Here’s one of the trickier tasks you’ll have as a cat lover: learning how to tell if your cat has fleas.
After all, cats are constantly grooming and preening themselves. They also roll around for no good reason, chase invisible things and behave in generally mystifying ways.
So how do you know if it’s fleas that’s making them do strange things…or just their lovely feline imagination?
If it is fleas, it’s important you make this distinction as soon as possible since a flea infestation, if left untreated, can pose serious dangers to your cat – and can even be fatal in extreme circumstances.
And that’s the last thing you want so let’s get started playing cat flea detective. Here’s how to tell if your cat has fleas!
Behavioral Signs Your Cat Has Fleas
Fleas are annoying, painful and overall a huge pain in the butt. So you can bet that the presence of fleas is going to cause behavioral changes! Here are the personality shifts in your cat to look for!
Cat Flea Signs #1. Scratching and/or Biting
If your kitty has indeed picked up fleas, it won’t be long before she starts furiously scratching and/or chewing on her skin.
Flea bites are insanely itchy so if you see your cat bending into stranger-than-usual yoga poses to scratch herself like a maniac – she’s most likely trying to get some relief from the itchiness caused by a flea infestation.
Cat Flea Signs #2. Excessive Grooming
Your cat usually preens and grooms a whole lot but if she’s got fleas – she may be doing it all the time. The licking helps soothe some of the itchiness caused by flea bites, so if you notice that your cat can’t seem to stop grooming herself – it’s likely she’s dealing with fleas.
Tip: Keep an eye on your cat to see where she’s licking the most – fleas love to hide out in armpits, the groin, the back of the neck, the base of the tail and the inside of the legs so if her nonstop grooming is concentrated in these areas, you’ll want to start the flea inspection there.
Cat Flea Signs #3. Moodiness
Cats are notorious for sudden bouts of moodiness but when it’s fleas – it can get excessive. After all, fleas are darn uncomfortable to live with! So expect a cat harboring a flea infestation to be agitated, on edge, restless and erratic.
Your cat may suddenly turn into a wildcat, growling, shaking and darting furiously from one end of the room to another. He may vigorously rub his head and body all over the floor or furniture. If your cat suddenly starts to behave like he’s possessed – it’s ’cause the fleas are literally driving him insane.
Cat Flea Signs #4. Avoidance
Cats are clever creatures. They may not have the Internet to inform them of flea facts, but they can put two and two together. What they’ll figure out pretty quickly is that they tend to become itchier in certain parts of the home.
Fleas love to lurk in carpet – that’s where the majority of the flea infestation is, by the way – so there will be more fleas in the carpeted areas of your home than in rooms with hardwood or tile flooring. So if your cat suddenly starts avoiding carpeted rooms even though she loved them before, she’s probably just trying to avoid running into fleas.
Cat Flea Signs #5. Low Energy
This sign is a huge red flag because it happens due to a prolonged and rampant flea infestation.
If you notice your cat is lethargic and constantly exhausted, check for muscle loss and pale gums – these are signs of anemia, which can happen when a huge number of fleas are constantly sucking up your cat’s blood.
All the above five cat flea signs are behavioral, which many cat owners may not be able to pick up on because, well, we all have to work (gotta buy that cat food). Which is why it’s helpful to physically check your cat for fleas. Here’s how to do it!
How to Check Your Cat for Fleas
To check your cat for fleas, you’ll need to grab a few things to make the process easier. Gather everything before you fetch your cat – cats are impatient creatures!
Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand:
- White something. It can be a white sheet, white towel, white piece of paper or paper towel. Just make sure it’s white as this will help you see any fleas or flea poop that falls off your cat.
- Flea comb – get it here. A flea comb is an absolute must have in your fight against cat fleas. They’re designed specifically for the purpose of trapping fleas on the teeth of the comb, which are so close together that fleas cannot escape.
- Flea killer. Fill a bowl of soapy water to drown any live fleas that get caught in the flea comb.
And of course, you’ll need to get your cat. Got everything? Let’s get started.
1. Secure your cat
Place your cat on top of the white sheet, paper, or paper towels. If you’ll be holding your cat in your lap, drape your lap with the white sheet before you place your cat on your lap.
If you have a fidgety cap, it’ll be helpful to ask another person for help during the check. And of course, calming cat treats help the process go smoothly for everyone!
2. Use the flea comb to look for fleas
Grab your flea comb and begin combing your cat from head to tail. Make sure you get close to the skin when running the comb through your cat’s fur and as you comb, examine the fur and exposed skin for fleas.
Fleas are dark, tiny, wingless insects that range from around 3 to 4 millimeters in length. They are visible to the human eye and you may see them jumping and flicking through your cat’s fur once you start the inspection.
Want to see some visual examples of what fleas look like?
The best places to look for fleas on cats is warm, protected spots like the armpits and groin.
Other flea hiding spots are your kitty’s face, especially the ears and cheeks, her belly, back of the neck, the base of the tail and the inside of the legs. Drown any fleas you find in the bowl of soapy water.
Of course, the only evidence of fleas aren’t real, live fleas themselves…
3. Look for signs and symptoms of fleas
The bad news is that it can be difficult to see real, live fleas on your cat. Fleas jump very fast and very high – plus, they’re very small and with their flat bodies, they can hide out pretty well. On top of all this, they don’t always stay on your cat. Fleas may choose to live in the carpets and jump on your cat whenever it’s mealtime.
And if your cat has dark fur, it can be doubly difficult to spot any live fleas.
The good news is that even if you don’t catch a flea in the act, they leave clues. Here are a handful of telltale physical signs of fleas to look for as you comb:
- Hair loss. All the excessive scratching, chewing, biting and grooming can lead to bald spot and patches.
- Red, irritated lesions or scabs. Some cats are sensitive and even allergic to flea saliva which can result in red, bumpy, crusty, and irritated skin.
- Flea dirt. This is essentially flea poo and looks like tiny specks of black pepper. These little specks can get caught in the flea comb or drop down to the white sheet – if you mist them with some water, they will turn red because flea feces is composed of digested blood (yes, gross, we know).
Even if your inspection doesn’t reveal any live fleas on your cat, if you see signs of flea bites and flea dirt – it’s a good idea to begin treating your cat and your home for fleas.
Just because you don’t see any live fleas, don’t assume there are none – fleas can be difficult to spot and because they go through four stages in their life cycle (egg, larva, pupa and adult), there could be fleas in the developmental, pre-adult stages hiding out in your cat’s fur as well as around the house.
And when it comes to fleas, time is of the essence. They may just be flea babies now but next week, they could become a full-blown flea infestation. So start the battle against fleas immediately.