How Do Cats Get Fleas? - Cat Kingpin
How Do Cats Get Fleas

How Do Cats Get Fleas?

If you’ve ever noticed your cat is scratching itself more than usual, you probably got freaked out pretty fast.

While most scratching is innocuous, sometimes itchiness can be a sign of something sinister: fleas.

Fleas are the bane of every cat owner’s existence. Not only do they rank pretty high on the “ick factor” scale, they are also difficult to get rid of, itchy, annoying, and can wreak havoc on an otherwise tranquil home.

While many cat owners are lucky enough never to have to deal with a flea infestation, even the most scrupulous of owners are susceptible to the tyranny of these tiny pests.

But how do cats get fleas, how can we prevent them, and what measures can we take to eliminate the problem once it occurs?

In this article we’ll cover the following:

  • What Do Cat Fleas Look Like?
  • Where Do Cat Fleas Come From?
  • Can Kittens Get Fleas?
  • Where Do Fleas Live On Cats?
  • How Do Indoor Cats Get Fleas?
  • How Do Cat Fleas Affect Humans?
  • How To Get Rid Of Fleas
  • How To Prevent Fleas

What Do Cat Fleas Look Like?

Once you know what to look for, fleas are pretty easy to identify. While they are incredibly small, fleas are distinct from most other types of pests such as ticks and mites.

Fleas are generally brown in color. When you first notice them, you may mistake them for dirt or some sort of dust. Upon closer investigation, though, you’ll find that fleas have six long legs, an oval body shape, and are wingless.

They can jump to incredible heights (up to 50 times their body length), which can also be a way to identify them as they may jump to get away from you if you’ve discovered them!

The best way to identify the presence of fleas is by their bites. In humans and cats, flea bites are red, round, and often surrounded by reddish “haloes.”

Where Do Cat Fleas Come From?

Fleas are found in nearly every corner of the globe. They are parasites that survive by sucking the blood of their hosts. Unfortunately, fleas are pretty much everywhere and your cat can catch them in a variety of ways.

The most common way to transmit fleas is from animal to animal, so if your cat comes into contact with an infected mammal, the fleas will jump onto your cat.

Fleas infect many different types of animals, including birds, so not having access to fellow felines or dogs is no guarantee that your cat will be safe from fleas.

Human to animal transmission is another common way for your cat to get fleas. If a flea jumps on you or on your clothing and you bring them inside your home, the flea will instantly seek out a host (your cat).

If you’ve recently moved into a new house and your cat suddenly has fleas, the home itself may be the culprit. Fleas can live without a host for a relatively long time and may have snuggled up into the carpeting of your new home, just waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting cat.

Your cat can even pick up fleas from another animal at the vet’s office, at the groomers, or at a boarding facility.

Can Kittens Get Fleas?

Unfortunately, yes. Kittens are not immune to fleas. In fact, fleas can be even more dangerous to young kittens than to adult cats.

If your kitten is infested with fleas it’s important to take immediate and thorough action.

Because kittens are so small, an infestation of fleas could lead to anemia, which can actually lead to death. If your kitten is scratching and has pale gums or seems listless, bring them to the vet immediately as this may be a sign that they have become anemic.

Kittens are also susceptible to tapeworms caused by flea infestations. If your kitten manages to ingest one of the fleas (which is a very distinct possibility), they may become infected with a tapeworm.

Keep in mind that kittens are more sensitive than adult cats and any flea treatment should be tailored to their particular needs. There are products on the market that are gentler than the ones used on adult cats, such as Natural Flea Shampoo, which contains no pyrethrins (a type of insecticide that is dangerous for cats), and is safe for kittens.

This kitten seems to almost be enjoying his flea bath! Almost.

Where Do Fleas Live On Cats?

Fleas can live pretty much anywhere on your cat’s body, including inside their ears. If you suspect your cat is infested with fleas you will want to take action very quickly and make sure to check their entire body thoroughly before declaring them “clean.”

How Do Indoor Cats Get Fleas?

Unfortunately, keeping your cat indoors is no guarantee that they won’t fall victim to fleas. Because these tiny pests are so resilient, even a cat that has never set foot outdoors can become infected.

If your indoor cat suddenly comes down with a flea infestation, you may be to blame. If a flea decides to hitch a ride on your pant leg or on your jacket, you may unwittingly bring the flea into your home and introduce them to your cat.

Fleas reproduce very rapidly, so even just a flea or two can cause an infestation rather quickly.

Your indoor cat may also get fleas at the vet’s office (even if they are inside their carrier).

Often times, owners discover that they have a rodent problem right about the time their indoor cat mysteriously catches fleas. Mice and rats are notorious flea carriers, and if some of them decide to make their home in your house, your cat could easily become infected.

How Do Cat Fleas Affect Humans?

Fleas aren’t picky parasites and will attach themselves to pretty much anything warm-blooded. If your cat has fleas, you may end up falling victim to them as well. However, the good news is that fleas prefer furry creatures. They like to hide and stay warm in your cat’s abundant fur. Since human beings aren’t as hairy as dogs and cats, fleas will usually only feast on humans as a last resort.

Fleas will bite human beings but won’t live on them. So while you may suffer from a few bites on your legs or on the top of your head, you aren’t in danger of becoming a permanent home to these tiny pests.

The real danger of having fleas in your home is that fleas can also infest many different parts of your house, especially clothing, carpets, couches and other types of upholstery. This is part of the reason why fleas are so difficult to get rid of.

How To Get Rid Of Fleas

There are a variety of different ways to get rid of fleas. If your cat contracts fleas, you will want to be methodical and aggressive in the action you take to get rid of them.

