What are fleas?
Fleas are small flightless insects that can live on cats. They are dark brown in colour and are approximately 2-4mm in length so they are just visible to the naked eye. Although fleas cannot fly they jump from one place to another. A flea can jump as high as 30cm! Which is approximately 150 times their own height – this is like the average human jumping over a 30 story building in one hop! Fleas jump with an acceleration that is roughly equal to that of a space rocket!
Although there are around 2000 species of fleas the most common flea found on cats is the cat flea, but cats can also be seen with hedgehog and rabbit fleas on them! Importantly cat fleas can also bite people so its not just your furry friend that will be bothered by them.
Where has my cat got fleas from?
Fleas thrive in warm and humid environments which means that they reproduce and flourish in our Summer months. However, they are also very happy in our lovely warm heated houses during the colder months too! This means that your cat can pick up fleas all year round. Cat fleas are one of the most common flea species to be found on lots of different animals – which means that its not just other cats coming into your garden that can spread them around. Your pet does not need to come into direct contact with another pet that has fleas for them to catch them. In fact totally indoor cats can have flea problems as well due to the distances that fleas can jump!
Unfortunately it only takes one or two fleas on your pet for a problem to develop. The female flea can lay up to 2000 eggs in the first 24 hours after their first bite of your cat. These eggs are laid in the environment (.i.e in your carpets, between floor boards, in bedding!) Which means that one flea can very quickly become a big problem. The eggs that are laid are very resilient as well and can lay dormant for several months, only hatching when they can detect the time is right.
How can I tell if my pet has fleas?
Cats are very good at grooming themselves, which can make it very difficult to see live fleas on your cat. The most common signs of a flea infestation on your pet are:
Over-grooming (this is where your cat will lick and nibble at the same area repeatedly)
Bald patches or areas where the hair looks short and broken
Scabs and sore areas
You may also notice flea faeces on your cat's coat (especially if you have a light coloured cat or if you look at the comb after grooming your cat) or on the surface where your cat has been sitting. These are small black specks that look like dirt. You can easily tell if these specks are flea faeces or truly dirt by putting them on a white tissue and then dropping a small drop or water on them. If they turn red they are flea faeces as the water shows up the digested blood that they contain.
Does it matter if my cat has fleas?
Flea bites are extremely itchy for your cat, and some cats can actually be allergic to fleas. If your cat has a flea allergy their constant nibbling and licking at the itchy bites can cause them to develop very sore and infected areas on their skin.
Fleas bite and feed on blood from your cat. This means that if you have a very small kitten with a lot of fleas they can suffer from anaemia because of the loss of blood.
Fleas can also transmit tapeworm to your pet! It is estimated that cats will eat 50% of any fleas on their coat while grooming themselves. The tapeworm can be found inside the flea and will then infect your pet when eaten.
What can I do to prevent or treat fleas?
Prevention is much better than trying to get rid of a flea problem.
Spot-ons are a group of products that are generally one of the easiest ways to prevent (and treat) fleas on your cat. They are a small pipette containing a small amount of liquid that you squeeze onto the back of your cat's neck. Most of these products need to be re-applied monthly.
There are several spot on treatments that you can get over the counter in shops that do not work very well. There are also some dog spot on treatments that are very dangerous if accidentally applied to cats. So it is always worth getting a treatment that has been recommended by your vet and that addresses the specific needs of your pet!
Due to the large population of fleas that live in the environment it means that if your pet has live fleas on them you also need to treat your house. There are aerosol sprays that need to be used to kill the eggs that are in your home.
If your pet has an active flea infestation (live fleas or flea faeces are found on your cat) then it can take several months of treating the house and your cat before the problem is completely resolved.
Cat fleas are also not specific to cats! So if you have other pets in the house they also need to be treated with the appropriate flea treatments.
What do I do if I can't get rid of the fleas?
In the UK, many of the most effective (and safest) flea treatments must be prescribed by a vet. There can also be unique circumstances in particular households that are favourable to fleas and need more specilised advice. So if you are struggling, book a visit with one of your vets and we will be able to help you out.