How to Get Rid of Cat Fleas

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Cat fleas are the most common of all external cat parasites. They feed on the blood of your cat and should be taken seriously due to the diseases they can transmit to both the cat and the human.

To put an end to a flea problem once and for all, you will have to eliminate fleas on both the cat itself and within an indoor and outdoor environment.

How to get rid of cat fleas?

An overarching process to effectively get rid of the fleas is as follows:

1) Identification (identify the fleas)

2) Treatment of the cat (kill the adult fleas first to help your cat and stop the fleas’ breeding process as soon as possible)

3) Treatment of the inside and outside environment (kill the eggs, larvae, pupae, and the remaining adult fleas both inside of the house as well as in your yard)

4) Prevention (once you fought the active infestation, apply the preventative products both on your cat as well as the environment to prevent it from happening again)

Check our reviews of the Best Flea Treatments for Cats

What do cat fleas look like?

cat flea information

Adult fleas are very small, approximately between 1/12 – 1/16” long. They have a reddish-brown color. Their bodies are vertically flat which helps easily maneuver through the hair of their host. They are wingless and have six legs. The hind ones help them jump large distances.

However, Adult fleas are just the tip of the iceberg. The adult fleas are only about 3% to 5% of the overall infestation. They are usually also the only ones from the flea population that you can see.

The first thing you should understand to win with fleas is the life cycle of the flea.

Understanding the life cycle of a flea

With a very quick reproductive cycle, fleas pose a challenge to eliminate from the pet and the environment. To thoroughly understand how to treat and prevent infestations from occurring, it’s important to first understand the life cycle of the flea.

flea life cycle

The life cycle begins with an adult flea, acquiring blood from a cat and lying her eggs usually on the skin or fur of the cat. Adult fleas must feed on blood before they become capable of reproduction. The flea can consume as much as 15 times its weight in blood each day. Female fleas are capable of lying 40 to 50 eggs per day per flea.

These eggs will then fall off the cat onto the carpet, sofa, yard, or other locations the pet visits frequently. They will live in your soft furnishings, carpets, cracks in the floor. The eggs will hatch into larvae in 2 to 14 days depending on the conditions.

Flea larvae emerge from the eggs to feed on any available organic material, including feces of other fleas (flea dirt). Flea larvae tend to avoid light and keep to dark places such as cracks, crevices, and bedding. If an adequate supply of food is available, larvae will complete their development in 5 to 10 days and transform into the pupae stage.

Pupae can survive even for 2 years in the environment. The final stage of adult flea occurs within a cocoon and the newly formed adult flea emerges when properly stimulated by heat, carbon dioxide, and other environmental stimuli which might indicate available food sources in the area.

Developing an effective flea control program involves more than just killing the adult fleas. It also involves interrupting the reproductive cycle at various levels to alleviate future generations of fleas.

flea eggs
Flea eggs live in the soft furnishings, carpets, cracks in the floor. They are extremely tiny and usually not noticeable by people. Photo credit: Denni Schnapp on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

How to tell if a cat has fleas?

The symptoms of fleas on cats are as follows:

1) Excessive scratching and grooming (not only crawling on the skin irritates your cat, but the saliva of the flea is often irritating and causes the skin to be itchy, a cat can even develop an allergic reaction to it)

2) Excessive biting or gnawing at themselves (when scratching doesn’t bring relief, your cat may start gnawing on her fur and legs)

3) Red bumps or scabs (especially in the area of neck and back)

4) Losing fur (especially in the area of neck and back)

5) Lack of energy and lethargy (when too many fleas suck on your cat’s blood, they may deprive your cat of blood and cause anemia)

6) Brown parasites jumping or crawling in fur

However, you don’t need nor should you wait for a cat to start displaying the above symptoms to establish if your cat has fleas or not. The easiest way to find out if your cat has fleas, before she starts to display serious symptoms, is to take a special flea comb, with very fine teeth, and comb through your cat’s fur. Put special attention to comb the area of the base of a tail, as this is a place where most of the flea dirt tends to accumulate.

If your cat has fleas, the comb will resurface pepper-like dark specs, which is flea dirt. These are flea feces, made of your cat’s blood. To be 100% sure if the dark pieces come from fleas, you can put the dark specs on the white paper towel and sprinkle a bit of water on it. If the black specs start to bleed read, which is your cat’s digested blood, it means they come from the fleas.

flea dirt
Flea dirt looks like pepper-like black specs. These are flea feces, made of indigested blood of the cat.