The first thing to remember is that it’s very unlikely that the fleas are only on your cat. They may have found their way into your carpets, onto your furniture, and on your bedding. Even if you manage to rid your cat of fleas, if there are other fleas living in the house your cat may soon be infected again.

One popular flea remedy is flea spray. The best kind to get is one that is safe for the home as well as your cat, such as Vet’s Best Natural Flea and Tick Spray. This spray is all-natural, will kill fleas in all stages of life, and can be sprayed around your home as well as directly on your cat.

Another popular remedy is flea shampoo, which you can use to kill the fleas and flea larvae on your cat.

Because cats aren’t usually big fans of water, many owners opt for a “dry” flea shampoo, such as Vet’s Best Waterless Cat Bath Foam. If your cat doesn’t mind water, you can also try a traditional flea shampoo that is specially formulated for cats, such as Sentry Flea and Tick Shampoo.

With all these remedies it’s very important to remember that simply killing the fleas on your cat isn’t enough. You will still need to make sure that any fleas that have found their way around your home are killed too, otherwise, you risk another infestation.

How To Prevent Fleas

Because there are so many ways for your cat to get fleas, it may seem a little bit intimidating to try to prevent them. But never fear: there are plenty of preventative measures you can take to help protect your cat from fleas, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Monthly Topical Medication

These little drops are probably the most popular option. You’ve probably seen commercials on TV for them, complete with adorable kittens and catchy jingles. But are they safe?

The short answer is yes, they are! You just have to be sure to use them correctly. It’s important to know your cat’s weight before purchasing topical flea and tick medication. If you purchase one for a cat that weighs 5 pounds, and your cat weighs 15, it likely won’t be effective.

Monthly topical flea and tick prevention medication is applied once a month, usually between the cat’s shoulder blades so they can’t lick it off. It kills any unfortunate flea or tick that attaches to your cat, and will also kill the eggs and larvae. While there is the potential for side effects, most cats tolerate these drops very well.

The best flea preventative medications are ones that don’t require the flea to actually bite the cat in order to be effective. Advantage II for cats, which begins working in 12 hours and lasts for an entire month, will kill all fleas and larvae and prevent them from coming back.

Pros:

  • Only applied once a month
  • Very effective against fleas and ticks
  • Great for cats who go outside

Cons:

  • There is a potential for incorrect dosage
  • You have to make sure your cat doesn’t ingest the liquid
  • Some people aren’t comfortable with chemicals on their pets
  • May be overkill for cats who don’t generally have contact with other pets or go outside

Flea and Tick Collars

Flea and tick collars are also a popular option. These plastic collars, which your cat will simply wear around their neck, generally last a long time and are often less expensive than topical treatments.

The Bayer Seresto flea collar, which is odorless, easy to apply, and kills fleas even if they don’t actually bite your cat, generally lasts about eight months.

There are two types of flea and tick collars available: gas-based collars and absorption collars.

Gas: These collars emit a pesticide that kills fleas and ticks, but it is primarily concentrated around the cat’s neck and face and may not kill fleas and ticks that land elsewhere

Absorption: These collars contain a pesticide that is absorbed into your cat’s skin, killing any fleas that land on their body.

Pros

  • Prevents and treats pests for up to 8 months
  • Available in many sizes
  • Generally less expensive than other medications

Cons

  • Effective only if applied correctly
  • May not be safe for very young kittens, so consult your veterinarian before using
  • Generally not waterproof
  • Many flea collars are only effective around the cat’s face and neck, and won’t do much for fleas that travel further down the cat’s body

Natural Flea and Tick Prevention

Many people are paying more attention to what they put in and on their bodies, and they’re doing the same thing for their furry friends! While their efficacy varies from cat to cat, here are some natural flea prevention remedies that some people swear by:

  1. Natural oils. Oil such as citronella oil, cedar oil, and lemongrass have a lot of fantastic antibacterial properties, and some people insist they work miracles in pest prevention for cats. They are generally diluted in water and then sprayed on your cat. Take care not to spray too much, as it may irritate your cat’s nose. You’ll have to reapply at least once a week, and the effectiveness is somewhat anecdotal. If you live in a wooded area or a county with a big flea and tick problem, you may not want to rely solely on essential oils.
  2. Flea Combs. Flea combs, such as the Sentry Flea Comb for cats, are generally only used once your cat already has fleas. While effective in removing fleas and eggs that are present on your cat’s skin, they aren’t really preventative and they won’t solve the problem of fleas in your home.

Whatever you choose, be sure to follow the directions very carefully! It is important for your cat’s health (and for your sanity!) to choose a product that is effective, safe, and well-tolerated by your feline companion.

So, how do cats get fleas?

Cats can get fleas from pretty much anywhere. Unfortunately, once your cat has been infested with fleas it can be a real pain in the neck to get rid of them. While products such as the Sentry Flea Comb and Vet’s Best Waterless Cat Bath Foam will undoubtedly kill the fleas on your cat, the chances of re-infestation are high unless you are able to kill all the fleas in your home as well.

Because fleas are so annoying and tricky to get rid of, your best bet is to take steps to prevent them. Flea preventative products like the Bayer Seresto flea collar and Advantage II topical medication are your cat’s best defense against fleas.

Have any flea horror stories or tips on how to get rid of them once and for all? Let us know in the comments; we want to hear about it!

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Amanda K.

After moving to New York City from Rome, Italy, I began working in the nonprofit world. Despite my day job, my passion has always been animals, especially dogs and cats, and writing. What better way to combine the two? I've been a pet owner for 15 years, and my menagerie includes dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional hermit crab. My beloved cat, Mozart, who I found as a newborn kitten, sparked my love for felines and is now nearly 15 years old. I am an enthusiastic volunteer at the local ASPCA, where I enjoy spending time with the cats and cleaning up after the dogs. I've been writing about pet ownership and care for the past five years.

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