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How Can You Tell If Your Cat Has Fleas?

There are a few telltale physical signs which indicate that a cat has fleas.

Fleas will cause great skin irritation in cats. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Fleas will cause great skin irritation in cats.

How Can You Tell If Your Cat Has Fleas?

Fleas on cats and dogs are a common, persistent problem. Find out how to tell if your cat has fleas, and learn about cat flea treatment methods. Fleas are wingless parasites that feed on warm-blooded animals. There are thousands of species of fleas in the world and they are a common pest to domestic dogs and cats. The flea that most often targets cats (as well as their human owners) is aptly named the "cat flea" (Ctenocephalides felis). Sometimes the Pulex irritans (also known as the "human flea") or Ctenocephalides canis (the dog flea") infest cats as well. Vigilant flea control is important; one female flea can lay an average of one egg an hour, so the introduction of a single flea can quickly lead to the infestation of an entire home.

Cat Flea Symptoms

The most common flea symptom is fairly easy to spot: If a cat starts scratching itself more than usual, he may have fleas. Members of the household may notice small, red bites from fleas that are living and breeding on beds, upholstered furniture, carpeting and rugs. The easiest way for cat owners to check for fleas is to brush the cat's hair with a fine-toothed feline comb. Look for small, black insects, or small dark specks resembling dirt, which is likely flea excrement. To make sure, put the debris on a piece of white paper or cotton and wet it; if the debris starts to turn blood red, the cat almost certainly has fleas.

Cat Flea Medicines

Fleas on cats can be eliminated with the use of two main groups of medicinal treatment. The first, adulticides, aim to kill adult fleas living on the cat's exterior. The most popular types of adulticides are spot treatments, including the brands Advantage and Frontline, which are applied directly to the cat's fur between the shoulder blades once every few weeks. This monthly application generally kills any adult fleas on the cat within a day.

The second type of treatment is insect growth regulators, which mainly target flea eggs. Most experts recommend a combined approach of adulticides and insect growth regulators, as it is unlikely that either method will completely eradicate a flea problem on its own. Oral treatments generally work as both adulticides and insect growth regulators. Oral medication enters the cat's bloodstream, poisoning adult fleas that consume the medicated blood. Even if fleas survive long enough to lay eggs, the medication will inhibit the eggs from maturing properly. This type of medication also can be administered by injection.

Chemical-Free Cat Flea Treatment

Pet owners who would rather not use chemicals or medication on their cats can manage flea problems by repeatedly bathing the cat and then combing it thoroughly after the fur has dried. This method drowns the fleas and removes egg, but it will not thoroughly eradicate fleas from the home, as fleas may remain in carpeting or furniture. To rid a home of fleas, pet owners should vacuum all carpets and wash all bed linens in very hot water. Furniture also should be wiped off and upholstery should be steam-cleaned.

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