How to get rid of fleas on a cat?

Now, as you identified that your cat is infested with fleas you should start treating your cat.

The best way to approach the problem is to make a visit to the vet, who will prescribe the most appropriate type of treatment for your cat.

However, there is also a variety of methods you can try on your own (provided you are careful and administer treatment exactly according to instructions). To make sure the treatment is effective, apply the treatment to any other animals in your household too.

WARNING! Never give a dog flea treatment to a cat!

flea treatments for dogs are toxic to catsYou may be tempted to give your cat a flea treatment that you use for your dog. But you must never do that.

Substances that are used in the flea treatments for dogs are TOXIC to cats. A dog flea treatment administered to a cat will kill her giving severe neurological damage.

Factors to consider before choosing a flea treatment product for your cat are:

1) The age and weight of the pet (applying an adult cat product on a kitten will make the kitten ill, on the other hand, applying a kitten product on an adult cat will make the product ineffective)

2) Ease of application (while one cat may find the bath pleasurable, the other may scratch your eyes out if you try to put water on her)

3) Does the product offer both treatment and prevention (does the product kills only the adult fleas or it also breaks the whole flea life cycle to prevent further infestations)

4) How quickly the product starts to work (sometimes a flea infestation is so intense you need to seek immediate relief for your cat asap, if the infestation is only minimal, you could wait a bit longer until it starts working)

5) How long the product lasts

6) Does the product kills the fleas on contact with the skin, or after biting a cat

7) Cost per use/application

8) Is the product waterproof or not

Check our reviews of the Best Flea Treatments for Cats

cat scratching fleas off

The most common types of flea treatments you can apply to your cat are:

1) Flea Drops

How do flea drops work?

Flea drops are a liquid flea treatment, also known as topical, or spot-on. When applied to the cat’s skin, the liquid spreads the active ingredients over the body of your cat killing the fleas on contact with the skin, without the need for the flea to bite your cat first.


  • Kills fleas on contact, with no need for the flea to bite your cat
  • Moderately easy to apply on a cat
  • Quick and effective treatment
  • Offers both treatment and protection


  • Poses a risk of accidental ingestion
  • You strictly need to follow instructions on the label

2) Flea Shampoos

How do flea shampoos work?

Flea shampoos are applied like any other bath products. The oily properties of the shampoo pull the fleas under the water droplets which simply drowns them. The shampoo kills the flea on contact, without the flea having to bite the cat. While bathing your cat you need to be careful not to wet the cat’s head and its ears. After bathing, diligently dry your cat’s fur and make sure she stays warm, especially if it’s a small kitten.


  • Kills fleas on contact, with no need for the flea to bite your cat
  • You can find some effective shampoos made only with natural ingredients
  • Inexpensive


  • It’s not easy to bathe a cat
  • Water may get into your cat’s ears
  • Poses a risk of accidental ingestion
  • Offers only treatment

3) Flea Sprays

How do flea sprays work?

You apply a flea spray by simply spritzing it on your cat (making sure it doesn’t get into your cat’s eyes or mouth). The active ingredients in the spray liquid spread over the fur of the cat and kill the fleas on contact, without waiting for the flea to bite the cat.


  • Kills fleas on contact, with no need for the flea to bite your cat
  • Easy to apply on a cat
  • Inexpensive


  • Poses a risk of accidental ingestion

4) Flea Collars

How do flea collars work?

A flea collar releases active ingredients across your cat’s skin and fur that kill the fleas on contact with the skin, without the need for the flea to bite your cat. Flea collars may not be as effective in fighting an active infestation as other treatments, but they act as a good preventative measure against re-infestations.


  • Kills fleas on contact, with no need for the flea to bite your cat
  • Easy to put on a cat


  • Not as effective as other products as a treatment of an active infestation, but good as a preventative measure

5) Flea Pills

How do flea pills work?

Flea pills are available as tablets or chewables. Once a cat digests the pill, the active ingredients contained in the pill start circulating throughout the cat’s bloodstream. The flea gets killed once it sucks the cat’s blood with active ingredients in it.


