Flea Bites on Cats, and 9 Other Signs Your Cat Has Fleas (Sorry!)

By: Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJUpdated:

signs your cat has fleas: cat scratching in home
iStock.com/Trista Lam

Flea Bites on Cats, and 9 Other Signs Your Cat Has Fleas (Sorry!)

Fleas are pests in every sense. They leave us and our pets with itchy skin, and they’re gross and prolific when not dealt with properly. It’s a good thing your cat doesn't have fleas… Or do they? How can you tell whether your cat has fleas? What do flea bites on cats look like?

If you spend time with your cat 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. Here are 10 signs of fleas in cats to help you determine whether your cat has fleas—and how to treat them for fleas if they do have them.

What Do Flea Bites on Cats Look Like?

Not sure your cat has been bitten by fleas? Flea bites leave behind certain tell-tale signs and symptoms. These can include:

  • Pink Bumps: A cat flea bite looks like a single raised, pink bump or clusters of bumps grouped together.
  • Rash: When cats are experiencing more intense itching, flea bites can appear like a widespread rash (also known as flea allergy dermatitis).
  • Scabs: Due to itchy skin, cats can develop abrasions and skin infections from using their nails to scratch flea bites.

    Where Are Flea Bites Usually Found on Cats?

    Fleas can live anywhere on your cat, but flea bites are typically found in a few common places.

    When checking your cat’s skin for flea bites, here’s where you should look for signs of skin irritation first:

    • Head and neck
    • Base of the tail
    • Hind legs
    • Back

    9 Other Signs of Fleas on Cats

    1 Pinhead-Size Black or Reddish-Brown Insects Crawling on Your Cat’s Fur

    Probably the most obvious indicator of fleas on your cat is the fleas! Those tiny black or reddish-brown insects on your cat’s fur are the fleas themselves. There’s a good chance you’ll see fleas and flea eggs on your cat or their bedding when you have a heavy infestation.

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

    2 Intense and Frantic Scratching or Biting from Flea Bites

    Flea bites can cause itchiness on a cat’s skin. One of the signs of fleas on cats is sudden scratching of 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, such as Advantage.

    3 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 hair loss. You may notice bald patches, especially on the back of the hind legs, neck and around the base of the tail.

    4 Avoiding Certain Parts of Your Home

    Fleas flourish in warm environments and hide in carpet and furniture. If your cat starts avoiding carpeted areas of your home, consider that a red flag. They could be steering clear of the fleas!

    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.

    The first rule of flea control (aside from treating your pet, of course) is to keep a clean house. Thoroughly and regularly vacuum your floors and furniture, including under the cushions.

    Wash your cat’s bedding regularly in the washing machine, and consider the following popular household flea sprays (not to be used on the pet) recommended by cat parents:

    Virbac Knockout E.S. Area Treatment Spray
    $31.35
    Advantage Carpet & Upholstery Spot Spray
    $20.98

    5 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 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, fleas could be the cause.

    6 Muscle Loss, Pale Gums and Lethargy

    If your cat shows muscle loss, pale gums and lethargy, this could indicate anemia, which is low red blood cell count. This can happen 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.

    Mycoplasma haemofelis is most often seen in kittens, seniors and sick cats.

    If your cat shows any of these symptoms, call your vet immediately.

    Have more questions about your pet's symptoms?  Get timely advice from our licensed veterinary team through Chewy’s Connect With a Vet service, available daily from  6 a.m. - 12 a.m. ET.

    Have more questions about your pet's symptoms? Get timely advice from our licensed veterinary team through Chewy’s Connect With a Vet service, available daily from 6 a.m.-12 a.m. ET.

    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 may also 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

    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:

    1. Egg
    2. Larva
    3. Pupa
    4. Adult

    Your cat may not have adult fleas on their body, but fleas that are in the egg, larva or pupa stage of development could still be present 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, which includes spotting fleas on your carpet, hardwood floors, furniture or drapes.

