Cat Fleas

Quick Facts

  • Contrary to their name, the insects affect not just cats, but also dogs and a plethora of wildlife.
  • The pests are blood feeders and carry a multitude of diseases that can negatively impact humans and domesticated animals alike.
  • Small and difficult to see, the cat flea reproduces rapidly, easily infests homes or businesses, and proves difficult to eradicate without professional assistance.

Appearance / Identification

cat flea adult

Image credit: https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/

What Do They Look Like?

Size: Adult cat fleas typically measure around 1/8 inches in length.

Color: The cat flea ranges in color from dark brown to black and turns reddish-black when engorged with blood.

Characteristics: A sloping forehead and the presence of combs, or ctenidia, on the body help distinguish the cat flea from other flea species. The parasitic insects lack wings and typically leap onto host animals. Cat flea larvae look like maggots with short bristles of hair along the body.

cat flea

Diet

What Do They Eat?

Adult cat fleas feed on the blood of host animals, which range from felines and canines to rabbits, horses, foxes, skunks, and even poultry.

Larvae feed on the excrement of the adults and other debris found in the immediate environment.

Biology

Life Cycle

How Do They Reproduce?
Female cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis, have the same basic life cycle as all fleas. An egg stage, a 3 level instar larval stage, pupae stage, and finally adulthood is the life cycle every species of flea undergo. However, unlike most flea species, cat fleas lay their eggs directly on a living host which is typically a dog or cat. Cat fleas can not reproduce on humans.

Eggs
Female cat fleas are capable of laying 20-30 eggs on a suitable host in one day. Each egg is 19/32 of an inch in length which is visible to the human eye. The eggs are transparent when first laid by the female. They gradually darken to a solid white color. When first deposited on the host, the egg is slightly damp which prevents them from dropping off. Within two hours, the eggs have dried and 60% of them have fallen off into the environment. Host activity, grooming, and coat length also play a factor in when the egg is dislodged.

Scientists have discovered that cat fleas deposit fewer eggs at dawn and dusk. Typically, the eggs drop into the environment where pets sleep. Although the eggs will generally hatch within two days, temperature and humidity do influence the larvae emergence time.

Adult
Age of the adult female also influences egg production. Younger females produce fewer viable eggs then older females. Scientists have discovered that adult female cat fleas reach peak egg production anywhere from 3-9 days after emergence from the pupae. Females must also take a blood meal from their hosts in order to have successful mating.

Why Do You Need to Understand the Life Cycle?
When dealing with a flea infestation, it is important for the homeowner to treat all stages of the flea life cycle. Flea products containing an insect growth inhibitor are necessary in order to eliminate the egg stage of the cat flea. Eggs generally fall into carpeting, grass, and bedding making them very difficult to see. Vacuuming and washing any pet bedding is an important step in eliminating a flea problem.

Problems Caused by Cat Fleas

What Dangers Do They Pose?

Cat fleas are known carriers of various disease-causing viruses with the potential to create serious health issues for domesticated animals and humans alike. Fleas and flea excrement can induce allergic reactions in both humans and pets, with itchy areas of redness being the most common symptom. The cat flea is a known vector of murine typhus and flea-borne spotted fever, both of which require immediate medical attention. The insects also serve as the intermediate host to the most common species of tapeworms that affect both humans and pets. If swallowed, the tapeworm escapes the flea and latches on to the digestive tract of the new host, causing multiple internal issues.

Detection

How Do You Find Them?

  • Black specks of fecal matter called flea dirt may appear when combing an infested pet.
  • Pets may have missing fur or irritated skin from excessively scratching and licking affected areas.
  • Adult fleas may be visible to the naked eye during grooming.
  • Often found around the fecal matter of other animals or in small cracks in the walls and floors.

Signs of Infestation

How Do I Know If I Have Them?

Perhaps the most common signs of a cat flea infestation are the behavioral changes, such as increased scratching, grooming, and biting at areas of the skin or fur, that affected pets exhibit. When combing domesticated animals, the appearance of flea dirt may also signal an active infestation of cat fleas. Though small in size, fleas remain quite visible when pulling back the fur of cats and dogs, and may also be seen jumping onto the host animal.

Prevention Tips

Careful and continual sanitation typically leads to better flea control. Regularly vacuuming carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture, and crevices around baseboards and cabinets will assist in the removal of flea eggs, larvae, and adults. Wash bed linens, both pet and human, with regularity in order to prevent the parasites from infesting and becoming settled. As wild animals typically bring fleas into urban areas, keep all trash receptacles sealed, remove potential wildlife nesting sites from the property, and keep vegetated areas clear to avoid attracting feral, flea-infested hosts.

Tips for Removal from Home

How Can I Get Rid f Them?

Once a flea infestation breaks out, completely eliminating the pests from the home is a difficult task. The continual treatment of areas around the home typically proves necessary, as fleas may continue to breed and find new hosts. For extreme infestations, chemical treatments may be required to completely eradicate the pests. When cat flea infestations become severe enough to warrant chemical control, contacting a trained pest control specialist often proves advantageous.