Fleas and You
Fleas are not a sign of an unclean house and any animal is at risk for fleas, even strictly indoor cats. They can be exposed to them inadvertently by humans bringing flea eggs into the home, or by animals in your yard. Rarely, fleas can be living in your home for many months without your knowledge, as they are usually not a pest for humans, but for pets only.
Fleas can cause mild to severe medical problems for your cat such as: Flea bite dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), pruritus (intense itching), anemia (blood loss), and tapeworms.
Because knowledge of the enemy is the best tool we have, we will start with the flea’s basic biology.
Biology of the Cat Flea
There are more than 2,200 flea species, fewer than 12 are household pests and only a few are of medical or veterinary importance. The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), is the flea species most frequently encountered on cats in North America, Europe and Africa. The adult flea is dark brown, flat-looking, and wingless. It has very strong hind legs for jumping and mouth parts for feeding on blood. The cat flea has 4 life stages, much like a butterfly: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Depending on temperature and humidity:
- Eggs (50% of the flea population) hatch in 1.5 to 6 days
- Larvae (35% of the flea population) from day 6 through 36
- Pupae (10% of the flea population) from day 36 through 43
- The adult flea can remain in the pupal cocoon for 20 weeks! Almost 5 months!! Think of the cocoon stage as an armor stage. Virtually NOTHING can affect a flea in its cocoon, not even flea sprays.
- Adult (only 5% of the total flea population)
- The adult flea can live up to 120 days and lives strictly on the host (cat, dog, raccoon or opossum).
The adult flea will spend its whole life on one host, taking blood meals, and laying eggs. A single female flea may produce between 100 and 2000 eggs in her lifetime. This means she will lay about 16 eggs per day, but can lay as many as 50 eggs per day! The eggs are about the size of a grain of sand and are not easy to see. The eggs are also not sticky and roll off the host into the environment. So, the highest concentration of flea eggs and larvae is found in the environment where your cat spends most of its time, but can be found anywhere your pet has access. The egg, larva and pupa stage all take place in the environment. Only the adult flea lives on your cat. This means you must treat your home as well as your pet.
Diseases Caused by Fleas
- Flea Allergy Dermatitis- Intense itching and skin sores.
- Dipylidium Tapeworm- A tapeworm that is acquired by eating the flea (as in grooming), and is NOT eliminated by routine de-worming. A special de-wormer is needed to rid the cat of the parasite.
- Taenia tapeworm- A tapeworm that is acquired by eating rabbits, and is NOT eliminated by routine de-worming. A special de-wormer is needed to rid the cat of this parasite.
- Bartonellosis- A disease that does not usually cause problems in cats, but can infect humans (cat scratch disease).
- Mycoplasmosis- A blood infection that causes anemia.
- Plague- Very rare, but still seen in the United States.
Getting Rid of the Flea
Treating the Environment (Yes, you must clean first!)
- Vacuum everywhere. Even in areas your pet does not have access to. Vacuum carpets, under and on furniture, bottoms of drapes, beds etc. Vacuuming picks up adult fleas that have recently hatched, some eggs, larva and pupa. Once through vacuuming, immediately dispose of the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and remove it from your house so that the adults do not crawl out of the bag and re-infect your environment. If you clean your carpets, you must be sure that the carpet has dried for 2-3 days before applying any house treatments.
- Wash bedding and rugs in hot soapy water. Wash linoleum or hardwood floors.
- We recommend using an “insect growth regulator” (or IGR) flea spray. If you elect not to use these products, keep in mind the life cycle of the flea and you will have to repeat steps 1 and 2 multiple times to achieve control. You most likely will never achieve eradication without chemical assistance, nor will you eliminate the fleas without thorough cleaning.
- Remove pets, people, fish, and birds and cover exposed foods, dishes, utensils or brass items in the house. Put out all open flames. Use products that have Insect Growth Regulator or IGR on the label. Follow the directions on the products carefully. Spray a LIGHT mist over each area of your house, remembering to spray along baseboards, under and on top of all furniture and in between cushions.
- Because the pupa stage is virtually indestructible, you may see adult fleas even after all this hard work. Don’t get discouraged! Use long lasting IGR products and be aggressive with vacuuming. (Remember to remove the bag from the house immediately!) Repeat the vacuuming and the IGR spray once 120 to 210 days after the first spray (depending on the length of action for the spray). For heavy infestations, retreat the house with the IGR spray 3 weeks after the first spray, then a third time 120 to 210 days after the second treatment (depending on the length of action for the spray).
- To treat the outside, visit your local green house and look for products specifically designed for flea control. Always read and follow labeled directions.
Treating Your Cat
- You must treat all furry pets in your house.
- You must use any topical product every 3 weeks for AT LEAST 6 consecutive months.
- Follow product instructions carefully.
- There is NO product that instantly kills or repels fleas. Fleas may live up to 6-12 hours on a pet before being affected by any flea control product. Therefore, due to the difficulty of treating certain stages of the flea life cycle, you may see fleas on your cat 8 weeks after initial treatment. Persistence is key.
Treatment / Prevention
There are 3 main topical products that we use to prevent and treat flea infestations: Bravecto®, Revolution®, Frontline®, and Advantage®. Do not be fooled by look-a-likes at pet and department stores! Many of the over the counter products do not work as well as those that you get from us, and some may even contain products that are harmful to your cat and can cause severe skin irritation, vomiting, seizures and even death. Fipronil, the active ingredient in Frontline, is available over-the-counter as other products such as Fiproguard and PetArmor.
Applied once every 12 weeks for prevention. Bravecto® is applied to the skin on the back of the neck, where it is absorbed through the skin into the blood stream. Fleas must bite to be affected. It kills most fleas within 8 hours. Bravecto® also kills black-legged ticks (deer ticks), and is effective against the American dog tick for 8 weeks.
Applied once monthly for prevention or once every 3 weeks for treatment. Revolution® is applied to the skin on the back of the neck, where it is absorbed through the skin into the blood stream. Fleas must bite to be affected. Revolution® also covers your pet for some mites, heartworms, and intestinal parasites (excluding tapeworms). It dries within 2 hours and bathing after that time will not decrease its effectiveness.
Applied once monthly for prevention or once every 3 weeks for treatment. Frontline Gold® is applied to the skin on the back of the neck, and is absorbed into the oil glands and hair follicles throughout the entire body where the fleas are exposed to it when they crawl through the hairs. Frontline Gold® also covers your pet against ticks. It absorbs into the skin within 24-48 hours and bathing after 48 hours will not significantly decrease effectiveness.
Applied once monthly to the skin on the back of the neck, Advantage® is absorbed into the oil glands and hair follicles throughout the entire body where the fleas are exposed to it when they crawl through the hairs. Advantage® only kills fleas. It absorbs into the skin and begins killing fleas within 12 hours. Bathing does significantly reduce its effectiveness.
Applied once monthly for prevention or once every 3 weeks for treatment. Advantage Multi® is applied to the skin on the back of the neck. Advantage Multi® also treats for some mites, heartworms, and intestinal parasites (excluding tapeworms). It is absorbed within 20 minutes, but takes longer to dry.
This collar lasts for 8 months and is used in place of the topical products listed above. Seresto® provides sustained release of the active ingredients in low concentrations over the cat’s fur and skin. It kills fleas within 24 hours of application and kills ticks within 48 hours. The collar is water resistant.
An injectable administered by your veterinarian for use in cats six weeks of age and older, for the control of flea populations. Program® is effective for 6 months after injection and works by preventing the development of flea eggs and does not kill adult fleas. Concurrent use of a monthly topical may be necessary for adequate control of adult fleas.
This tablet is designed to treat flea infestations by killing adult fleas on the cat. It can be given again in 24 hours in cases of severe infestation. Capstar® is not a preventative. Use of a monthly topical or the Seresto® collar is required for flea treatment and prevention. Capstar® begins working in 30 minutes and kills 90% of adult fleas within 6 hours. This product can be used in kittens greater than 2 lbs and 4 weeks of age or older.
Insect Growth Regulators (we recommend Knockout, EctoKyl, or Siphotrol spray)
Found in products designed for treatment of the environment. IGRs prevent the development of adult fleas, but do not kill adult fleas. Follow the instructions provided with the product for proper treatment. IGRs should be used along with the topical products or collar listed above.