How do I spot fleas?
Often owners think their cat cannot have fleas as they havenít seen them. This is because cats are so good at grooming and removing fleas and flea dirt that there may be no evidence of fleas, apart from the itching and scabbed areas. The most obvious sign is persistent scratching. However some cats will not scratch but rather over-groom themselves, sometimes leaving bald patches. Cats with flea allergies are itchy, over-groom and may have scabs and red, sore areas. Fleas are dark brown and 1mm or 2mm long. You may find them or see them in the carpet, or you may notice tiny black specks of flea dirt (flea faeces) in your cat's coat during combing. To test if they are flea dirt, put the black spots onto damp tissue paper and, if they are feal dirt, they will turn red from the digested blood they contain. High humidity and temperatures make late summer the peak season for fleas, but central heating in winter means you need to de-flea throughout the year.
What are fleas?
Fleas are the most common external parasites of both cats and dogs. Adult fleas can live for 7-14 days and will divide their time between living on your cat to feed and returning to the carpet to lay eggs. Females lay a large amount of eggs every day, which fall to the ground and hatch into tiny larvae that burrow into carpets, upholstery and often the catís bed. They then develop into pupae, remaining dormant for many months. When they sense warmth and vibration, the adult fleas emerge and jump onto a passing host - your cat - to start the life cycle again. Fleas can also potentially transmit diseases, including certain blood parasites.
It's not just cats who suffer from fleas. For every single flea living on your cat, there could be 99 more developing in your carpeted, centrally-heated home, however clean it is! Outdoor cats may also come in with other unwelcome passengers such as ticks.
Fleas are extremely common, and are also the most common reason for a cat to develop a skin problem. The most common flea to be found on cats is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), but rabbit and hedgehog fleas can also cause an infestation. Flea bites are itchy for all cats and can lead some to develop allergies (flea-allergic dermatitis), whilst the parasites also act as intermediate hosts for certain tapeworms. Also, a heavy infestation can cause anaemia in kittens, which is potentially life-threatening. Remember, fleas bite humans too!