Winning the Battle Against Fleas
My cat is indoor only. Do I really need to worry about fleas?
Absolutely! Clients often tell us their cat is indoor only and so flea preventative is not necessary. The unfortunate truth is that fleas are sneaky and Seattle is the ideal climate for them to live year-round. Fleas can hitch a ride on your shoes, pants or other pets and enter your house. Once inside, they look for a host like your indoor only cat.
"Seattle is the ideal climate for fleas to live year-round."
Where did my cat get fleas?
The most common flea found on cats and dogs is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), although any species of fleas, including fleas from rabbits, squirrels or other wildlife, can be found on cats.
"Under ideal conditions, the flea can complete its entire life cycle in as little as two weeks; in adverse conditions, the cycle can take as much as a year."
The most important source of cat fleas is newly emerged adult fleas from flea pupae in your house or yard. Adult fleas live, feed and mate on our pets; the female flea lays eggs that fall off into the environment where they hatch into larvae. The larvae eat organic debris until they mature into pupae. The pupae may lie dormant for weeks to months, awaiting the ideal environmental conditions before hatching into adults. Newly hatched adult fleas jump onto a host animal to complete their life cycle. Two days after eating a blood meal from the host, the female flea begins to lay eggs. Under ideal conditions, the flea can complete its entire life cycle in as little as two weeks; in adverse conditions, the cycle can take as much as a year.
Homes with carpets and central heating provide ideal conditions for the year-round development of fleas. The highest numbers of flea eggs, larvae and pupae will be found in areas of the house where pets spend the most time, such as their beds and furniture. Even though fleas may be in your house, you probably won't see them. The eggs are tiny white specks the size of dust particles, while the larvae, which are somewhat larger, with dark heads and lighter bodies, migrate deep down in carpets, furniture or cracks in floors away from the light.
What effect do fleas have on my cat?
Many cats live with fleas but show minimal signs. However, the following problems can occur:
"Flea allergic cats groom or scratch excessively after being bitten by even a single flea."
- Some cats develop an allergy to fleabites, especially if they are repeatedly bitten. Flea allergic cats groom or scratch excessively after being bitten by even a single flea, and often develop skin infections secondary to this self-trauma.
- Adult fleas live on animals and feed on blood. A single adult flea consumes many times its weight in blood over its lifetime. If a kitten, or a debilitated or older cat, has a lot of fleas, the blood loss can be severe, resulting in anemia.
- The flea acts as the intermediate host for one species of tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum). This means that the tapeworm is only able to complete its life cycle by infecting both an intermediate host (the flea) and the definitive host (in this case, the cat). Flea larvae become infected by eating tapeworm eggs, and if a cat swallows an infected flea while grooming, the tapeworm larva will develop into an adult tapeworm. Any cat with fleas is likely also to have a tapeworm infestation.
How can I get rid of fleas on my cat?
This can be a challenging task and requires a three-pronged approach. Fleas need to be eliminated from
- Your cat
- Any other cats and dogs that you have
- Your home and yard
What products are available to treat my cat?
As of 2018, we carry two products for cats:
- Revolution: A topical that is applied monthly and protects your cat from fleas, heartworm disease, roundworms, hookworms and ear mites.
- Bravecto: A topical that is applied every 12 weeks and protects your cat from fleas and ticks.
Discuss these products with your veterinarian to determine which is best for your pet.
How can I treat my home environment?
A number of different products are available which will kill the adult and larval stages of fleas and stop the flea life cycle, such as:
- Sprays for use in the house (we sell a product called Knockout)
- Powders for use in the house (we recommend a product called Flea Busters)
- Insecticides applied by professional pest control companies
"You will need to throw away the vacuum bag to prevent eggs and larvae from developing inside the vacuum cleaner."
Flea eggs and pupal cases are extremely tough and resistant to the effects of insecticides. To remove these stages, as well as eliminate dead fleas, your pet's bedding should be washed in hot water or replaced. Regular and thorough vacuuming of your carpets, floors and soft furnishings can remove a large number of flea eggs, larvae and pupae. You will need to throw away the vacuum bag to prevent eggs and larvae from developing inside the vacuum cleaner.
How do I choose which products to use?
A flea control program needs to be individually tailored based on the lifestyle of your cat and other pets, and your family situation. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you about safe and effective flea control products.
I have not seen any fleas on my cat. Why has my veterinarian advised flea control?
Fleas are easy to find if a cat is heavily infested. If fleas are present in smaller numbers, it can be harder to see them. Fleas move fast! Try looking on the cat's stomach, around the tail base and around the neck. Sometimes adult fleas cannot be found but "flea dirt" can be seen. This is fecal matter from the flea that contains partially digested blood, and it is a good indicator of the presence of fleas. Flea dirt is seen as small black specks or coiled structures; when placed on damp white tissue, it dissolves, leaving a reddish brown stain. Flea dirt may be found in cat's bedding even when fleas cannot be found on the cat.
"Cats are very efficient at removing debris from their coat's using their tongues and may succeed in removing all evidence of flea infestation such as adult fleas and flea dirt."
In cats that develop an allergy to fleas, one of the symptoms is excessive grooming. Cats are very efficient at removing debris from their coat's using their tongues and may succeed in removing all evidence of flea infestation such as adult fleas and flea dirt. One of the most common causes of feline allergic skin disease is flea allergy dermatitis. To eliminate this possibility your veterinarian may advise rigorous flea control even though no fleas can be found. If the cat's skin problem improves with flea control then it suggests that flea allergy is involved.
Despite treating my cat for fleas he still has them.
"Apparent failure of treatment almost always results from improper application of the preventive, inadequate treatment of the home or exposure to other infested pets or environments."
Fleas can be tricky to kill. When a pet has a severe infestation, it can take 3+ months to completely eliminate all traces of fleas. It is important to continue treatment as directed. Do not give in to fleas, by using veterinary recommended products and treating your house, you will win the battle!
This client information sheet is based on material written by: Ernest Ward, DVM
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.
We have modified it to fit Lien Animal Clinic's views and guidelines. 2018.