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How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats

Pet pest prevention

Fleas are much more than just a nuisance. In just 30 days, 10 fleas can become an infestation of up to 250,000 on your pet and in your home, and they can leave your pet an itchy, tired mess — or worse. There are several steps tell if your cat has fleas and how to prevent fleas on your cat and in your home. Here’s everything you need to know to get the job done quickly and safely.

How to tell if your cat has fleas

There are several common signs that a cat might be suffering from a flea infestation, but it will take some investigating on your part to be sure. Fleas are very small — only about 1/12 – 1/16” long — which means when there’s only a handful of them, they aren’t that easy to spot. Plus, their reddish-brown color may blend in with your cat’s fur. Rather than focusing on spotting fleas visually, be on the lookout for these other common signs that your cat has fleas:


  • Itchy skin and excessive scratching: Although fleas can grow in numbers quickly, it doesn’t take very many of them to send your cat on a scratching spree. Besides the overall movement of the flea across your pet’s skin, your cat may also be allergic to flea saliva, which turns it into an irritant that causes sensitivity, itchiness, scratching and even small scabbed bumps on their skin.
  • Excessive biting on fur and legs: Besides scratching, your cat may resort to biting or gnawing at their fur, legs or feet in an effort to gain some relief.
  • Patchy hair loss, especially near the tail or neck: The saliva from even one flea could cause an allergic reaction that leads to hair loss, not to mention any fur that’s removed by your cat’s own biting or scratching.
  • Lethargy: A single flea can bite its host hundreds of times a day, sucking blood each time. In severe cases, where there are many fleas biting your pet, this blood loss can lead to anemia. Lethargy is a common symptom of this.
  • Visual cues: Once the fleas start to multiply, you may begin to see them. Look for light-colored specks in your pet’s coat or on their bedding (these are flea eggs), or black, pepper-like black in their coat or on their bedding (this is flea feces). You could also see the darker insects scurrying around within your pet’s coat.
Fleas on cats

Flea-related problems

Fleas cause more than just a low-level itchiness in your cat — they can lead to serious medical problems and, as such, should be taken very seriously. Consult your veterinarian  immediately if you think your cat may be suffering from any flea-related issues. Keeping your cat on a flea prevention medication is essential to keeping these medical issues at bay. Some common flea-related issues in cats include:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis: Some pets are allergic to flea saliva, which leads to severe irritation, itchiness and aggravation when bites occur. You can tell if your cat is suffering from flea allergy dermatitis if small scabs and redness at the bite site appear, or if there is excessive hair loss. Secondary infection at the bite site can also occur. If your pet already has other allergies, they may be especially at risk for flea allergy dermatitis.
    • Treatment: Removing all existing fleas in your home and yard and keeping your cat on a prevention medication will help alleviate your cat’s symptoms. Your veterinarian may also prescribe steroids or antibiotics to help relieve itch.
  • Tapeworms: If your cat happens to ingest a flea that is carrying a tapeworm larva, the tapeworm will develop and grow in your cat’s intestinal tract. If your cat has tapeworms, they’ll appear like small pieces of rice around the anal region of your cat or in their feces.
    • Treatment: Make a visit to your veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment if you think your cat has tapeworms. Your vet will recommend a deworming treatment and what ongoing preventative measures your pet should follow.
  • Flea-bite anemia: When a severe flea infestation occurs and your pet has a large number of fleas feeding on them for extended periods of time, they are at risk for flea-bite anemia. Especially if your cat is very young, be on the lookout for signs of lethargy.
    • Treatment: Flea-bite anemia can be fatal, and may require blood transfusions, iron supplementation or even hospitalization. It’s essential to visit the veterinarian immediately if your cat has become very lethargic, especially if they are younger than 12 weeks old.

Although there may be treatment methods for these flea-related health issues, you can help your cat avoid them-with an over the counter flea medication or one prescribed by your veterinarian.

How to get rid of fleas on cats

Getting rid of the flea infestation in its entirety and avoiding further infestations is your best defense when it comes to helping your cat avoid flea-related problems. There are several things you can do to keep treat a current infestation and keep new ones at bay.

  1. Treat your pet. Begin your flea-riddance process by treating your pet and all their things, including pets that don’t appear to be suffering from fleas.
  2. Treat your home. It’s essential to not only treat an infected pet, but to also treat your home. If you ignore your home, fleas will find their way onto your pet and the cycle will repeat itself.
    • Clean and wash all of the bedding in your home, and use a spray or powder on the upholstery and carpets
    • Routinely wash all your pet’s bedding
    • Vacuum the entire home, including hardwood floors, upholstered furniture (including the bottom of furniture), carpets and rugs; remove vacuum bags and throw them out after each use to prevent flea eggs from hatching in them
    • If needed, contact a professional flea exterminator company to help
  3. Treat your yard. One of the best defenses against fleas is to keep your cat indoors. However, if you do let your cat out, or if you have other animals that may bring in fleas from outside, you’ll want to be especially sure that you’ve treated your yard for fleas, as well. That includes keeping the lawn trimmed at all times and using a yard spray that kills fleas around the perimeter of your home.

Our cats tend to be quiet sufferers, so it’s especially important to pay attention when they are acting differently, and to be aware of the signs that a flea infestation might be occurring. Your veterinarian can diagnose and treat the issue, and be sure to shop the flea prevention offerings at Petco as a way to easily and quickly put those little critters to rest.

Additional resources on pest prevention:

Reviewed by Petco’s Animal Care, Education and Compliance (ACE) Team

Petco’s ACE team is a passionate group of experienced pet care experts dedicated to supporting the overall health & wellness of pets. The ACE team works to develop animal care operations and standards across the organization and promote proper animal care and education for Pet Care Center partners and pet parents, while also ensuring regulatory compliance.