Cat Fleas – How They Get Them & How To Ditch Them

September 11, 2018

Fleas are the worst.  The “Black Death,” or bubonic plague, is often thought of as a thing of the past, but according to public health officials, this isn’t the case. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 1006 confirmed or probable cases of human plague in the United States from 1900-2012, 80% of which have been bubonic in form.

Some flea facts: The most common species is the cat flea, which often feasts on cats, dogs and humans. Fleas do not fly. Instead, they jump from one place to another. In fact, fleas can jump as high as 8” vertically, which is 150 times their own height. I give you these facts because we need to chat about indoor cats and how they get fleas.  

There are several ways that this normally happens:

  • The most common way indoor cats get fleas is by other household animals who go outside, get exposed to fleas, and then bring the fleas back into the house.  This happens mostly on the family dog that picks fleas up in the park and brings them home and eventually the flea ends up feasting on the cat that never leaves the house. Even dogs that are on flea/tick control bring fleas home because a lot of flea prevention products don’t repel fleas, they kill them.  Keeping both dogs and cats on flea control is the best way to try help this from happening.
  • A very popular way for your kitty to pick fleas up is from YOU! Fleas are incredible hitchhikers and love to jump on your clothes, into your household, and eventually finds their way onto sweet Fluffy.  Fleas are incredible athletes; their long jumping abilities let them find their way to your cat’s nice warm body.
  • Another way for fleas to get in the house is when rodents bring them in. Rodents bring flea eggs in that hatch and jump onto the indoor cat.

One really interesting thing about how fleas spread, or don’t in this case, is that fleas DO NOT jump from cat to cat.  To better understand how fleas bother cats and humans and how best to combat them, let’s discuss the life cycle of a flea.  Once a flea jumps onto a cat it stays there for its entire life. The majority of a flea’s life cycle occurs while off the cat.  When a female flea hops on a cat, it begins feeding right away. The ingestion of blood is required for a flea to be fertile and reproduce.  Within 24 hours, this female flea will begin to lay eggs, 40-50 a day!!! As the cat moves around the house it starts shaking these eggs off into the environment, mainly into the areas where the cat sleeps or rests (in your bed!!) Within a week, larvae hatch from flea eggs. The larvae try to avoid light and burrow into carpets, cracks in hardwood floors, and other humid areas such as concrete floors in damp basements.  Five to twelve days after that, the larvae spin a cocoon in which they develop into pupae. One to three weeks later, baby fleas emerge from pupae. These newly hatched fleas wait for the cat to pass by, and then they hop on, and the life cycle starts all over again. The entire flea life cycle takes 3 to 6 weeks.

Fleas can carry and transmit a bacterium called Bartonella that can cause health issues in cats, dogs, and people. Fleas can carry a type of parasite, a tapeworm called Dipylidium caninum that can suck nutrients from the pet’s intestine and cause anal itching (which is why your cat might scoot on the floor).  At best, fleas can make your cat itchy and uncomfortable.  At worst, they can transmit dangerous diseases.

Dealing with a flea infestation is not fun.  The first step is to treat the cat and any other household pet with a flea shampoo and flea comb; this will get rid of the eggs on the coat and cause adults to want to mostly jump off.  Next you will want to follow up with a monthly topical or oral systemic flea prevention. Killing these adults is only the first step in this battle with fleas; now you must treat the environment they live in, the house.  You can call an exterminator; but you and your cats will need to evacuate while this happens. Vacuuming the area that your cat sleeps (where fleas lay eggs) is very important. Make sure to throw the bags away immediately.  Borate powders can last up to one year in carpeting, while diatomaceous earth powders need to be re-applied to carpeting every few months. Many people with a serious infestation choose both – a borate powder for carpeting, and a diatomaceous earth powder for use on furniture, bedding, and the pet.

At Cat Safari, we take flea prevention very seriously.  One advantage we have is that we have no carpeting or hardwood floors where flea larvae likely to be.  That our cat condos are white also means that we are more likely to spot “flea dirt” than you will at home.  Of course, we vacuum and disinfect the entire building multiple times a day. There is no “flea season” per se, in San Francisco because the weather is so moderate, so we are on high alert for fleas year-round and work every day at keeping Cat Safari flea free.  

This is a guest blog by Ishai Meron, Cat Safari’s very own “The Cat Man.” If you have any questions about your cat, flea related or not, feel free to reach out to Ishai at 415-567-0700.

16 Responses to “Cat Fleas – How They Get Them & How To Ditch Them”

  1. Mae

    An abandoned cat found shelter behind my central air conditioning unit. Don’t know if she gave birth there but 5 days ago I discovered 4 kitchens. She’s nursing and playing with them on my concrete patio. Im assuming she has fleas which tranferred to the kittens. Im worried about fleas being on the patio , on chairs and getting into my house. Should this be a concern? Can fleas live on concrete

    Reply
    • Mark Klaiman

      Mae, fleas may not live directly on the concrete but they can live in any of the cracks in the concrete or between slabs.