    Today, your cat may be flea-free. Tomorrow, they might not be.

    Don’t Be Fooled!

    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:

    1. Egg
    2. Larva
    3. Pupa
    4. Adult

    Your cat may not have adult fleas on their body, but fleas that are in the egg, larva or pupa stage of development could still be present 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, which include spotting fleas on your carpet, hardwood floors, furniture or drapes.

    Today, your cat may be flea-free. Tomorrow, they might not be.

    Treatment for Flea Bites on Cats

    If your concern has been confirmed and your cat has fleas, work with your vet to determine the best course of flea treatment. This typically involves treating your cat, your home, your other pets (if you have any) and your yard (if applicable), year-round.

    Treatment Options for Your Cat

    If your cat has a large number of fleas, your vet may recommend starting with treating them with Capstar. Capstar is a pill that starts killing fleas within 30 minutes and is more than 90 percent effective at removing adult fleas within just a few hours. It only lasts 24 hours and does not kill other stages of the flea lifecycle so a preventative medication will also be needed, but this can help kickstart your war against fleas.

    Finally, use a flea preventative on your cat. Flea preventatives include the following, but be sure to use one specifically recommended by your vet:

    For some cats, treatment is necessary for the flea bites themselves. For example:

    • Cats with skin allergies may be treated with corticosteroids or Atopica, an oral allergy medication
    • Cats who have developed skin infections may be treated with antibiotics

    Tips for flea preventatives:

    • Unless directed by your vet, do not use more than one type of flea preventative at the same time.
    • Check the weight and age guidelines for each product to ensure it’s the correct one for your cat.
    • Never use a dog product on a cat.

    If you have other pets, treat them for fleas as well. Watch our Chewtorial on how to treat dogs for fleas.

    Treat Your Home

    Eliminating the fleas on your cat but leaving your home untreated means you’ll be dealing with fleas for the foreseeable future. Be certain to thoroughly treat the fleas in your house by following our step-by-step guide for home flea treatment.

    How to Prevent Flea Bites on Cats

    Now that your cat is flea-free, you’ll want to determine how to help prevent future flea infestations year-round. Depending on your cat’s lifestyle, your veterinarian can recommend flea prevention products with added protection. Some flea products also guard against ticks, heartworm or intestinal parasites.

    Remember: Even if your cat spends all day indoors, simple flea prevention may not be sufficient. If you have multiple pets, or you have an active lifestyle where you could be exposed to ticks, you may want to consider adding that to your flea prevention routine.

    Interested in specific recommendations? Check out the best flea and tick medications for cats, according to hundreds of cat parents.

    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 signs of 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 eight 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.

    Q:

    How long does it take for flea bites on cats to heal?

    A:Flea bites can take 24 to 48 hours to stop itching and up to one week to completely disappear.

    Q:

    How do I prevent flea bites on cats?

    A:Talk to your veterinarian about flea preventative options and which one is best for your cat.

    Now that you know the signs of fleas and how to spot flea bites on cats, head to your veterinarian to get help treating your cat if you believe your cat has fleas. Vets have lots of good options for both treatment and flea prevention. Don't have a vet yet? Check out our New Pet Parent Guide to Finding a Five-Star Vet (and how to be a five-star client!).

    About the author: Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, is a veterinarian at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital in Greeley, Colorado. Additional reporting by Laura Willard and Lisa Galek. This content was medically reviewed by Chewy vets.

    Now that you know the signs of fleas and how to spot flea bites on cats, head to your veterinarian to get help treating your cat if you believe your cat has fleas. Vets have lots of good options for both treatment and flea prevention. Don't have a vet yet? Check out our New Pet Parent Guide to Finding a Five-Star Vet (and how to be a five-star client!).

    Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, is a veterinarian at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital in Greeley, Colorado. Additional reporting by Laura Willard and Lisa Galek. This content was medically reviewed by Chewy vets.

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    By: Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJUpdated:

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