How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats

cat scratching itself

Keeping your feline friend pest-free is a top priority for pet owners. Not only are fleas annoying for your constantly grooming companion, but they can also pose health hazards to your cat and you.

Firstly, if your cat has fleas don’t beat yourself up over it. While indoor-outdoor cats are more prone to these scratchy fur invaders, strictly indoor cats can get fleas from all sorts of things. Think of fleas as house ants for animals, it’s going to happen at least once.

With that in mind, let’s start with flea prevention tactics to help decrease the chances of your cat getting fleas to begin with.

How to Get Rid of Fleas

DIY Home Remedies

Cats fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are the most common parasite that can live on your feline friend. Unless it’s a bad flea problem, however, you can sometimes kill fleas on cats with some at-home remedies. Let’s look at some of the DIY things you can do to help your cat be flea free:

  • Wash the cat’s bed in hot water and dry it at a high heat setting; this will kill any fleas hiding in the pet’s bedding.
  • Vacuum all the rugs, carpeting, drapes, bedding, and furniture in the house every day. Fleas often hide in fabric, waiting for their next host, and their eggs can roll off your cat into other areas of the house.
  • Use cedar chips and cedar oil to encourage the fleas to leave. The smell of cedar drives them crazy and is non-toxic for your cat. Leave cedar chips around the yard and house, especially where your cat likes to hang out.
  • Citric acid kills fleas, so using lemon or lemon juice spray on your pet will help get rid of cat fleas. Pantry to the rescue!
  • Diluted dish soap kills plenty of fleas when sprayed onto your cat.
  • Lavender can help soothe your cat’s suffering and kill fleas in the same move. Just let some lavender steep in water overnight and then spray the liquid on the coat.
  • Use a flea comb to root out the bugs and their eggs. Between strokes, dip the comb into hot, soapy water.

However, these remedies may be short-acting, and relief may come for only a day or two. Homemade remedies may not kill fleas in the egg, larva, and pupa stages, so reinfestation is possible.

Flea Medicines

If the home remedies aren’t cutting it, you can check with your vet for some heavy-duty flea medication or head to your local pet store for something over-the-counter. Make sure these are safe for cats because some medicines for dogs are toxic to cats.

A wide selection of flea medication is available for cats, including:

  • Flea collars
  • Flea shampoos
  • Flea sprays
  • Flea powders
  • Spot-on treatments, such as Advantage and Frontline
  • Chewables
  • Pills to hide in food

Make sure to read the box, especially about side effects. And ensure that the drug is appropriate for your cat, especially if you have a kitten or an elderly feline or if your cat has a history of health issues. Just to be safe, if you’re going with an over-the-counter remedy, you might want to check with your DVM before buying.

These types of medications should usually be administered once a month or every three months. The effective topical flea products contain ingredients that kill adult fleas and remain effective between scheduled doses; others prevent the larval stages from maturing. For best results in a flea infestation, use the latter remedy.

A Few Flea Factoids

You think your kitty may have fleas. So what should you be looking for? Who exactly is your enemy? Here are a few facts about fleas.

  • Over 2,000 species of fleas exist worldwide and 300 in the United States. Cat fleas are the most common domestic flea. They can be found on both cats and dogs.
  • Cat fleas are approximately 1/8-inch long and have no wings. They have a flattened body and hind legs made for jumping. Males are dark brown; females, light brown to orange.
  • A female flea can consume up to 15 times her body weight in blood per day. That may not seem like much, since she’s very small, but consider how many fleas could be infesting your little darling.
  • A female cat flea lays 40 to 50 eggs per day, up to 2,000 in her lifetime, but only if she can feed on blood. An adult flea can live from only four to up to 25 days.
  • Flea eggs are not sticky; therefore, they often fall off of your pet and into carpets and onto furniture, waiting there after they hatch for the same or another host animal to come around.
  • Fleas go through four stages of life: from egg to flea larva to pupa to adult. The entire life cycle lasts approximately 21 to 28 days, if environmental conditions are just right.
  • Chemicals in flea saliva cause the itching from their bites.
  • Although the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) can be found in the United States, the cat flea is most commonly found on American pets.

Does Your Cat Have Fleas?

Red dots show feline miliary dermatitis, an allergic reaction most commonly caused by flea bites.
Photo Credit: Caroldermoid / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0.

The following signs of fleas may help you determine whether your critter has critters:

  • Frantic and aggressive scratching or self-biting
  • Hair loss and excessive grooming
  • Behavior changes such as restlessness and agitation
  • Scabby bumps, scabs, and red skin lesions
  • Pepper-like specks, or flea dirt, on the cat’s fur (this is flea feces)
  • Black or reddish-brown bugs crawling in the fur or on the skin, especially between the ears, around the base of the tail, or in the short abdominal hair, the first places you should look
  • Pale gums and muscle loss, which is a sign of a serious flea infestation that can cause dangerous health problems (e.g., anemia) in your cat

If you’re a pet parent to other furry friends, such as dogs or rodents, they, too, likely have the same pests. Be sure to check them as well. Fleas can jump as high as 13 inches; you don’t want the little buggers jumping from a different infested animal right back to your recently treated cat.

Happy Cats Have Flea-Free Yards and Homes

Fleas can cause all sorts of health problems beyond the annoyances they create. Be sure to engage in flea-prevention behaviors and protect your cat from bringing these biters indoors or getting them from a visiting pet or at the groomer. If you do find fleas, don’t flee; many options exist to allow you and your cat to regain a flea-free life.

Treating Your Yard

Fleas live in grassy lawns, under shrubs, and in moist brush (e.g., fallen leaves). They can even, amazingly enough, hide out in the bits of dirt in the joints of your concrete sidewalks and porches.

Preventive flea treatments for cats: If your kitty goes out into the yard, monthly flea treatments from the store or your vet can help head off a flea infestation.

Keeping the yard well-maintained: Fleas aren’t fans of the sun, so try to make sure they won’t want to come to your lawn. Focus especially on places where your pet loves to take siestas. This way, your cat is less likely to pick up fleas while sharing the backyard with you.

Keeping your cat indoors if possible: Understandably, you want your feline friend to be able to prowl outside with you or enjoy their natural inclinations, but outside fleas are just waiting to pounce. Keeping your babies indoors helps prevent infestations.

Treating Your Home

Once you find fleas on your cat and get them treated, look to your home. During their life cycle, fleas may spend more time off than on your cat, so you never know where these pests might settle, including your carpets and furniture.

You might try some of the suggestions listed previously (i.e., cedar chips, lavender, or citric sprays), but chances are, if you have a serious infestation, you might need to pay an exterminator to use professional-grade insecticides.

FAQ About Cat and Fleas

What Diseases Can Fleas Cause in my Cat?

Contact your vet if you see signs of these conditions.

Allergies: Regular flea bites can be annoying enough to cats, but flea bite allergy can occur if your precious is seriously allergic to the chemicals in fleas’ saliva. This allergic reaction can happen with only a few bites, leading to particularly savage scratching. This scratching may lead to wounds and severe bacterial infections.

Tapeworms: If cats ingest fleas by eating them when grooming, they can be infected with tapeworms. In the adult form, tapeworms live in pets’ intestines and absorb the nutrients they eat. You can identify tapeworm segments, which look like rice or sesame seeds, in your cat’s feces.

Anemia: In anemia, the body doesn’t make enough red blood cells, the oxygen-carrying cells. Symptoms in cats indicate a severe infestation. If you see any of the symptoms, including increased respiratory rate, open-mouth breathing, lethargy, pale or whitish gums, and seizures, get your cat to the vet ASAP.

Can Cat Fleas Cause Disease in Humans?

Fleas can bite cat owners too, although it’s not as common as in animals. The symptoms are similar to those in our fuzzy friends: a bumpy, itchy rash. Antihistamines can help, but fleas can cause some other, more serious conditions in humans. These usually necessitate a trip to your doctor for antibiotics or other medications.

Flea bite allergies: Like cats, humans can also have allergies to flea bites. Symptoms include hives, rash, shortness of breath, and swelling.

Cat-scratch disease: Ever hear of cat-scratch disease? This condition occurs after a cat, particularly a kitten, scratches or bites you, infecting you with a bacterium transmitted by fleas. Most cases heal by themselves, but infected areas may appear swollen and red with pus.

Tapeworms: Like our cats, cat owners can get tapeworms from fleas. Because smaller children tend to play on the floor, they have a higher risk than adults of accidentally swallowing a tapeworm-infested flea. Symptoms of tapeworms can include nausea, weakness, weight loss, abdominal pain, dizziness, and headache.

Typhus: Humans can become infected with murine typhus in tropical and subtropical climates; in the United States, this includes Hawaii, southern California, and Texas. Symptoms consist of fever, chills, body aches, nausea and vomiting, and stomach pain.

Plague: You think of plague happening in the past, but it also occurs today in rural areas of the desert Southwest. Flea bites can transmit plague to humans, who can also get it by handling flea-infested animals. Manifestations include flu-like symptoms, weakness, shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, and nausea and vomiting.

How to Get Rid of Fleas in Your Home

Fleas can be not only an annoyance, but also a hazard, to both cats and humans. You don’t want your kitty to go through that, and you don’t want to go through it either.

Once you’ve seen a vet for your cat and, perhaps, a doctor for yourself, ensuring that an infestation doesn’t happen again is probably your top priority. For getting rid of these bugs in your home, the best deflea-er might be a pest control expert

One of the best ways to get rid of fleas in your yard is good ol’ lawn maintenance. If you’ve got the usual kids, sports, and groceries to take care of this weekend, let a local lawn care pro take care of your lawn while you focus on more important weekend activities.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. Consult with a qualified medical or pest control professional for help to eliminate fleas from your pet, home, or yard.

Main Image Credit: Piqsels

Pat Joiner

Pat Joiner has been working with words for 35+ years. In fact, playing with words is her greatest passion. Pat despises the bugs that pester her when she spends time outdoors gardening and enjoying her patio. She lives in her little condo and has two adorable cats named Mona and da Vinci.