There’s no other way to put it - fleas are blood-sucking ectoparasites (live on the skin surface of their ‘host’).
What is a flea?
Fleas are blood-sucking ectoparasites. There are 2,200 flea species known in the world today. Only a few of these commonly infest dogs and cats. Fleas are not the same as ticks.
The most common flea that affects both dogs and cats is the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis. It’s dark brown or black body is about one to three millimetres long. They can also feed on people, but we’re not their first choice of meal.
Why do cats get fleas?
Adult fleas have specially adapted mouth parts for piercing the skin and sucking blood. More than just annoying and irritating to your cat, they can also cause significant skin disease. Flea blood feeding is also associated with the transmission of several infectious diseases to both pets and people in New Zealand.
Fleas love warm, humid environments. And they are determined, nimble creatures capable of Olympian feats. When they're hungry and looking for a home, they can jump 10,000 times in a row up to 60 centimetres high. Plus their flat bodies allow them to move quickly through a cat's fur.
You'll usually find fleas on a cat's abdomen, the base of the tail and the head. However, a heavy infestation can thrive anywhere on the body.
What are common signs that my cat has fleas?
- You may be able to see fleas on your cat, especially if there is a large burden
- Fleas are small, and just because you don't find one on your cat, it doesn't mean that they're not there or that your cat is not being bitten by them!
- Fleas suck your cat's blood and can cause terrible skin irritation that will make your cat scratch, lick and bite themself. This may result in rashes, scaly skin, hot spots and hair loss
- Droppings, digested blood known as flea dirt, in your cat's coat
THE 4 LIFE CYCLE STAGES OF A FLEA
FLEA EGGS (50% OF LIFECYCLE)
FLEA LARVAE (35% OF LIFECYCLE)
FLEA PUPAE (10% OF LIFECYCLE)
ADULT FLEAS (5% OF LIFECYCLE)
What do fleas do to cats?
Adult fleas have specially adapted mouth parts for piercing the skin and sucking blood. More than just annoying and irritating to your cat, it can also cause significant skin disease. Flea blood feeding is also associated with the transmission of several infectious diseases to both pets and people.
What is flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)?
It's an itchy skin disease animals develop from an allergic reaction to the saliva of fleas feeding on their blood. An affected cat will be very itchy – often from scratching, biting, licking and chewing. Their skin is usually reddened and there may be lesions and hair loss.
Infectious diseases from fleas
It's not just your cat at risk here. Fleas can carry infectious diseases that are transmitted to humans such as:
- Bartonella henselae – causes cat scratch fever
How can I treat or prevent fleas?
Products such as Revolution® can be used to treat, control and prevent flea infestations, as well as control flea allergy dermatitis.
Flea preventatives should be used year round. Your vet will be able to help you choose the right one for your cat.