All cats in the UK are at risk from fleas – even if they live inside or do not come into contact with other cats or animals.
Cats from multi-animal households are more at risk from fleas, i.e. where there is more than one cat and also where there are dogs, rabbits or ferrets, as they can all share the same fleas. Also at higher risk are cats that go outside and may have contact with other pets or wildlife, especially if they hunt.
Fleas breed fastest when humidity and temperature are high and in warm weather they will breed outside. They also love heated homes in the winter; it doesn’t matter whether or not you have carpets – you can still get fleas in your house.
Only a small percentage of fleas will be on your cat. Eggs, larvae and pupae will be in the environment including your floors, carpets, sofas and bedding. You may see fleas on your cat or flea droppings in their coat.
Image borrowed with kind permission from ESCCAP UK https://www.esccapuk.org.uk/
Effects of Flea Infestations
Normal cats can tolerate a surprisingly high number of fleas without showing any signs. By the time you notice the fleas there may be an infestation in your home. Some cats are much more sensitive to flea bites and can develop Flea Allergic Dermatitis or Flea Hypersensitivity. In these cats even an occasional bite can cause severe itching and irritation. Fleas will also bite people, and like cats, some people are much more sensitive to these bites than others.
Fleas can also carry some diseases which spread between cats and very occasionally to people.
Prevention and Treatment
To prevent an infestation, preventative treatment is recommended. Most of these treatments will need to be used monthly. Always check on the label, packaging, and enclosed leaflet.
Combing is a good way of checking to see if your cat has fleas but is not effective at treating an infestation.
A variety of products are available from pet shops, pharmacies and your vet; some need a prescription. It is important to check that the product you use is suitable for the weight and age of your cat. Some products are not suitable for young kittens or pregnant cats. Never use dog products on cats.
The variety of products available can sometimes be bewildering, so if in doubt ask a vet or vet nurse for advice, especially if you are having problems getting an infestation under control.
The most used products are “spot-ons” – a small tube or pipette of liquid which is applied to the skin on the back of the cat’s neck. Usually these are applied every 4 weeks or every month to provide continuous protection. Again, always check on the label or packaging or with your vet practice. It is important to apply spot-ons correctly in order for them to work properly and safely.
Most products dry within a few hours. Be guided by the product leaflet to tell you when it is safe to stroke your cat, let it outside in the rain or sleep on a human’s bed. Dispose of the empty tube carefully.
Some cats do not like spot-on products – they may be upset by the smell or the sensation of the liquid drying. Cats with pre-existing skin problems may not be candidates for spot-on products. For these cats speak to your vet about other products available. There are other options including palatable tablets and collars.
It is always essential to treat the environment when you are trying to control an infestation. Vet-recommended products are usually safer to use and more effective than “foggers” and “bombs”.
There is a useful video showing how to apply a spot-on:
More detailed information on fleas and other parasites: