Chewy EditorialFlea & Tick / Health

Does My Cat Have Fleas? 9 Ways to Tell

Fleas are pests in every sense. They’re itchy, gross and prolific if not dealt with properly. It’s a good thing your cats don’t have fleas … or do they? Does my cat have fleas, you may be wondering. How can you tell if your cat has fleas? What are the signs of fleas on cats?

If you spend time with your cats regularly, you’ll know what’s normal—and what’s not. Many flea-infested cats show both physical and behavioral changes that indicate something is wrong.

So does your cat have fleas? Steve Weinberg, DVM, medical director and CEO of 911 VETS in Los Angeles, California, says you should look for these nine classic signs of fleas on cats to find the answer.

How to Tell if Your Cat Has Fleas

1

Intense and Frantic Scratching or Biting

Flea bites can cause a cat’s skin and fur to feel very itchy, Dr. Weinberg says. One of the signs of fleas on cats is if your cat suddenly starts scratching their body with their paws or chewing their skin in an attempt to stop the itchy sensation.

To give them some temporary relief, Dr. Weinberg says, use cat flea and tick shampoo, like Veterinary Formula Clinical Care’s flea and tick shampoo, or an after-bath treatment like TropiClean’s Natural AfterBath Flea & Tick Bite Relief Treatment.

2

Excessive Grooming and Hair Loss

Cats are fastidious groomers, but when fleas on cats start biting, their grooming becomes extreme, especially around the hind legs and base of the tail, Dr. Weinberg says. Your cat may lick and chew repeatedly, trying to eliminate the itchy sensation. Without intervention, they may groom themselves to the point that you start to see bald patches, especially on the back of the legs, neck and around the base of the tail.

3

Avoiding Certain Parts of Your Home

Fleas flourish in a warm environment with porous surfaces like carpet and furniture; they generally stay away from rooms with hardwood or tile flooring. If your cat starts avoiding carpeted areas of your home, consider that a red flag. They’re steering clear of the fleas!

The first rule in controlling fleas is to keep a clean house, Dr. Weinberg says, so thoroughly vacuum your floors on a regular basis. You can also try a natural remedy like diatomaceous earth for your carpets and throw rugs.

Remember to disinfect your cat’s bedding and furnishings with a flea spray, like Natural Care’s flea and tick spray.

4

Agitation, Edginess and Restlessness

Flea irritation can cause your cat to show some serious behavioral changes, Dr. Weinberg says. Your cat suddenly may behave like a wildcat because the fleas literally are driving them crazy. Such behavior might include growling a lot, shaking their head, hysterically rubbing their head and body on the floor or darting from one end of the room to the other.

5

Red Skin Lesions or Scab-Like Bumps

Some cats are so sensitive to flea saliva that when a flea bites them, their skin becomes red and inflamed—and these lesions, which usually appear on the back, neck and face, are extremely itchy. If the cat chews on them, they can start to ooze. This condition is called flea allergy dermatitis, Dr. Weinberg says.

“In severe cases of dermatitis, I have seen cats literally drained of blood by fleas to the point they are fatally anemic,” he says.

In this case, your veterinarian can prescribe pet prescription medication to reduce the inflammation and prevent a secondary infection.

6

Muscle Loss, Pale Gums and Lethargy

If your cat shows muscle loss, pale gums and lethargy, this could indicate anemia (low red-blood-cell count), which can result when a huge number of fleas consume a cat’s blood or if the cat bites his skin so deeply that he bleeds excessively. Flea anemia is most often seen in kittens, seniors or sick cats, Dr. Weinberg says.

7

Tiny Pepper-Like Specks on Your Cat’s Fur

Another sign of fleas on cats is “flea dirt.” These dark brown specks are actually flea feces. They’re most often seen on the neck and rump areas, but you also may see some of these specks on your cat’s comb or brush, Dr. Weinberg says.

If you put some of these granules on a paper towel and mist them with water, they will turn red. That’s because the feces are composed of digested blood.

8

Red Spots in Your Cat’s Bedding Fabric

Do you see any red spots in your cat’s bedding? If you suspect fleas, those spots could be pieces of flea dirt that fell off your cat’s fur and onto the bedding, and then turned red when moisture or the cat’s warm body rubbed against it, Dr. Weinberg says.

9

Pinhead-Sized Black or Reddish-Brown Insects Crawling on Your Cat’s Fur

If you’re wondering how to tell if your cat has fleas, this is probably the most obvious indicator. Those tiny black or reddish-brown insects on your cat’s fur are the fleas themselves. If there’s a heavy infestation, there’s a good chance you’ll see fleas and flea eggs on cats.

Part your pet’s fur in several places to see his skin. Fleas gravitate to the neck, lower back, hind legs and tail.

Even if you don’t see any fleas, don’t assume there are none in your home, Dr. Weinberg says. Fleas go through four stages in their life cycle—egg, larva, pupa and adult. Even if you see no adult fleas on your cat’s body, there still could be fleas in the three other developmental life stages in your furniture, carpet or baseboards, just days or weeks away from turning into adults and invading your cat. That’s why it’s important to always be tuned in to the signs of flea infestation. Today, your cat may be flea-free. Tomorrow, they might not be.

Even if you don’t see any fleas, don’t assume there are none in your home, Dr. Weinberg says. Fleas go through four stages in their life cycle—egg, larva, pupa and adult. Even if you see no adult fleas on your cat’s body, there still could be fleas in the three other developmental life stages in your furniture, carpet or baseboards, just days or weeks away from turning into adults and invading your cat. That’s why it’s important to always be tuned in to the signs of flea infestation. Today, your cat may be flea-free. Tomorrow, they might not be.

If you think your kitty has fleas, head to your veterinarian to get them proper cat flea treatment.

“We recommend BravectoComfortisCheristin and Vetra,” Dr. Weinberg says.

Discover the best-selling flea treatments for cats.

Keep your cat on a monthly flea-prevention programs—along with treating your home and yard with flea-control sprays and powders that contain an insect growth regulator, Dr. Weinberg says—to help prevent infestations in the future.

Unfortunately, fleas are a risk you take on when you adopt a pet cat. If you’ve noticed any of the signs above and are wondering does my cat have fleas, the bad news is that there’s a good chance they do. But the good news is that with treatment and home cleaning, you can eradicate fleas from both your pet and your home.

By: Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

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