention

              It is not always easy to keep fleas from cats, especially in the warm months of the year, as they thrive in warm and humid environments. Besides, the warmth from the heating system in winter also renders the temperatures in a home favorable for cat fleas to flourish.

              Cat fleas prevention

              Nonetheless, there are effective measures you can take to keep fleas at bay. Below are 8 things you can do to prevent fleas from having easy access to your cat:

              1. Regularly wash and vacuum carpets and upholstered furnishings thoroughly. Vacuum bags should be disposed of in tightly sealed plastic garbage bags.
              2. Talk to your vet about cat flea prevention treatment whenever you suspect your cat is at risk of fleas. 
              3. Clean your cat’s bedding regularly at the highest water temperature the bedding material can take. This will kill cat fleas and destroy any eggs before they can develop into adult fleas.
              4. Groom your cat regularly by thoroughly brushing the pet’s coat. This will reveal any fleas already habiting in your pet’s fur.
              5. Render your compound less appealing to flea carriers such as rodents by keeping hedges and lawns well-trimmed. Also, ensure there are no easy entries for wild animals to your home compound. 
              6. Seal off any crevices or cracks on your home with caulk. Any tiny gaps in the home are good places for fleas eggs and flea pupae cocoons to thrive.
              7. During walks, keep your dog on a leash to prevent the pet from picking fleas and bringing them home to your cat or other pets.
              8. For long-term cat flea prevention, talk to your vet about a safe cat flea control product you can use as a regular flea control option to prevent infestation or re-infestation after flea treatment. 

              Final Thoughts

              Cat fleas are common among pets. They thrive easily and fast and can be a nuisance to your cat and you, causing itching and skin irritations.

              While it is easy to treat cats with fleas with the many readily available flea products, love for your cat should direct you to always consult your vet before using any product to treat fleas on your cat.

              There are many flea products in the market that can be toxic for your cat, even when used as a home remedy. Keep your cat safe by working with a vet, opting for FDA-approved treatments for cat fleas, and carefully reading and effecting labels on flea products to the letter.

              Featured Image Credit: Andrei Savitsky, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons