Cat Health

How To Get Rid Of Cat Fleas

How do I know my cat has fleas?   Effects of fleas   Can I catch fleas from my cat?   Treating fleas   Long term flea control

Cat fleas at a glance

  • Cat fleas are a common parasite that live on the fur and skin of cats, feeding on the cat’s blood.
  • Transmission occurs when a cat comes into contact with fleas in the environment, another animal or even when humans bring fleas inside.
  • Fleas not only cause discomfort but can also transmit diseases, parasites and cause anemia.
  • Symptoms include itching, scratching and in many cases an allergic reaction to the saliva producing crusty sores on the back and around the neck.
  • Treatment is twofold, killing fleas on the cat and in the environment. Veterinary prescribed flea treatments are the most effective, they come in topical form applied to the skin on the neck or tablet form.


How to get rid of cat fleas

How do I know if my cat has fleas?

Most pet owners are unaware their cat has fleas until they notice their cat scratching. Some cats can have very heavy infestations without being bothered, other cats are extremely sensitive to the saliva in a flea bite and just one flea can be enough to cause him to itch and scratch.

The most common signs of a flea infestation include:
  • Itching, biting and scratching, especially around the neck, ears and around the base of the tail.
  • Crusting papules and sores: Some cats are sensitive to the saliva in the flea bite and may develop crusting, this is particularly common along the back and around the neck.
  • Salt and pepper: You may notice flea eggs and droppings in his coat or bedding. Flea eggs are white, droppings are dark red, giving the appearance of salt and pepper.

To check for fleas, carefully go through your cat’s fur, paying close attention to the base of the tail and around the neck. Cat fleas are brown in colour with a flat body, and approximately 2 mm in length.

Effects of fleas on your cat

Fleas are more than a nuisance, they can have a serious impact on your cat’s health and comfort. Heavy infestations can lead to anemia, especially in young kittens.

A lot of cats develop an allergy to flea saliva, which is known as flea allergy dermatitis, an extremely uncomfortable condition characterised by itching, biting and scratching along with multiple papules. Left untreated, repeated biting and scratching can damage the skin and lead to a bacterial infection.

Fleas have the potential to transmit a number of diseases on to cats including tapeworm, plague, bartonellosis, tularemia, feline infectious anemia and rickettsia.

Life Cycle of the flea

cat fleaTo combat fleas, it is important to understand their life cycle. There are 4 stages of the flea life cycle, known as metamorphosis.

Only 5% are actually adult fleas which would live on your cat, the remainder are found in the environment in the form of eggs (50%), larvae (35%) and pupae (10%). It is absolutely vital to treat both your pet and the environment (home and garden) if you are to combat fleas.

1) Adult flea: The adult flea emerges when it is stimulated by environmental factors such as vibrations, warmth or breath of the host. The flea can come out of its cocoon within seconds of stimulation. The lifespan of an adult flea is around 2 – 3 months. The adult flea is around 1.5 – 4mm long, and dark brown or black in appearance. Adults suck blood from their host. Adult fleas begin laying eggs within 36 – 48 hours of their first blood meal. A female flea consumes up to 15 times her body weight in blood per day.

2) Egg: At .5mm in length, flea eggs are barely visible to the human eye, the female flea lays approximately one egg per hour. The flea egg is whitish, smooth and dry and easily falls off the coat into the environment. Flea eggs hatch in around 1 – 10 days, depending on conditions. Flea eggs and flea droppings are often found together. When the cat scratches the eggs along with the droppings fall off the cat. The droppings provide food to the larvae when they hatch. The eggs and droppings together have the appearance of salt and pepper.

Environmental conditions such as humidity, light, and temperature determine how quickly and how many flea larvae hatch from flea eggs. The lower the temperature, the fewer larvae will hatch. Optimal conditions for flea larvae to hatch are 70% and higher and temperatures of 21 – 32 degrees C (70 – 89 degrees F).

Flea eggs fall off the cat when it jumps, scratches, moves and sleeps. Eggs are found all over the home, but in their highest concentrations in your cat’s preferred spots such as bedding.

3) Larvae: The larvae are vermiform (maggot like) like in appearance and up to 6mm long, flea larvae avoid light by residing deep in carpet fibres, under furniture and rugs and in crevices. At this stage, they have no legs or eyes but have chewing mouthparts. Flea larvae feed on adult flea excrement, food debris, and dead skin.

4) Pupae: This is the transition stage between larvae and adult flea. After approximately 7-18 days the flea larvae pupate. It takes approximately 7 – 10 days for the larvae to develop into a flea, although it may be some time before the flea emerges from its protective cocoon. They are at their most resilient as pupae, and resistant to insecticides.

The flea larvae spins a sticky, protective silken (produced by the saliva of the larvae) outer cocoon, covered with particles of debris such as dust, hair, lint etc. The pupae are found in carpet fibres, crevices etc., and are virtually undetectable.

Can I catch fleas from my cat?

A heavy infestation may lead to fleas taking the occasional blood meal from humans, but they generally prefer to live on cats. Signs you may have been bitten by a flea include itching and scratching and a small, red, papule. Humans are most often bitten around the ankles and feet.

Treat your cat

This is a two-pronged approach. Treating the cat and the environment (your home/outdoors), both of which have to be done at the same time.

There are many products available to treat fleas on cats. Flea collar, shampoo, flea combs, spray, tablets, powders, insect growth regulators and topical treatments. The most effective products are the spot-on or oral suspension treatments which are available from your veterinarian. It is possible for fleas to develop a resistance to some products, speak to your vet for his advice on the most effective flea control treatment.

Flea collars

There are many different types of flea collar on the market. Some are insecticide only and work by killing adult fleas on the cat. Other flea collars contain IGR’s to kill the eggs and larvae.

Flea collars often only kill fleas on the cat’s head and neck, but fleas further down the body survive.


There are many different types of flea collar on the market. Some are insecticide only and work by killing adult fleas on the cat. Other flea collars contain IGR’s to kill the eggs and larvae.

Flea collars often only kill fleas on the cat’s head and neck, but fleas further down the body survive.

Flea Combs

Flea combs aren’t overly effective, only removing 10 – 50% of fleas on your cat. If you wish to use this method place a small bowl of water with some detergent in it close by and drop the fleas into the bowl. This will drown the fleas. Placing a small amount of petroleum jelly onto the teeth of the comb will help the fleas stick to it.

Flea Powders

Flea powders will kill adult fleas on the cat. Powders may cause the cat’s coat to dry out and also may be irritating to the cat’s oral and respiratory mucosa.

Oral suspensions

Program® is given to cats via an oral suspension once a month. The product is added to the cat’s food and is absorbed into the bloodstream. When a flea bites a cat treated with Program it ingests the active ingredient (lufenuron), which is passed to her eggs and prevents them from hatching. As this product only prevents eggs from hatching, an appropriate adulticide will also be needed to kill adult fleas. Seek advice from your veterinarian before using more than one product on your cat. It is also extremely important to speak to your veterinarian if you are considering treating a pregnant or nursing cat. They will be able to recommend the safest treatment for your cat.

Spot on treatments

Topical adulticide. There are several effective products on the market which are administered via a liquid form to the cat’s shoulders. These are available through your veterinarian or online pet product store. These products are very effective for killing adult fleas on your cat. The active ingredient varies from product to product. The application is generally once a month.

Cat Flea Sprays

There are some effective cat flea sprays on the market. Frontline make such a spray. Wear rubber gloves while applying the spray to your cat while ruffling the coat. Avoid contact with the eyes and mouth.


Program is a flea treatment which is injected under the cat’s skin once every six months.


Capstar and Comfortis are administered orally once a month to treat fleas. Comfortis also treats flea allergy dermatitis. I have used this product on my own cats, one of whom had terrible FAD and it was the only product that finally worked.

When applying a flea product to a cat it is important to follow the instructions on the packet to the letter. Cats are extremely sensitive to chemicals and if you are using one than one product your cat may be exposed to too many toxins, resulting in sickness or death.

Revolution also kills worms (except tapeworm), so makes life a bit easier for pet owners, according to the Bayer site, Advantage cat flea control, also kills flea larvae in the pet’s environment too.

Rotating flea products may help increase effectiveness as fleas are becoming resistant to some flea control products.

After administering flea products, closely observe your cat for adverse reactions.

Warning: Don’t ever use flea products designed for other pets on your cat and ALWAYS follow the dosage chart on the back of the packet.

Natural cat flea repellents

If you would prefer a chemical-free flea repellent, you can try the following.

  • 50 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 50 ml water

Mix together in a spray bottle, spray onto your hands and stroke into your cat’s coat as well as on your cat’s bedding and other areas your cat frequents. You can also add two drops of catnip essential oil to increase effectiveness.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth can be applied to floors, bedding and your cat’s coat. Avoid the head and face as it can be irritating if inhaled.

Remove fleas by hand using a flea comb. This is a good method, especially when removing fleas from young kittens (under 6 weeks of age) who are too young for most chemical flea products. When removing fleas, flick them into a bowl of hot soapy water to drown them.

A word of caution when using natural cat flea products

Always be careful with essential oils on or around cats. Remember these oils are concentrated and many are toxic to cats even in low doses. I frequently see people advising the use of tea tree oil as a natural flea treatment, but this is toxic unless diluted to 0.1-1%. So avoid using, or use with extreme care and only at a safe dilution. Just because something is natural doesn’t make it safe.

Garlic should also be avoided as this is toxic to cats.

Treat the environment


Vacuum: Flooring and carpet prior to spraying your home, paying close attention to skirting boards, under furniture and other nooks and crannies flea larvae love to hang out.

Frequent vacuuming will also remove fleas and their eggs. One useful tip is to put a flea collar in your vacuum cleaner bag. When vacuuming, pay extra attention to corners, skirting boards, under furniture and any other nooks and crannies. Also vacuum furniture, curtains etc. This is where the larvae love to hang out, eating dust and debris, so it is vital that you thoroughly vacuum. Once you have vacuumed, clean out the bag and dispose of carefully. Ensure that every time you vacuum, you empty it out the bag or canester to prevent any fleas escaping.

Cat flea fogger

Use an insecticide (fogger): To treat the house and environment you can either hire the services of a professional pest controller or buy a product from your local supermarket. Most DIY products come in the form of an aerosol “bomb”. Prior to letting the bomb off you and your pets should temporarily vacate the premises. Be aware that flea bombs are toxic to other animals, so all pets (including fish) need to be removed prior to bombing.

IGR’s: (insect growth regulators) disrupt the cycle of the flea. They prevent eggs from hatching, kill larvae and prevent adult fleas from reproducing. These most often come in as a bomb/spray.

A pest controller should be able to spray your house and garden for fleas. It is important to specify that you have cat(s) living in the house, so they can use a suitable spray which is safe for pets.

Wash rugs, cat bedding etc., in the hottest possible cycle. You can also spray unwashable bedding with flea sprays such as Frontline.

Treat outdoors

Cat fleas

Fleas can infest your garden and outdoor buildings too, so while you are treating your cat and house, also pay attention to your garden.

Spray areas your pet tends to hang out, and if he has bedding in the garden, bring it in and wash it.

You will need flea bomb any outdoor buildings such as garages and sheds, especially if your cat hangs out there.

Keep wood piles stacked and away from your home.

Long term flea control for cats

Regular application of a good quality flea control on your cat is the best method of flea control. Ensure your cat’s bedding is regularly washed in hot water and hung outside in the warm sun to air dry.