How to Spot Signs of Fleas in Cats

Cat Health

Most cat owners have come into contact with fleas at some point in time. These tiny pests are prolific insects, with a single flea rapidly turning into a horrible infestation of your home.

For this reason, checking your cat for fleas should form a regular part of your feline’s maintenance rituals. As the saying goes – a stitch in time saves 9. Well in the case of fleas, it can save a lot more than 9 bites since a single flea can actually bite up to 400 times per day!

Where Do Cat Fleas Come From?

Flea’s would easily win the gold medal in the long jump stakes. They are able to jump a distance of up to 150 times their own body length, meaning they can simply jump from another cat, or the surrounding environment onto your pet with ease. It is not just unhealthy cats that are at risk – even the most well looked after feline can fall victim to fleas, with even house cats not being completely risk free.

Once a flea has settled into the cosy environment of your pets fur, it starts to bite and suck blood. To nourish her eggs, a female flea requires a high performance diet, drinking up to 15 times her own body weight in blood daily. This means in heavy flea infestations, your pet, especially if young or under the weather, could actually be at risk of developing the serious disease of anemia. This is one of the reasons it is important to keep these blood sucking pests at bay.

Once on a pet, an adult flea prefers to spend all their life there. And who could blame them, a nice warm blanket of hair covering an ever ready food source sounds like flea heaven! A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day which can drop off your cat into your home. These hatch to form tiny larvae. Larvae hate light and try to crawl away from it as much as they can, deep into carpet pile, crevices in skirting boards, under sofa’s, in bedding. Once there they spin a protective cocoon and develop into an adult flea. These cocooned fleas are hardy critters and can survive in your home for anything up to a year. Once mature, they wait for heat and vibrations to stimulate them to hatch as this means there is a host around. After emergence as a fully-fledged adult flea they hop onto your pet – or even you! – And the whole cycle starts again.

Adult fleas only make up 5% of the total flea population in an infected household. That means 95% of fleas are around you but you can not see them! Apart from the adult flea, the other stages of the life cycle are very small. The larvae hide so far away from light that it would take a powerful magnifying glass and a lot of effort to be able to spot one hidden away. So if you see a flea on your pet, that may not even be half the story.

As well as causing an itchy bite, some animals can develop terrible allergies to fleas. It is more common that you may think, with flea allergy dermatitis contributing to over 50% of all cases of allergy in cats. A single flea bite can cause an appalling, irritating skin reaction leading to substantial fur loss, redness of the skin and a generally depressed pet. It is all down to being sensitive to flea saliva, which is reported as being the most irritating substance on the planet – quite impressive for an insect only 1mm long! It is vitally important to try and keep these animals flea free.

A small fact with an important consequence, fleas can also transmit tape worms. If your cat accidentally swallows an infected flea, say through grooming, it could lead to tape worms developing inside your pets intestines. Therefore if you have found a flea infection, it is important to consider worming your pet too.

Checking A Cat For Fleas

This should be quite easy. Adult fleas are about 1mm long, dark brown – black critters. They are very fast moving so you are unlikely to be able to pluck one from your pets coat. There may only be a few adults present at any time, so even if you don’t see any scurrying around, it does not mean your pet can’t have fleas.

The best thing to look out for is the tell-tale sign of flea dirt. This is effectively flea faeces and is made up of dried, ingested blood. It looks like tiny black, shiny flecks of pepper in amongst your pets fur. The best place to spot this is around your pets rump – just behind the base of the tail above the hips. Here fur is at its thickest making it the prime spot for fleas to hang out. To check the black spots are flea dirt and not just a bit of mud, try and dab some flecks off onto a piece of damp cotton wool. Leave the cotton wool for a few minutes. If a reddish tinge develops around the flecks, this is blood and proves you have a flea problem.

How to Treat Fleas

There are many products available to protect your pet from fleas. It is worth remembering however, that only 5% of fleas are actually on your pet itself. Therefore, to provide full flea protection it is important to treat your home as well.

PermaGuard is an environmental flea spray designed to kill fleas and protect your house. PermaGuard is fast acting and long lasting, killing both adult fleas and their larvae. Spray on carpets, animal bedding and soft upholstered furniture to eradicate fleas and prevent reinfestation. PermaGuard gives long lasting protection and will prevent the development of fleas for approximately 12 months. It is advised that a regular treatment, such as a spot-on, is used as well to ensure your pet remains flea free, especially if your cat spends time outside of the home.

[note color=”#fefec3″]For more information and advice on pet health products available, visit Norbrook’s pet health website[/note]

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