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How to Tell if Your Cat Has Fleas (10 Signs to Look For)

If you’ve never dealt with fleas before, you might be unsure if all of the scratching your cat has been doing lately is the result of fleas or something else. You obviously don’t want to go through the time and expense of treating your cat if he doesn’t actually have fleas.

We’re here to help! We’ll go through all of the signs that your cat has fleas, even if you actually haven’t spotted a flea crawling around in his fur. You may think you know all of the symptoms of a flea infestation, but some of these signs might surprise you.

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Behavioral Signs

1. Excessive Scratching and Biting

cat scratching skin
Image Credit: Pixabay

Scratching is one of the first and most obvious indications that your cat might have fleas. All cats do some biting while grooming and scratch on occasion, but a cat with fleas will start to bite and scratch more frequently and with more intensity.

Fleas, just like mosquitoes, deposit tiny amounts of saliva while feeding, which causes extreme itchiness. So, if your cat is scratching himself much more frequently than usual, you will want to check him over for fleas.


2. Intensive Grooming And Hair Loss

close up cat licking paws
Image Credit: Pixabay

This is similar to the previous point, but you’ll also notice your cat grooming himself almost frantically and for much longer periods of time. Fleas tend to accumulate around the base of the cat’s tail, the belly, and around the neck and ears, so expect your cat to be focusing his licking and biting in these areas.

This almost obsessive grooming might start to lead to bald patches and hair loss in these areas, so this is another potential sign that your cat might have fleas.


3. Restless Behavior

Cat scratching
Image credit: Comanche, Pixabay

You might notice your cat behaving quite differently than usual. The discomfort from the fleas might begin to drive your cat crazy, and he might start excessively shaking his head, growling, darting around the house, and rubbing his body and head on the floor.


4. Avoids Specific Rooms

A cat hiding under a couch
Image Credit: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

Fleas prefer a warm and comfortable environment, gravitate to carpeted rooms, and usually stay away from hardwood and tiled floors. If your cat starts to avoid rooms with carpets (especially if these are rooms he would typically enjoy spending time in), this could indicate that he’s avoiding the rooms that most likely are harboring fleas. If you suspect fleas are an issue and you notice this behavior in your cat, you may want to vacuum the carpets more frequently.cat paw divider

Physical Signs

5. Spotting Fleas

close up fleas on cat
Image Credit: KanphotoSS, Shutterstock

Well, this is the obvious sign. If you see the actual flea having a little walk (or hop) through your cat’s coat, then he has fleas. Fleas are quite tiny (about the size of the head of a pin) and are usually reddish-brown or black in color and will move (or jump) very quickly when you’ve uncovered them.

As previously mentioned, they tend to congregate around the ears, neck, belly/groin, back legs, and base of the tail. So, if you part the fur around these areas, you might just see a flea. If you don’t see a flea, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any, so do rely on all of the other signs to make the determination as well.


6. Flea Dirt

flea dirt on fur
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Flea dirt is actually flea poop — yuck. Flea dirt shows up in the same areas, of course, that fleas gravitate to. They look like tiny black or dark brown specks – kind of like pepper flakes. Mist them or put a few droplets of water on the specks, and you should see them turn into a reddish-brown color since flea poop is composed of digested blood.

You can also set your cat on a white pillowcase or sheet and use a flea comb, which will help to reveal the flea dirt. These combs have been made with the teeth very close together so that they can trap the flea dirt and the fleas

You might also notice tiny red spots in your cat’s bedding or where he commonly sleeps, which could also be flea dirt. The heat of your cat’s body will have turned the flea dirt red.


7. Bumps and Lesions

Because of all of the flea bites, in addition to your cat’s intense scratching and grooming, you should notice crusty bits and small bumps in the same telltale areas already discussed.

This can happen when a cat is very sensitive to flea saliva, which can cause lesions and skin that is inflamed and irritated. When the cat starts scratching and chewing on these spots, they usually begin to ooze. This is flea allergy dermatitis, which will require a visit to your vet.


