My Cat Has Fleas!

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

25 September 2016

They drink blood, hate sunlight, and you’ve probably never seen their reflection. No, we aren’t talking about vampires, but fleas, and while they’re not as scary as Dracula, they’re a whole lot more real. Fleas love nothing more than snuggling up inside your cat’s fur and munching away. They’re irritating for both your and your cat, but worse, they carry a number of diseases and parasites that they can pass onto your furbaby. This article will help you identify, prevent and treat these pesky insects.

How do I prevent fleas?

As with anything else, prevention is better than the cure. There are a few effective ways of keeping fleas from ever making your home theirs:

  • Keep your cat inside or in an outdoor cat enclosure will prevent it from coming into contact with flea-carrying animals, including other cats and possums
  • Keep your yard free of fleas by clipping your grass short, and sprinkling your garden with diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth kills fleas, even as they happily eat it. You can also introduce friendly flea-killing insects called nematodes into your garden. Fun fact: these insects were developed by our very own CSIRO, so you’re supporting Aussie innovation even as you treat your garden. Two birds, meet one stone.
  • Vacuum regularly to suck up any flea eggs that make their way inside. Don’t forget to empty your vacuum or it’ll become a hatchery of its own. And as a bonus, your house will be cleaner for it!
  • Wash your cat’s bedding regularly and watch any flea eggs swirl down the drain (you won’t literally be able to watch them, they’re tiny and practically invisible).

How do I spot fleas?

Fleas may be tiny, but they give themselves away in the way they affect your kitty’s behaviour and the traces they leave behind. Look out for a cat that is excessively scratching and biting their coat. Some cats are allergic and may develop allergy symptoms, including crusting and rashes. Check their fur - the biggest tell is actually seeing a flea, but you can also look for little brown or black spots. If you smear these spots, and they turn reddish, that’s flea poo you just touched. Wash your hands, and start working on a treatment plan.

How do I treat a flea infestation?

It’s important to understand that a battle against fleas is total war. According to the RSPCA, the adult insect makes up only around 5% of any flea population, and so it’s important to fight the flea at all stages of life - killing eggs, larvae and pupae wherever you can.

  • Vacuum your home frequently and thoroughly, and pay special attention to your cat’s bedding. Don’t forget to empty your vacuum!
  • Wash the bedding regularly. You can also sprinkle some food-grade diatomaceous earth into the bedding, being careful not to leave too many loose particles as they’re nasty when breathed in.
  • There enough medical treatments - sprays, oils, creams, rubs, dips - to make anyone’s head spin. Or are those just the noxious fumes? These can kill fleas at various stages of their life, but they can also be hazardous to you and your cat. Talk to your vet before using a medical treatment, and always follow the instructions!
  • Combing your cat daily with a fine-tooth flea comb can pick up adult fleas, which you can then drown in a bowl of warm, soapy water. This is also a great way to satisfy your more sadistic impulses. You could also dip the comb in some apple cider vinegar, or spray your cat with it - fleas hate the stuff, although some felines may not appreciate it either.
  • Rub some diatomaceous earth into your cat’s coat, being very careful not to breathe it in or let your cat do the same.
  • Fleas love light, and warmth, so leave out bowls of warm, soapy water under a night light, and admire your handiwork in the morning.
  • The jumpy flea is a great diver, but a poor swimmer - give your cat a warm, soapy bath.

The most important thing is to be persistent: you may win a battle, but that doesn’t mean you’ve won the war. We recommend talking to your vet about their recommended treatment: some products will protect your cat against a variety of pests and parasites, and are an excellent way of preventing future infestations.

Too big to be a flea!

These could be ticks! To deal with ticks:

  1. Look for the tick’s legs sticking out of the side. If there are no legs, it could just be a skin-mark.
  2. Pull ticks straight out using a pair of tweezers - do not twist, or you risk leaving the head in your cat. This can cause serious infection.
  3. Check your cat thoroughly for more ticks, using the above method. Make sure to remove the whole tick.
  4. Check your cat in the coming days, removing ticks as necessary.
  5. Talk to your vet about medical prevention plans.

If you want to know more about your cat’s general health, click here.


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