The crisis of the common cat flea

When pet owners ask you or your staff questions concerning fleas, are they mainly worried that their dog may have an infestation—or is it their cat?

Many pet owners may not be aware of flea facts and how fleas can impact the health of their cats. Fleas can especially pose an immediate danger to kittens, as an onslaught of fleas can cause anemia. This problem is not seen frequently in adult cats, but it can be seen in kittens.

Flea bites cause horrible itching, and a hypersensitive cat's constant scratching may open wounds in the skin that are vulnerable to serious infection.

Fleas can also carry infectious agents themselves, such as tapeworm eggs and a variety of pernicious bacteria that can be passed among cats in close physical contact. The risk that cat fleas pose to humans is also consequential, since these tiny insects can harbor such zoonotic agents as those that cause such human diseases as cat-scratch disease (Bartonella henselae), murine typhus, and plague.

Among the more than 2,200 types of fleas1 identified by entomologists over the years, none is more of an issue to cats and their owners than Ctenocephalides felis felis, commonly referred to as “cat fleas.” There are cat fleas, dog fleas, human fleas, and rat fleas, and many look alike, with the same lifecycles. But it is C. felis felis can be the most problematic.

Cat fleas range in size from the head of a pin to about one-eighth of an inch in length.1 They have a slender, flattened body; short antennae; a strong, saw-toothed jaw; a slender, tubular, sucking snout, and powerful legs.

A flea’s life cycle typically lasts about a month, but it can go on for longer than that, depending on temperature and humidity. During the cycle, the insect moves through a complete metamorphosis—from egg to larva to pupa to adult.

All cats—regardless of age, breed, or gender—are subject to flea infestation and its consequences. They tend to be bitten mostly on the back of the neck and the top of the tail head.1 Cats with flea allergy dermatitis are apt to show especially distressful signs—reddish, crusty bumps, for example—even in areas that have not been obsessively scratched.1

Cat owners who treat their animals with an effective anti-flea product, but neglect to prevent recurring infestation in the environment may not resolve the flea problem. Skunks, raccoons, and other wildlife will infest a backyard with fleas, and if their cat brings one or two of them inside, suddenly they’ll have thousands of fleas. That is why it is so important for all pets in the house to be treated with an anti-flea product¾the environmental factors cause a recurrence and continue the cycle of infestation.

1.; Accessed August 10, 2017.

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