      Reply
  2. Megan

    Where are places in the house that fleas can live, can they live under beds, dressers, and couches? Or can they live in messy closets and drawers? Will I have to clean those out and treat them?

    Reply
  3. Meryl

    We’d love to bring our cats onto our deck that’s at least 15 feet off the ground. I know fleas can only jump 8 feet, but can a strong breeze blow them up to a deck that high?

    Reply
    • Mark Klaiman

      Meryl, we really couldn’t say for certain. There are a host of variables and vectors at play.

      Reply
  4. Angela

    My indoor cat got out and when we got him back in he had fleas he then gave them to my female cat, I have put frontline plus on them put powder all over the house sprayed all areas and put flea collars on both cats also bathed the 3 time with flea shampoo and I’m still getting the odd one or two fleas off them, and I’m going to flea them with frontline plus in a month as per vet also wormed them a week afterfleaing them is there anything else I can do help

    Reply
    • Mark Klaiman

      It is important to check around your house and make sure that you don’t potentially re-expose your cats by bringing fleas back into your house. Sadly, a flea may travel on you and then jump to your cat which is a better host. Sadly, it is an ongoing effort.

      Reply
  5. Colleen

    I have 2 cats and I rescued a kitten and noticed she had “bugs” on her! I’ve never seen a flea, EVER! So, I washed her with Dawn dish soap in my kitchen sink! I saw these “bugs” crawling on her skin on her belly, they looked like worms! So after washing her I went to the pet store to buy a flea comb! That’s when I saw these dark brown bugs!! Walking on the comb, and then jumping away and I didn’t know where it went!! I kept this kitten away from my cats by keeping her in a gazebo. I washed her thoroughly and combed her daily! After all this, I didn’t see anymore so I would take her out of the gazebo because she kept crying for her mother. I allowed her to walk on my bed but my cats stayed away from her! They’d hiss at her and run, but Charley, male cat, was more curious than my other cat, Henry! I didn’t see any bugs on her this is why I allowed her on my bed! Two days later I brought her to a shelter because I couldn’t keep caring for her due to my disability, but I also didn’t want her to die in the street! Next day I noticed Charley scratching violently and HE QUARANTINED himself behind my bedroom dresser! Every day I tried to comb him, bath him in Dawn he scratched me badly but I was determined to help him! I purchased flea collars for both, bathed them with apple cider vinegar daily! Combed them daily, I would use a white paper towel to see the fleas, they would run away from me every time they saw that white towel!! I caught 2 fleas jump on me and it freaked me out!! I HATE ANY BUG more if they’re in ME!! My question after all this being said, will we ever be FLEA FREE??? I also bought fleas spray to spray the house! Is there anything else I need to be doing?? I really want to jump off my terrace with all of this driving me insane!!!

    Reply
    • Mark Klaiman

      So sorry for what you are going through. When you flea comb your cats, place any fleas you find into a bowl of soapy water – they will not be able to jump out of it.

      Reply
  6. louise

    i have an infestation right now and im finding it real hard to get rid of them , ive tried everything except for calling an exterminator!!..anyway, do fleas see us coming or is it movement?…im getting bitten to death all time, so i was thinking why isit wen i have my feet high up on a stool eg that they still knopw im there???

    Reply
    • Mark Klaiman

      Fleas can be dormant for an extended period of time and become active when a host is available. Their ability to jump means that even placing your feet on a foot stool is probably not sufficient to prevent bites.

      Reply
  7. Deloras K Miller

    My cat will not let me bath her and when i put stuff on my rug, she hops from chair to chair. She will not step on the floor. I put salt on the floor. Will that help? She is 10 and there is no way to put stuff on her neck. She bites and has a fit, I can’t hold her. The Vet even has to tranqulize her she is so bad. I do use a comb but the little buggers get away a lot. Will the salt help or am i wasting my time?

    Reply
    • Mark Klaiman

      If you have a small mug with soapy water (just some dish soap) and when you flea comb your cat place the fleas in the soapy water they are generally not able to jump out. You can then pour everything down the drain.

      Reply
  8. Madison

    My whole life I lived in a country house and never once had fleas. We moved to a more urban area and have an indoor cat. A few weeks ago, the cat got fleas. All my parents are doing is bombing the house, but they’ve even put that off for a week!! They haven’t bought flea combs or anything for my cat. Is this effort of bombing the house even worth it, at this point? Any advice?

    Reply
    • Mark Klaiman

      Madison, Honestly, “source control” is key. They need to flea comb the cats. If there are fleas on the cats they are just going to keep reproducing and treating the house won’t matter.

      Reply

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