Fleas are pests in every sense. Itchy, gross and prolific if not dealt with properly. It’s a good thing your cats don’t have fleas…or do they? How can you tell? What do fleas look like on cats?
If you spend time with your cats regularly, you’ll know what’s normal—and what’s not. Many flea-infested cats show both physical and behavioral changes that indicate something is wrong.
Do you think your cat has fleas? Steve Weinberg, DVM, medical director and CEO of 911 VETS in Los Angeles, California, says you should look for these nine classic signs that could point to a parasite problem.
1. Intense and Frantic Scratching or Biting
Flea bites can cause a cat’s skin and fur to feel very itchy, Dr. Weinberg says. Your cat may suddenly start scratching his body with his paws or chewing his skin in an attempt to stop the itchy sensation.
To give him some temporary relief, use cat flea and tick shampoo, like Veterinary Formula Clinical Care’s flea and tick shampoo, or an after-bath treatment like TropiClean’s flea and tick relief treatment.
2. Excessive Grooming and Hair Loss
Cats are fastidious groomers, but when fleas on cats start biting, their grooming becomes extreme, especially around the hind legs and base of the tail, Dr. Weinberg says. Your cat may lick and chew repeatedly, trying to eliminate the itchy sensation. Without intervention, he may groom himself to the point that you start to see bald patches, especially on the back of the legs, neck and around the base of his tail.
3. Avoiding Certain Parts of Your Home
Fleas flourish in a warm environment with porous surfaces like carpet and furniture; they generally stay away from rooms with hardwood or tile flooring. If your cat starts avoiding carpeted areas of your home, consider that a red flag. He’s steering clear of the fleas!
The first rule in controlling fleas is to keep a clean house, Dr. Weinberg says, so thoroughly vacuum your floors on a regular basis. Also, try a natural remedy like diatomaceous earth for your carpets and throw rugs.
Disinfect your cat’s bedding and furnishings with a flea spray, like Natural Care’s flea and tick spray.
4. Agitation, Edginess and Restlessness
Flea irritation can cause your cat to show some serious behavioral changes, Dr. Weinberg says. He suddenly may behave like a wildcat because the fleas literally are driving him crazy. Such behavior might include growling a lot, shaking his head, hysterically rubbing his head and body on the floor or darting from one end of the room to the other.
5. Red Skin Lesions or Scab-Like Bumps
Some cats are so sensitive to flea saliva that when a flea bites them, their skin becomes red and inflamed—and these lesions, which usually appear on the back, neck and face, are extremely itchy. If the cat chews on them, they can start to ooze. This condition is called flea allergy dermatitis, Dr. Weinberg says.
“In severe cases of dermatitis, I have seen cats literally drained of blood by fleas to the point they are fatally anemic,” he says.
In this case, your veterinarian can prescribe pet prescription medication to reduce the inflammation and prevent a secondary infection.
6. Muscle Loss, Pale Gums and Lethargy
If your cat shows muscle loss, pale gums and lethargy, this could indicate anemia (low red-blood-cell count), which can result when a huge number of fleas consume a cat’s blood or if the cat bites his skin so deeply that he bleeds excessively. Flea anemia is most often seen in kittens, seniors or sick cats, Dr. Weinberg adds.
7. Tiny Pepper-Like Specks on Your Cat’s Fur
Another sign of fleas on cats is “flea dirt.” These dark brown specks are actually flea feces. They’re most often seen on the neck and rump areas, but you also may see some of these specks on your cat’s comb or brush, Dr. Weinberg says.
If you put some of these granules on a paper towel and mist them with water, they will turn red. That’s because the feces are composed of digested blood.
8. Red Spots in Your Cat’s Bedding Fabric
Do you see any red spots in your cat’s bedding? If you suspect fleas, those spots could be pieces of flea dirt that fell off your cat’s fur and onto the bedding, and then turned red when moisture or the cat’s warm body rubbed against it, Dr. Weinberg says.
9. Pinhead-Sized Black or Reddish-Brown Insects Crawling on Your Cat’s Fur
These are the fleas themselves. If there’s a heavy infestation, there’s a good chance you’ll see fleas and flea eggs on cats.
Part your pet’s fur in several places to see his skin. Fleas gravitate to the neck, lower back, hind legs and tail.
Even if you don’t see any fleas, don’t assume there are none in your home, Dr. Weinberg says. Fleas go through four stages in their life cycle—egg, larva, pupa and adult. Even if you see no fleas on your cat’s body, there still could be fleas in the three developmental life stages in your furniture, carpet or baseboards, just days or weeks away from turning into adults and invading your cat. That’s why it’s important to always be tuned in to the signs of flea infestation. Today, your cat may be flea-free. Tomorrow, he might not be.
If you think your kitty has fleas, head to your veterinarian to get him proper cat flea treatment.
“We recommend Bravecto, Confortis, Cheristin and Vetra,” Dr. Weinberg says.
Keep your cat on one of these monthly flea-prevention programs—along with treating your home and yard with flea-control sprays and powders that contain an insect growth regulator, Dr. Weinberg says—to help prevent infestations in the future.
By: Wendy Bedwell-Wilson
Featured Image:via iStock.com/frwooar