  • Moderately easy to give to a cat


  • Requires fleas to bite your cat first
  • Usually, doesn’t provide a long term protection

Check our reviews of the Best Flea Treatments for Cats

Getting rid of fleas on your cat is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s like eliminating the problem at its fruit and still leaving the roots of the problem to come to hunt you later.

Once you have applied the treatment to your cat, you now have to treat your environment, both inside (your home) as well outside (your yard).

cat with fleas scratching

How to get rid of cat fleas in the house?

It’s not enough to get rid of fleas on your cat only. Once there are adult fleas on the cat, you can be sure there are already eggs lying around in your house. Even if you eliminate fleas from your cat, it’s only a matter of time until the new fleas emerge from the eggs that have already been laid.

Therefore, you also need to take preventative measures to eliminate all the eggs, larvae, and pupae that may be lurking in your house and waiting for appropriate conditions to transform them into adult fleas and attack your cat again.

The measures you should take to get rid of fleas in your house are:

1) Cleaning and vacuuming inside the house (clean and vacuum everything inside the house: pick up all the loose items and clean them, wash pet bed covers, wash your bedding, vacuum the floors and the furniture, make sure you dispose of the bg vacuum cleaner outside the house)

2) Treatment inside the house (once the inside of the house is clean you can apply the treatment: spray the carpets, floors, and upholstery)

3) Treatment in the yard (trim your lawn and apply spray treatment on the lawn and any places your cat likes to spend time on, like flower beds)

4) Prevention (once you cleaned all your inside and the outside environment, make sure to regularly clean and vacuum the inside of your house, as well as treat it from time to time with a spray as well as your yard)

How do cats get fleas?

The fleas come inside the house from the outside. So if you detected the fleas in your house it means that they were transported to the house either on your cat, any other pet that went outside, or even on you or any items that had direct contact with different surfaces (a very common transmitter of the fleas and other bugs is for example luggage).

It’s okay to let your cat outside the house if you take preventative measures

cat with fleas groomingThere is nothing wrong with letting your cat outside the house. Similar to humans, nature and fresh air help a cat maintain her physical and mental health. However, if you walk your cat outside on an escape proof cat harness or let her live in an outdoor cat shelter, you should pay special attention to the fleas in her environment and try to prevent her from getting infested. It’s always better and easier to prevent than treat.

What are diseases caused by fleas?

Fleas not only irritate the skin that makes your cat to scratch. They also can cause serious health problems and transmit diseases not only to the cat but also to the human.

Some common diseases and health problems caused by fleas are:

1) Bartonellosis in cats

Bartonellosis is an infectious bacterial disease, caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae. The bacteria is carried in the saliva and feces of the infected fleas. The bacteria is being transferred to a cat when a cat accidentally digests the infected flea when she grooms herself. A cat that acquires bartonellosis can become a carrier and since the disease is zoonotic it can be subsequently transmitted from a cat to a human through scratches and bites.

Humans can’t acquire the infection from fleas. Most cases of human bartonellosis are mild, however, the risk is high for the people who are immunocompromised.

The most likely to get ill from Bartonella are kittens, older cats, and cats that are immunocompromised. A widespread inflammation is the most likely symptom of bartonellosis. The inflammation will affect several cat’s systems: the respiratory, digestive, neurologic, and cardiovascular systems, as well as mouth, skin, and lymph nodes.

Other illnesses linked to Bartonella infection in cats are deep eye infection and inflammation, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle pain, a problem with the reproductive system, and inflammation of the heart.

2) Anemia in cats

If a large number of fleas sucks the blood out of a cat it can deplete the blood supply of the cat and cause anemia. It’s especially dangerous for very young kittens, as they have small bodies and a big loss of blood may be deadly for them. Symptoms of anemia include lack of energy, lethargy, weakness, and rapid breathing.

3) Tapeworms in cats

Fleas commonly spread an internal parasite called the tapeworm. Some fleas carry in their bodies tapeworm eggs. When a cat grooms and bites on her fur to get rid of the fleas, she can accidentally swallow the fleas. Once the tapeworm egg lands in the cat’s digestive system, it will develop into a long segmented worm. It attaches to the cat’s intestines with sucker-like mouthparts and steals nutrients from the cat. When segments of the worm are passed out of the rectum they may be recognized around the anus or on the stool. They resemble white grains of rice or sesame seeds.


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