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De-fleaing 101

De-fleaing 101
by Dr Grant Hampson

Read time: 3 min

Fleas can be a real nuisance for both your and your cat, but the good news is that they can be easily treated and prevented.

What is a flea?

Fleas are a common small, reddish-brown parasitic insect which are likely to affect most cats at some point in their life. There are multiple species of flea including dog fleas, cat fleas and rabbit fleas! Many of which can survive on different animals.

The lifecycle of a flea is complex and takes place both on and off your cat, but only the adult form of the flea will be seen on your cat. The adult flea jumps onto your cat and starts sucking their blood, she will then lay up to 50 eggs in a single day. These eggs fall off your cat and into the home environment, including carpets, the sofa and bedding. After about 5-10 days the eggs will hatch into larvae, the larvae eventually spin themselves into a cocoon and become flea pupae. The difficult thing about pupae is they are resistant to most insecticides whilst in this state. When the conditions are perfect the pupae will hatch after 4 days, but can survive for about 140 days until the environment conditions are perfect.

Close up of a tick

Where do fleas live?

It is estimated that 95% of the flea population is in the home environment, the carpets, floorboards, sofas etc. The other 5% are existing on your cat and this is why it is especially important to treat not only your cat but your home as well.

How do I know if my cat has fleas?

There are many different signs which may indicate that your cat has fleas. The most obvious sign is seeing the fleas themselves. Alternatively you may see “flea dirt”, which is the droppings that fleas produce. To check for flea dirt, take a sheet of white tissue, and wet one side. Rub or comb a small amount of the “black dander” or “dark specs” onto the wet tissue, after about 30 seconds the tissue will turn reddish/brown, which is the dried blood within the droppings.

Common symptoms associated with a flea infestation also include scratching and red and irritated skin. In cases where your cat is allergic to the saliva that a flea produces, you may see a very dramatic response, they may lose hair and/or develop very sore and bleeding skin

How to get rid of fleas?

It is essential to treat both your cat and your home, if you don’t there is a good chance you won’t get the infestation under control.

Treating your cat:

There are various types of flea treatment on the market and your vet will be able to help you make a decision. The most common products used are spot ons, these are liquid formulations that are placed onto the skin onto the back of your cat’s neck. The most important thing is to follow all the instructions and veterinary advice and do apply the products regularly.

Never use treatments that are designed from dogs on your cat, they can be very toxic and can kill your cat.

Treating the house:

Wash everything! My advice is to do everything at the same time. The same time you apply flea treatment, wash all the bedding on high, particularly those where you cat sleeps. Hoover everywhere; under the sofa, all the carpets and everywhere where you know the cat spends a lot of time. Once you have given the house a good ol’ spring clean, you can then use a household flea spray, which you can get from most pet stores and vets. It is important to be aware that household flea sprays are very strong, so pay very close attention to the instructions.

Don’t forget to treat all the other pets in your home with appropriate flea treatment.

Can I get fleas?

Whilst fleas cannot live on human beings, they can still bite you! You may see small red marks if you have been bitten, similar to a mosquito bite. If you get concerned, make sure you chat to a pharmacist or your doctor.

Do I need to go to the vet?

Typically this can be handled at home, but your vet can provide a lot of advice over the phone. If you become concerned over your cat's health, particularly if their skin becomes very painful you should consider a visit to the vet in case they require any further treatments.

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