Here’s an itchy issue. How do indoor cats get fleas?
When you catch your indoor kitty furiously itching and scratching, the first thought that may cross your mind is they have a new food allergy. But then you see it. A mob of tiny black dots scattered about your cat’s fur. Uh-oh. FLEAS!
How is it possible that your indoor-only cat got fleas? The answer is simple, the fleas came inside on another pet or your clothing.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- How indoor-only cats get fleas
- How to get rid of fleas on your cat
- Do indoor cats need flea treatment
- How fleas are getting into your house
- What repels fleas naturally
- And more!
Table of Contents
How do indoor-only cats get fleas?
Fleas can get into your home and onto your cat in the most unexpected ways. Here are the five most common ways indoor-only cats get fleas:
Shoes and clothing
You can unknowingly bring fleas into your home on the soles of your shoes or on your clothing.
Look, we don’t mean to make this a cats vs dogs thing. But our canine friends can be and often are carriers for fleas. Dogs are often the ones who bring fleas into your home. Even if your dog regularly gets flea treatment fleas and other mites can still hang out in your dog’s fur, even if your dog is protected from their bites. The problem here is that indoor cats often don’t have those protections in place so fleas can be passed to them!
Tiny gaps in windows and doors
Fleas can also come through small gaps between doors or windows, and a single flea on your cat is enough to start a considerable infestation.
Mice or rats
Dogs and cats are not the only animals that attract fleas. Fleas hitch a ride on the fur and skin of many different animals, including our rodent friends. If mice and rats frequently pop by for a visit fleas, ticks, and lice often come with them as a package deal. These can transfer from the rodents to your unsuspecting cat.
Boarding or visits to the groomer
Even if your cat mostly stays indoors, they still leave your house to go to the vet or the groomer. Places like animal hospitals, vet clinics, cat boarding facilities, pet stores, and groomers often hold many animals at a time– some of them with fleas or flea eggs. In some instances, your cat can come into contact with fleas in one of these places.
Can kittens get fleas?
Yes, kittens can get fleas.
As the smallest and most vulnerable feline population if a kitten plays host to fleas the consequences can be deadly.
Here’s why. Kittens are so tiny that things like blood loss really have a big impact on their body. And as we know, fleas only want to drink blood!
So, as the flea populations living in their skin and fur grow larger, the more blood they gobble from their kitten host. Kittens really don’t have extra blood to spare, so active flea infestations can lead to anemia that puts your kitten’s life at risk!
If you notice any signs of fleas in your kitten, including excessive scratching, red bumps on their skin, reddish-brown flea dirt in their fur (especially near the base of their tail), or even the tiny black fleas physically crawling around the skin, set up an appointment to meet with your vet immediately to start a treatment.
How to detect fleas on your cat
The first way to detect fleas on your cat is through their behavior. In particular, excessive itching, scratching and biting at their skin and fur.
Other symptoms that indicate your cat has fleas include
- Raw, irritated skin
- Scabs and bumps
- Hair loss and bald patches
- Lethargy and a loss of appetite
- Restlessness and inability to sit still
So, where do you find fleas on your cat?
Fleas usually settle in behind your cat’s ears and neck, on their lower back, and around their thigh and tummy area. Most likely, you’ll notice red spots, crusty lumps, or scabs over your cat’s body before you actually catch a glimpse of the teenie tiny fleas.
But, even if the fleas are elusive, there’s one tell-tale sign to look out for: flea dirt.
Flea dirt looks like specks of black pepper sprinkled throughout your cat’s fur. When you pinch it between your fingers it’ll dissolve into a rusty red color. This flea “dirt” is actually flea feces and blood meal, or undigested blood that the flea larvae have been feasting on.
Fleas and the flea life cycle
The flea life cycle is broken up into four stages: the egg stage, the larvae stage, the pupa (or cocoon) stage, and then the adult stage.
According to the CDC the flea life cycle can last anywhere from about ten days to many months– all depending on different environmental conditions.
Here’s how the flea life cycle plays out on your cat.
Once they accomplish that acrobatic feat, these fleas get down and dirty and start mating. They promptly lay eggs and get to chowing down on your cat’s blood. Ick.
The flea eggs hatch in as little as one day to up to ten days later.
They enter the larvae stage and wriggle about eating the flea dirt left behind by the adult fleas.
Within five to ten days after hatching and gorging themselves on flea dirt and blood meal, the larvae spin a cocoon and enter the pupa stage.
Adult fleas hatch from the cocoon shortly after, in reaction to warmth and movement. Hours after hatching these adult fleas will begin feeding on your cat’s blood and as their flea family did before them, will mate, lay eggs, and the cycle will repeat.
