No matter how much your cat scratches and bites himself, he probably won't cure his own flea infestation. You've got to get rid of his pesky, bloodsucking guests and their ticking time-bomb eggs. Even indoor cats are prone to recurrent outbreaks. Treat him and his environment. Follow all product directions.
Cat Scratch Fervor
Does your cat look itchy? Like, so itchy you're starting to wonder if he's allergic to himself? Look where he's scratching. If you don't see anything, there might not be a problem. If you see tiny brownish spots, watch them closely. If they move, they're probably fleas. If they don't move, smear some on something white. If it looks like rust, it's probably flea feces, which means your cat has fleas.
Even cats that live strictly indoors can play host to fleas. Fleas sneak into your house via shoes, clothing and other animals. They also creep through cracks in windowsills and crawlspace floorboards.
If you want to ditch these hardy bugs for good, you've got to understand more about them. Without appropriate treatment, you're facing repeat outbreaks. Excessive scratching leads to infection, and there are worse outcomes. Fleas can cause disease, including anemia, and can foster tapeworms.
Know Your Enemy
There are more than 2,400 species of fleas worldwide, but odds are your feline friend has cat fleas, i.e. Ctenocephalides felis.
Cat fleas are wingless brown-to-black bugs. Adults are 2 to 5 millimeters -- no bigger than a grain of rice. The adults you're likely to spot are only a fraction of the infestation.
Once fleas find a host they feed within minutes and begin reproducing within a day. After a few days, adult females lay 30 to 50 eggs per day. They grow from eggs to larvae to pupae and then adults in about a month or possibly faster in warm, moist climates.
Treating the Cat
It's only natural you start flea treatments by addressing your cat. (If you want to call him fleabag without feeling guilty, now's your last chance.)
A veterinarian can help you get oral treatments and other modern treatments. There're also plenty of over-the-counter shampoos, powders and combs. Many require multiple applications across weeks or months. Some of these kill the adult fleas outright. Others affect flea life cycles.
Repellents like colors can help, too, particularly if your cat regularly interacts with animals who've been outside. Feeding your cat debittered brewers yeast seems to have a similar, acute effect. Sprinkle it on his food.
Treating the Space
You're not just trying to get rid of fleas. You're trying to get rid of their eggs, too.
Flea eggs aren't necessarily attached to your cat. They usually fall into furniture, carpeting and bedding and can lay dormant before hatching.
Thoroughly dust, sweep, vacuum or mop areas your cat frequents. Wash all bedding weekly, even if your cat gives you dirty looks and insists on thoroughly remarking everything. Throw out or freeze vacuum bags, in which fleas continue to hatch and grow.
If you think other animals are lacing your yard with fleas -- and they very well could be -- consider repellents to keep them at bay, particularly in spring and fall.
Be Careful or Be Sorry
Flea infestations often come back, sometimes again and again.
Despite your frustration and your cat's seemingly insatiable scratching it's important not to use medicines or products more frequently than advised.
Most commercial pesticides found in flea products are toxic, and some, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, can kill your pet. Some products designed for dogs aren't safe for cats and can, with very little exposure, make your cat sick or worse.
If you've got a flea infestation you can't seem to lick, talk to a veterinarian about a new plan of attack. Your cat can't thank you, but he'll undoubtedly be thankful.
- CatChannel.com: How Did My Indoor Cat Get Fleas?
- Ark Animals: Flea Control Secrets -- Do You Need Flea Treatment for Indoor Felines?
- Cornell Feline Health Center: Fleas -- A Source of Torment for Your Cat
- The University of Kentucky: Pet-Centered Flea Prevention and Control
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Integrated Flea Control
- WebMD: Ticks and Fleas on Cats Q&A
- WebMD: Treating and Preventing Fleas on Cats
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Pesticides -- Health and Safety
- University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources: Fleas
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Fleas -- What They Are, What to Do
- Purdue University Extension: Insects and Ticks -- Fleas
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Insects in the City
- Berkeley Parents Network: Advice About Fleas
- Kansas State University: Pests That Affect Human Health -- Fleas Infesting Pets and Homes
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images