Printer-friendly versionFleas are the most common cause of skin disease in the cat. While most cats will become infected with fleas at some point in their life, some can develop an allergy to the flea saliva, and these animals will develop excessive grooming, hair loss, scabs and sores after just one or two bites. In view of this you need to control fleas very effectively to stop these cats suffering.

Fleas also spread tapeworm and can jump onto humans, giving us a nasty mosquito-like bite.

In young kittens a heavy flea infestation can very easily cause a severe anaemia and even death.

Signs of fleas can be an obvious itch or you may notice your cat spending more time grooming. The adults are reddy-brown, about 2-3mm long and move very fast! On a white cat the flea droppings (called flea dirt) can be seen as black specks through the coat. To check for fleas groom your cat with a very fine tooth-comb and drop any specks of dirt onto wet cotton wool or paper. Flea dirt will turn a red/brown colour as it is essentially digested blood.

In order to treat fleas effectively it is necessary to know something of the life cycle of the flea. Adult fleas can live up to several weeks on an animal, biting as much as 10 times per day and laying up to 50 eggs daily. These microscopic eggs drop off into the environment, particularly where the cat is sleeping. Tiny larvae hatch after a few days and search for areas of high humidity away from direct sunlight. They live on debris in the house, particularly the flea dirt produced by the adult fleas. After 1-4 weeks the larvae produce a cocoon from which an adult flea can emerge in 10 days. Alternatively they can stay dormant, hatching immediately when conditions are right (particularly when they sense the presence of animals or humans!).

With such a large part of the life cycle occurring in the cat’s environment, it is essential to treat both your cat and your house. Possible treatments include powders, sprays, foams, spot-ons, flea collars, tablets and injections. Unfortunately we tend to find treatments from pet shops and supermarkets to be generally ineffective. Collars can sometimes work if they are replaced regularly and your cat doesn’t lose them!

In cases of infestation or for prevention we recommend:-

  • Advocate - Advocate is a spot-on treatment that you apply monthly to the skin on the back of you cat's neck. It is absorbed into the tissues and will kill fleas within a few hours of them biting your cat, and will render them sterile in the meantime, thus breaking the flea life cycle. Advocate is also effective in the treatment of ear mites and roundworms - reducing the need for tablet de-worming to once or twice a year.
  • Program works by preventing flea eggs from hatching. It comes as either a liquid given by mouth monthly or as an injection given every 6 months at the surgery. It can be effective as a preventative treatment although it must be used on all the cats and dogs in the house.

There are numerous sprays and powders available for treating the house. We recommend Indorex, which can last up to 12 months after a single application. The house should be hoovered very thoroughly first, especially around the skirting boards, any cracks, sofas, beds etc. The bag should then be emptied Wash any bedding at as a high a temperature as possible, and then the whole house should be sprayed extensively- you may need more than one or two cans. Most of the sprays are toxic to birds and fish so these must be removed from the rooms first.