Adult fleas leap into your cat’s fur. And yes, we mean that literally. Fleas jump up to 13 inches high. That’s 200 times the length of their bodies!
Without intervention such as oral or topical medications and flea removing tools like flea collars and flea combs, a flea infestation can go about unchecked for months to years.
How do I get rid of fleas on my indoor cat?
The best thing to do when you notice that your cat has fleas is to take them to the vet.
Many veterinarians will recommend treating every pet in the household with flea medications for at least three months in order to end a flea infestation. The other cats and dogs in your home may be harboring fleas even if they haven’t shown signs yet! Taking this preventative action can catch fleas in the pupae stage and can prevent the rampant spread of future flea infestations.
There are many different flea treatments available. Your vet will prescribe a suitable treatment plan, usually starting with a powerful oral or topical flea medicine.
Here are five different ways to get rid of fleas on your indoor cat.
Oral medicine for protection against fleas is an effective way to get rid of fleas. The ingredients inside the tablets activate in your cat’s bloodstream and kill fleas after they bite your cat’s skin.
Nitenpyram is known to take effect quickly and kill off any fleas that might feast on your cat. Lufenuron is another flea medicine that specifically targets flea eggs. Talk with your vet to choose the best option for your cat.
If you prefer topical treatment over giving your cat tablets or liquid medication, you can choose between the most popular brands, such as Advantage, Bravecto, or Frontline. You apply it to the back of your cat’s neck, where it’ll be absorbed into the skin.
This will then release active ingredients to kill the fleas, and it’ll remain active for up to a month. You can apply it again after 28 to 30 days if needed.
The advantage of topical treatment is that the fleas don’t have to bite your cats’ skin to be killed. Topical treatments also help reduce itchiness and irritation from flea bites.
Be sure to purchase all topical and oral flea treatments directly from your veterinarian or a known reliable retailer they recommend to you. Unfortunately, there are many counterfeit flea treatment products sold online. Going directly to your vet may save you money too, as many vets can pass on rebates and discounts from the flea treatment manufacturers.
Not much can beat this classic weapon against fleas: the flea comb!
Using a very fine-toothed comb is an easy solution for helping your cat get rid of their fleas. It’s also one of the more affordable over-the-counter options.
Simply settle your cat onto a smooth surface like a tabletop or counter and fill a bowl with lukewarm water and a few drops of unscented non-toxic dish liquid. Gently comb through your cat’s hair, dipping the flea comb in the soapy water and wiping it off onto a paper towel in between each comb through. You’ll notice flea dirt gets trapped in the teeth of the comb as well as live fleas!
Hannah Shaw (aka Kitten Lady) demonstrates best how to do this with kittens in this video.
Flea combs work best when you use them in combination with other treatments like medicated shampoos and topical treatments like Frontline.
Flea collars are also effective in treating or preventing fleas. Flea collars typically come in two types.
One type of flea collar emits insecticides that repel fleas. Another type of flea collar releases a combination of medications and insecticides that kill fleas the instant they make contact with your cat’s body.
Flea collars release flea-killing chemicals all over your cat’s body at a slow and steady rate—so they can protect your cat against fleas for up to eight months. In one study flea collars were found to be so effective in cats that by 5 days after wearing a flea collar, the number of fleas on their body was reduced by 85 to 90%.
However, because flea collars actively release chemicals for such a long period of time, they can be dangerous for children or babies who could accidentally or unknowingly come into contact with them.
Flea powders are quick in a pinch but aren’t a long-term solution since they stop working once your cat shakes it off. If you opt for a flea powder, know that it’ll only kill the adult fleas in your cat or kitten’s fur upon contact. It has no effect on the eggs or larvae.
Do indoor cats need flea treatments?
Indoor cats can benefit from flea treatments in three ways: if they have flea allergy dermatitis, if you live in rural, or woodsy areas, and if you frequently spend time with other cats.
Yes, if they have flea allergy dermatitis
Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is one of the most common skin allergies in cats. When cats with FAD are bitten by a flea and the antigens and proteins from the flea saliva enter their bloodstream an allergic reaction is triggered and their bodies go into panic mode.
Cats with FAD can have a serious allergic reaction to even a single flea bite and can suffer severe itching for many days. Itching, scratching, and biting the affected areas can cause your cat to develop raw bald patches, deep wounds, and scabs which can easily become infected with bacteria and lead to illness and other health issues.
Yes, if you live in wooded areas or areas with springs and summers
The seasons, or time of year, can also come into play when deciding whether or not to give your indoor cat flea medication. While fleas are alive and kicking all year round, it’s when the warmer months hit in North America that fleas become more active and pose more of a threat to your pets.
Depending on where exactly you live, you may start your indoor kitty on a preventative flea treatment in the spring and summer months.
