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.

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