5 Ways Indoor Cats Can Get Fleas

Barri J. Morrison, DVM
By Barri J. Morrison, DVM on May 12, 2022
Cat walking

Keeping cats indoors protects them from getting lost, getting into scuffles with other animals, and exposure to other harmful issues. But even if you’re keeping your cat indoors, it’s important to not skip flea and tick prevention.

Fleas are tiny but powerful. They use their strong back legs to jump onto pets—and humans—as they walk by. Fleas also multiply rapidly; when feeding on a host animal, a single flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day. Unfortunately, this can happen inside your home, not just outdoors. Indoor cats can get fleas in more ways than you may think.

Additional Pets in the Home

The most common way for fleas to enter your household is on the family dog or another pet that comes inside from being outdoors. Cats can also get fleas from neighbor pets and local wildlife, such as birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, racoons, possums, squirrels, and skunks.

Even if a dog is on a monthly flea preventive, some do not repel fleas, meaning the dog can still be home to live fleas and flea eggs. Flea preventives take a bit of time before they start killing parasites, so fleas can enter your house, jump off the dog, and hop onto your cat before feeling the effects of the flea medicine.

What you can do:

  • Year-round flea prevention is recommended for all cats and dogs in your home, whether they go indoors or not. While that recommendation is year-round, the spring and summer months, when the weather is warmer, are the most important time of year for preventing fleas.

  • Check your cat regularly for fleas and other insects/parasites.

  • Check whether dogs visiting your home are up to date on their flea prevention.

Humans in the Home

Fleas can hang onto people and their clothing or shoes—and then ride them right into your home. While fleas do not have wings, they can jump huge distances, so it’s easy for them to hop onto people.

What you can do:

  • Clean up after house guests visit—including washing floors, sheets, bathrooms, couches, towels, and upholstery.

  • If you suspect your cat may have been exposed to a flea-bearing guest, do a quick examination. Fleas usually camp out behind a cat’s head, along the back by the tail base, and on the underbelly.

  • Even if you don’t see fleas, you might find “flea dirt” (black flecks) that are the flea’s fecal matter. If you see flea dirt, it means fleas are infecting your cat and, in turn, you likely have fleas in your home.


Fleas aren’t just attracted to dogs and cats; they also live and feed on many other mammals. If your house has a mouse or rat problem, they may bring fleas in too. Those fleas jump off the rodents, onto your cat, and into your home.

What you can do:

  • Keep your floors and countertops clean and free of food scraps or crumbs so as not to attract rodents.

  • Use humane traps, metal screens over plumbing and ventilation pipes, and tight seals on your screens, windows, and doors to keep rodents from entering your home.

Other Places Cats Visit

Cats can pick up fleas at catteries, shelters/rescues, a vet’s office, a groomer’s, a boarding facility—any place where dogs, cats, and other animals congregate.

What you can do:

  • It is extremely important that all cats are on veterinarian-approved and prescribed flea and tick prevention year-round.

  • If your cat has a medical history, discuss with your veterinarian which prevention would be best for their specific needs. Reading all labels on flea prevention is very important to make sure you use the product correctly.

  • Never use prevention formulated for a dog on your cat, and never use a prevention on your cat that is not the correct dose for their body weight. If you are unsure of your cat’s weight, the vet’s office can do a weigh-in.

New Home

The excitement of moving into a new home may overshadow thoughts about what parasites might already be there. This is particularly true in condominium and apartment complexes. Homes with carpets and central heating provide perfect conditions for year-round development of fleas. The highest number of flea eggs, larvae, and pupae are in areas where pets spend the most time, such as on beds and furniture.

Even though fleas may be in your house, it is not likely that they will be visible. The eggs are tiny white specks the size of dust particles, while the larvae, which are somewhat larger, with dark heads and lighter bodies, migrate deep down in carpets, furniture, or cracks in floors, away from the light.

What you can do:

  • Have a professional cleaning service come in to clean the entire home and its occupants before you move in.

  • Use a flea preventive such as a home fogger if you know the previous homeowner had pets.

Prevention of Fleas and Ticks for Indoor Cats

The best defense against your cat getting fleas is adequate flea prevention given on a regular basis to all pets in the home. The most common veterinarian-approved flea preventions for your cat are:

These preventions require a prescription from your veterinarian, who can also help you determine the best flea and tick preventative medication for your cat depending on their lifestyle, age, and weight.

Fleas can be a big problem for cats, even for those who stay indoors. Some cats can have an allergic reaction to fleas on top of the itching and discomfort. Fleas can especially pose an immediate danger to kittens, as an infestation can cause anemia.

Fleas can also transmit parasites, such as tapeworms and Bartonellosis, or cat scratch disease, to humans. Checking for fleas and taking measures to prevent them are important habits to help ensure the health of your cat and your family.

Featured Image: iStock.com/cunfek

Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri Morrison was born and raised and currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She went to University of Florida for her...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health