The flea population increases during the warm summer months; however, fleas have now become a year-round problem, particularly when the central heating is turned on. Fleas love a warm and humid home as this creates a perfect environment for household fleas to survive.

The most likely way your cat will encounter fleas is exposure from another animal. Remember, fleas can easily jump onto your pet from a close range. Your pet could even meet fleas from their own environment.

Ctenocephalides felis, more commonly known as the cat flea, is the most likely culprit. All fleas have mouthparts that are adapted for them to pierce the skin and suck the blood.

Fleas are the most common skin parasite seen on a cat, with an adult flea (most likely) living permanently on your cat. A whopping 95% of the flea’s lifecycle is based in your home with a mere 5% of the lifecycle on your cat as an adult.

If the environmental conditions are correct and with each flea producing eggs at a rate of 50 per day, flea eggs can develop into new fleas on average every 14 days.

The flea’s lifecycle is quite simple

The eggs fall off the cat into the environment and hatch into larvae, where they go through two moults to develop further. They then change into pupae in a cocoon. 

An adult flea develops in the cocoon, or pupa, and waits for the presence of a cat, detected by senses including heat, carbon dioxide and vibrations, before they emerge from their cocoon and attach themselves to the cat. 

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The flea begins to feed within seconds of attaching themselves to the cat. In the right conditions the whole cycle can be completed in days.

Common signs of fleas

The presence of fleas is not always obvious. The more common signs include excessive licking and grooming. You may even notice short broken hairs or hair loss due to the licking. 

If you do have an infestation, then you may also get bitten around the ankles. Fleas move at an incredible speed and may prove difficult to spot. A regular check of the skin, by gently parting the fur and concentrating on the flea hot spot areas. This includes your cat’s head, down their back and around their tail.

The simplest method to check for fleas is to use a piece of wet tissue and comb hair onto the tissue. You may notice small black specks of “flea dirt”. This is flea faeces consisting of undigested blood, so on damp tissue the flea dirt will dissolve and produce bloody streaks. 

Can’t we just treat them if it happens?

Unfortunately, one application of a flea treatment will not resolve the problem of a flea infestation. Remember, even when the infestation has cleared, regular flea treatment is still essential. For effective control of fleas, adult fleas must be killed and re-infestation from their environment must be prevented.

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There is a wide range of products on the market, so naturally it can be confusing to decide which product is right for your cat.

The most common form is a spot-on treatment which is applied on the skin between the cat’s shoulder blades. Each product has a different time activity to it, so it is essential to check how often to apply the application to fulfil its maximum effectiveness.

Can I use a dog flea product on my cat?

Remember that products which are intended for dogs only, are usually extremely toxic and should never be used on cats.

Cats metabolise ingredients in medication differently to dogs. You should NEVER put a dog flea treatment or a household flea spray on your cat. They often contain an ingredient called Permethrin, which is an insecticide effective to kill fleas on dogs only. It is extremely poisonous to cats (and dangerous for birds and fish too). Permethrin is a common ingredient in household flea sprays as well as being found in different flea products for dogs – including spot on treatments, shampoos, sprays, and flea collars. It is also found in some rabbit parasite treatments.

Permethrin poisoning in cats is at its most prominent when a dog flea treatment has been put on the cat by accident or if the cat encounters another treated animal, such as a dog or rabbit. This drug is quick acting, so signs that the cat has been poisoned by Permethrin can occur within hours. Common signs seen with Permethrin poisoning include vomiting, confusion or unusual behaviour, twitching, struggling to breathe and seizures. 

You should contact your vet straight away should you think your cat may have encountered Permethrin, as poisoning can be fatal. You know your cat best, so even if they do not have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it is always best to contact your vet. 

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Who can I talk to about flea control in my cat?

Your cat is a much-loved family member, and it means it is even more important to use products which are intended for the right species of animal. RAMAs (Registered Animal Medicines Advisors) * and your local Veterinary Surgeon are more than willing to talk to you to offer professional advice. They offer free and impartial advice on flea treatment, so you can get the best for your cat and from the product. If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, you must seek veterinary advice.

Talking to a Vet or RAMA about fleas is simple and their reassurance and knowledge will put you at ease. They will ask you a few questions, like if you have more than one cat, their body weight and if your cat has recently been wormed.

*RAMAs (also known as SQPs) work in a variety of work environments. You can find them in veterinary practices, in agricultural or equine businesses and in pet shops. 

How to use the product appropriately

When you purchase a product from a Vet or a RAMA then they will demonstrate and discuss how to use the product. 

Most flea products for cats are spot-on preparations. We will always ensure you have the correct product will always recommend that you seek advice from a Suitably Qualified Person or your vet before buying the treatment and beginning the process. 

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Remember, spot-on treatments should go between the back of the neck and the shoulder blades; this is recommended so the cat is unable to remove or lick off the flea treatment. Always ensure no other animal in the household can remove the flea treatment!

Quick tips for safely treating your cat

Here is a quick guide on how to apply a flea treatment. Always ask your RAMA or vet for advice on individual products. This process may take two people.

  1. Take the product and read the instructions. Carefully open the product. 
  2. Take your cat and place him/her on a flat surface. Ideally the surface should have a blanket or a towel down on it so the cat does not slide around too much, alternatively, you can wrap your cat in a towel if you feel they will move around and wiggle too much. If you are using a towel to wrap them, then wrap all the legs and body, leaving the head and neck exposed; however, most cats will quite happily sit there for a spot on to be applied.
  3. Part the fur on the back of the neck, so you can see the skin. The area of neck used should be behind the head, a position where your cat cannot turn and lick the flea treatment afterwards.
  4. Apply all the contents of the pipette onto the skin; this can be done in a couple of places around the neck area. Ensure that you use all the recommended amount of treatment and never over treat your cat.
  5. Unwrap your cat from the towel (if needed!) and you are done! The treatment will then get to work and will gently remove all signs of fleas on your cat. 
  6. Finally, every product is different to how it is applied and how often you need to apply the preparation. Your Vet and RAMA can advise you on the frequency of the treatment.

However, should you have any concerns about your cat’s health, you must seek veterinary advice.

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