8. Anemia

Regenerative anemia can occur when your cat has a large infestation of fleas, draining the blood too quickly. This is more common with seniors, kittens, and cats with an illness.

The signs of anemia can include:
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of grooming and general depression
  • Panting
  • Muscle loss
  • Pale gums, eyes, and ears
  • Excessive sleeping

If you suspect your cat has anemia (regardless of whether or not he has fleas), take him to your vet immediately.


9. Tapeworms

Why on earth do we have tapeworms in an article about fleas? Well, you might not realize this, but fleas can carry and pass on tapeworm eggs, which cats ingest through grooming. Tapeworms don’t actually cause weight loss in cats, but if your cat is experiencing weight loss, it could be through anemia from the fleas.

Signs of tapeworm include:
  • White or cream-colored segments in the cat’s poop
  • What looks like sesame or cucumber seeds in the cat’s poop
  • The cat will bite, lick, and drag his bum across the floor
  • The cat will sometimes vomit the tapeworm up. There’s no mistaking this.

If you suspect your cat might have a tapeworm, you’ll need to bring some of his poop and any segments of the tapeworm to the vet. If your cat has fleas, your vet might check for tapeworms, and if your cat has tapeworms, your cat might also have fleas.


10. Fleabites On You

Unfortunately, humans are not immune to flea bites. They usually appear around your legs, ankles, and feet but can also show up anywhere there’s more hair if left untreated.

How to identify fleabites on people:
  • Small bites with a defined red spot in the center
  • Will appear as a small scab surrounded by a light red area
  • Appear in clusters of three or four and might show up in a line
  • Itchy

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Can Fleas Go Away if Left Untreated?

Not usually. If you see one flea, it won’t be long before there will be hundreds of flea eggs and flea larvae. Usually, you’ll have to not only treat your cat, but you’ll also need to clean the house, particularly the furniture and carpets.

If left untreated, your cat could become seriously ill, particularly if your cat is allergic to the flea saliva – and then there’s the anemia. It’s important to be vigilant to completely eradicate the flea problem as you certainly want your cat to be comfortable and in good health.

How Do Cats Get Fleas?

The most common way for a cat, or any animal, to get fleas is usually from another animal that already has them. This could be from another cat or if you also have dogs.

However, if there has been an infestation of fleas in your house before and there are some leftover eggs still embedded in your carpets or furniture, the eggs could still hatch and hop onto your cat. Even moving into a new home that might have had fleas at some point could create a problem if the house hasn’t been adequately treated.

Cat scratching
Image credit: Comanche, Pixabay

Can My Indoor Cat Get Fleas?

You have an indoor cat and no other pets, so you don’t have to worry about your cat getting fleas, right? Wrong. While your indoor cat is much less likely to get fleas than an outdoor cat, there’s still a possibility.

  • Fleas can grab a ride from humans who enter your home and will happily transfer over to your cat.
  • Then there’s the wildlife that comes into your home…like those mice that love to nibble your food in the middle of the night.
  • When you take your cat to the groomer or the pet sitter, both could have fleas thanks to dealing with multiple animals.
  • If you’re a fan of second-hand items, you might be bringing flea eggs into your home.
  • Moving into a new house might also include the unwanted flea eggs just waiting to hatch and jump onto your cat.

There’s no need to be paranoid about these scenarios. Your indoor cat might never see a flea his entire life, but it’s also a good idea to be aware and prepared, on the chance that it does happen.

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Conclusion

Since cats are such thorough groomers already, you won’t always necessarily spot an adult flea on your cat. They generally do a great job at grooming the fleas out of their fur, so sometimes you need to rely on most of the other signs if you don’t see the actual flea. If you believe your cat might be allergic to fleas or is experiencing anemia, do take him to see your vet immediately. Treating your cat and your household for fleas can be rather time-consuming and will require a lot of patience and cleaning. But it’s worth it in the end.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay