How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Jul. 6, 2022
woman brushing large cat

Fleas on cats are a common and uncomfortable pest, even for cats that never go outdoors. Although some cats may never experience signs or symptoms, flea infestations can be unhealthy for a cat (and the human family too). Read on to learn how to get rid of these irritating parasites.

Check Your Cat for Fleas Regularly

The sooner you can discover fleas on your cat, the better. Catching fleas early will make their eradication easier. Daily inspection for fleas is ideal, but even checking once a week can catch an infestation before it becomes severe.

Unfortunately, fleas can be difficult to find on cats. Most cats with fleas have minimal scratching and they can remove many fleas by grooming. This is why regular flea inspections are so important as other animals (and people) in your home can become infested.

Flea checks are quick and easy to do once you have some practice. The simplest method is to “reverse rub” your kitty – lifting the hair from tail to head (instead of the other way around) to give a good look at the skin underneath.

Fleas are likely culprit if you find:

  • Small flat parasites moving away from you
  • A “salt and pepper” appearance with small dark or light specks
  • Red, inflamed welts or scabs

For a more careful inspection, use a fine-toothed flea comb. Run this comb through the cat’s fur over the base of its tail 10-15 times and pull the contents out onto a white surface, or paper towel. Once again, look for fleas or the salt and pepper dirt.

You can put a drop of water on a dark speck, and it may develop a red ring around it—proof of flea feces, with the blood that was drank from your cat.

When you perform regular skin checks on your cats, inspect each cat in the household, because one cat may be a better groomer and remove more of the fleas than the others.

Even if you find a single flea on one cat, it is considered a flea infestation. For each single live flea found, there are thousands more waiting in the carpet, bedding, and lawn. Even a small number of fleas should be taken seriously.

What Do Fleas Look Like on Cats?

Cats that are allergic to fleas will show signs that include:

  • Itchiness and scratching

  • Scabs all over the topside of the body

  • Red rashes

  • Hair loss

If your cat isn’t allergic to flea salvia, they won’t show any visible symptoms. So, unless you are actively checking for fleas, you won’t know you have a flea infestation until they are found during a comb check.

Even a single flea can make the allergic cat miserable for days or weeks on end. For all the misery they cause, a flea is a 2mm (or 1/8”) flattened insect, small enough to run between the fur on the cat. They are dark brown or black, great jumpers, and typically very fast. Their eggs may look like large grains of salt, while the feces look like grains of pepper, hence many people refer to the “salt and pepper” look of flea dirt.

How to Eradicate Fleas on Cats

If you suspect or find a flea infestation, contact your veterinarian immediately to help start the treatment process. Besides making your cat miserable, fleas can cause anemia because they feed on blood. They can also cause skin conditions due to constant scratching and even transmit tapeworms. It’s critical to get your cat feeling better, and to ensure no one else in the household is targeted by the fleas.

Treatment Options for Fleas on Cats

There are countless options available to treat fleas on cats. Your veterinarian will be able to help you choose strategies and products that work. In general, you want to treat both the adult fleas, which would be on the cat, and the eggs and larvae that are no longer on the cat, but in the environment.

Possible options for treating fleas in cats can include:

In addition to medication treatment, flea baths are effective at removing adult fleas for a short time and aiding flea removal that is currently present. Flea combing daily will also help to remove adult fleas by cutting down the current population already living on your cat. Both options assist with removing fleas, while the medications work to kick in and rid the cat of fleas completely.

The big wildcard is the environment. As your cat(s) move around, the flea eggs are falling off the cat and into the environment. Since fleas can lay up to 40 eggs per day, eggs are raining down all over your house.

To prevent re-infestation, a good cleaning of the home is critical. This includes:  

  • Vacuuming every spot your cat goes throughout the house a few times a week.

  • Focusing on the cracks between the hardwood floor and the crevices around the cupboards. (Eggs can be hiding there)

  • Machine launder the cat’s bedding as the water cycle will help drown the adult fleas and the dryer will dehydrate the eggs and larvae.

Preventing Fleas in Cats

Preventing fleas in cats is much easier than treating a flea infestation, and the best form of medicine is always prevention. You can use one of the medications discussed above to help aid in the monthly prevention of fleas. A veterinarian can help you determine the best option for your cat depending on its lifestyle, so it is safe from future flea infestations. Your cat will thank you for it.  

How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats FAQs

Can cats get rid of fleas on their own?

Unless the infestation is extremely minimal, cats will not get rid of fleas on their own. The population may vary depending on the weather/season, but they will always be present at some level in the house, until it is properly treated.

How does Dawn get rid of fleas on cats?

Dawn dish detergent changes the surface of the outside of the flea, making it unable to shed water or float when in water—essentially causing it to drown in the bath water.

Can humans get fleas from cats?

Absolutely! Humans can not only get fleas from cats, but they can give fleas to cats.

How did my indoor cat get fleas?

Fleas can “hitchhike” in on the clothing of their human family and give fleas to you cat(s). Fleas are also remarkable jumpers and may come in through screened doors and windows. Other pets, such as dogs, may also bring them into the house.

Featured Image:

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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