What Do Fleas Look Like In Cats: 10 Signs Your Cat Has Fleas

By: Dr. Sarah WootenUpdated:

what do fleas look like in cats - signs of fleas
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What Do Fleas Look Like In Cats: 10 Signs Your Cat Has Fleas

Fleas are pests in every sense. They’re itchy, gross and prolific if not dealt with properly. It’s a good thing your cats don’t have fleas … or do they? How can you tell if your cat has fleas? What do fleas look like in cats?

If you spend time with your cats regularly, you’ll know what’s normal—and what’s not. Many flea-infested cats show both physical and behavioral changes that indicate something is wrong. So does your cat have fleas? Here are 10 classic signs of fleas in cats.

1 Intense and Frantic Scratching or Biting

Flea bites can cause a cat’s skin to feel very itchy. One of the signs of fleas on cats is if your cat suddenly starts scratching their body with their paws or chewing their skin in an attempt to stop the itchy sensation.

To give them some temporary relief, use cat flea and tick shampoo, like Veterinary Formula Clinical Care’s flea and tick shampoo. See best-selling flea and tick treatments for cats here.

2 Excessive Grooming and Hair Loss

Cats are fastidious groomers, but when fleas on cats start biting, their grooming becomes extreme, especially around the back of the hind legs, neck, and base of the tail. Your cat may lick and chew repeatedly, trying to eliminate the itchy sensation. Without intervention, they may groom themselves to the point that you start to see bald patches, especially on the back of the hind legs, neck and around the base of the tail.

3 Avoiding Certain Parts of Your Home

Fleas flourish in a warm environment and hide in carpet and furniture. (Note that while hard surface flooring is not an ideal environment for fleas, they can still be found in the cracks and crevices of wood and tile flooring.) If your cat starts avoiding carpeted areas of your home, consider that a red flag. They’re steering clear of the fleas!

The first rule in controlling fleas (aside from treating your pet, of course) is to keep a clean house, so thoroughly vacuum your floors and furniture including under the cushions on a regular basis. You can also try a natural remedy like diatomaceous earth for your carpets and throw rugs.

Wash your cat’s bedding regularly in the washing machine. You can also spritz your cat’s bedding and furnishings with a flea spray for the home.

Get more tips getting rid of fleas in your home here.

4 Agitation, Edginess and Restlessness

Flea irritation can cause your cat to show some serious behavioral changes. Your cat suddenly may behave like a wildcat because the fleas literally are driving them crazy. Such behavior might include growling a lot, shaking their head, aggressively rubbing their head and body on the floor or darting from one end of the room to the other. If this happens, it could be fleas!

5 Red Skin Lesions or Scab-like Bumps

Some cats are so sensitive to flea saliva that when a flea bites them, their skin becomes red and inflamed—and these lesions, which can appear all over the body, are extremely itchy. If the cat chews on them, they can start to ooze. This condition is called flea allergy dermatitis. In these cases, cats are usually treated for skin infections, skin allergies, and fleas.

6 Muscle Loss, Pale Gums and Lethargy

If your cat shows muscle loss, pale gums and lethargy, this could indicate anemia (low red blood cell count), which can result when a huge number of fleas consume a cat’s blood or if the cat is infected by Mycoplasma haemofelis, a blood-borne parasite that is carried by fleas. Flea anemia is most often seen in kittens, seniors or sick cats.

7 Tiny Pepper-Like Specks on Your Cat’s Fur

Another sign of fleas on cats is “flea dirt.” These dark brown specks are actually flea feces. They’re most often seen on the neck and rump areas, but you also may see some of these specks on your cat’s comb or brush.

If you put some of these granules on a paper towel and mist them with water, they will turn red. That’s because the feces are composed of digested blood.

8 Red Spots in Your Cat’s Bedding Fabric

Do you see any red spots in your cat’s bedding? If you suspect fleas, those spots could be pieces of flea dirt that fell off your cat’s fur and onto the bedding, and then turned red when moisture or the cat’s warm body rubbed against it.

9 Rice Grains on Your Cat’s Bedding or Around Their Anus

If you see rice grains around your cat’s anus, feces or on their bedding, there is a good chance that your cat has tapeworms. The rice grains are the egg packets that tapeworms release. Tapeworms require fleas as part of their life cycle. While some cats can develop tapeworms after eating infected prey animals, most cats develop tapeworms from accidentally ingesting an infected flea while grooming. If you see tapeworms, chances are unless your cat is a hunter, your cat has fleas.  

10 Pinhead-Sized Black or Reddish Brown Insects Crawling on Your Cat’s Fur

If you’re wondering how to tell if your cat has fleas, this is probably the most obvious indicator. Those tiny black or reddish-brown insects on your cat’s fur are the fleas themselves. If there’s a heavy infestation, there’s a good chance you’ll see fleas and flea eggs on your cat or their bedding.

Part your pet’s fur in several places to see his skin. Fleas gravitate to the neck, lower back, back of hind legs and the base of the tail.

Even if you don’t see any fleas or flea symptoms in cats, don’t assume there are none in your home. Fleas go through four stages in their life cycle—egg, larva, pupa and adult. Even if you see no adult fleas on your cat’s body, there still could be fleas in the three other developmental life stages in your furniture, carpet or baseboards, just days or weeks away from turning into adults and invading your cat. That’s why it’s important to always be tuned in to the signs of flea infestation. Today, your cat may be flea-free. Tomorrow, they might not be.

Find out how to pick the best flea prevention or treatment for your cat here.

Signs of Fleas in Cats FAQs

Q:

Are fleas in cats visible to the human eye?

A:Fleas are visible to the naked eye. They are dark brown, about the size of the head of a pin, and can jump great distances for their size.

Q:

What is the difference between signs of fleas and ticks in cats?

A:Signs of fleas can include itching, scratching, hair loss, scabbed bumps all over the body, flea dirt, and the actual fleas themselves that move fast and jump. Adult fleas have six legs. A tick usually feels like a small, stationary bump where the tick has attached itself to the cat. A tick has 8 legs and moves more slowly or not at all.

Q:

Where on the cat's body can you spot fleas?

A:Fleas like to hide on the neck, lower back, back of the hind legs and base of the tail.
Now that you know the signs of fleas in cats and can answer the question of what do fleas look like in cats, if you think your kitty has fleas, head to your veterinarian to get help treating your cat. Vets have lots of good options for flea prevention.

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By: Dr. Sarah WootenUpdated:

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