Yes, if you have close contact with other cats
Flea treatments can also be a good preventative measure for indoor cats if you frequently spend time close to other cats and animals outside of your household. Say, if you work as a vet tech, a pet sitter, or in TNR programs caring for feral and community cats.
It’s best to work directly with your veterinarian to figure out what preventative flea treatment is best for your indoor kitty when they should start it, and how long you should keep them on it.
Can I get fleas from my cat?
Thankfully, no. Unlike lice, ticks, and mange-causing mites, you can’t get fleas from your cat.
Fleas, especially the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis, can’t use you as a host. However, they can still bite you in an attempt to eat your blood and blood meal. There’s also a risk that you can pass these fleas on to other animals, especially if you live in a multi-cat home.
It’s best to protect yourself with gloves and by changing your clothes frequently when dealing with a cat with fleas.
How are fleas getting into my house?
Fleas are not just a pet problem. You can easily carry them into your house on your shoes or clothes and not even notice.
If your home has a rodent problem, that’s another way you can get fleas into your home. Fleas like to feed on them as well, and having rodents in your house can lead to them dropping flea eggs all around your home too.
Finally, fleas don’t need a host to get into your home, as they can sneak in through tiny cracks on your doors or windows, as fleas are attracted to warmth, darkness, movement, and food.
How do I keep fleas out of my house?
There are a few actions you can take to safeguard your home from these pesky bloodsuckers. Here are three ways you can keep fleas out of your house.
Take care of your backyard
A little bit of yard work and groundskeeping can mean the difference between a flea infestation in your home or not. If you live in a house with a very green, grassy, and plant-filled yard, it’s essential to keep your grass mowed and trimmed and the greenery maintained. This simple move can prevent ticks and fleas from lounging around your lawn and backyard since they’ll have less space to hide in.
Deter other animals
Another tip is to discourage other pets and wildlife from coming into your yard. They can easily bring fleas with them and trigger a massive infestation outside (and by extension, inside) your home. To keep these unwelcome animals away you can invest in some non-toxic and humane deterrents and repellents. Motion-activated sprinklers, ultrasonic speakers or stereos, and certain odors like coyote or fox pee can work like a charm to keep roaming flea-carrying animals out of your yard.
Protect your pets
Use a vet-approved preventative flea treatment to keep your pets free of any buggy menaces infestations. But even if they’re protected, stay vigilant. Get your hands on a flea comb and occasionally run it through your cat’s fur. The same goes for if you have a dog. If there’s any possibility they can be carrying fleas you want to stop it pronto.
Keep your home clean
While having fleas in your home doesn’t mean that you have a dirty house, pay attention to specific areas around your home, like rugs or carpets, where fleas could hide. Fleas could bunker down in your furniture or carpeting and stay dormant for up to six months.
Making time each week to vacuum carpets, furniture and the areas your cats spend the most time in, like armchairs, sofas, or their own little cat beds is a very effective way to suck up any flea eggs or larvae.
Washing blankets, towels, and pet and human bedding in hot water on a weekly basis is another way to prevent flea infestations.
What will repel fleas naturally?
Botanical, or plant-based, repellents are one of the best non-toxic ways to ward off fleas.
Cedar chips or cedar shavings are a cat-safe flea repellent. They’re a natural insecticide and they have a sweet fragrance that’s excellent at ridding the air of bad odors. Cedar chips are even used in hypoallergenic cat litter as an alternative to clay-based litters.
Lemon-infused water and vinegar solutions are also powerful flea repellents.
To make the lemony repellent simply boil a pint of water and a thinly sliced lemon to the water. Let it cool, then add it to a spray bottle that you can use to spritz around areas you want to keep fleas away from. This is safe for cats because it’s fresh lemon and diluted. Citrus essential oils on the other hand are toxic to cats.
To make the cat-safe vinegar solution mix three parts water with one part apple cider vinegar or white vinegar. Add the vinegar-water solution to a spray bottle and spritz around areas as needed. A bonus with using apple cider vinegar is that it also has natural antibacterial properties!
Remember to keep in mind that many all-natural repellents can have ingredients that can be harmful to your cat, like essential oils. When you look into purchasing ready-made or DIYing natural, plant-based flea repellants, avoid anything with essential oils. Many, like eucalyptus, lavender, and tea tree oil are deadly to cats.
How to kill fleas instantly
How to kill fleas instantly depends on what stage the flea is in.
It’s easiest to kill fleas in the egg, larvae, and adult stage. Boric acid, baking soda, and plant-based insecticides are all ways you can kill eggs, larvae, and adult fleas. Just be sure to keep your kitty away from the boric acid treatment. Boric acid has been known to cause vomiting, diarrhea, and in rarer cases seizures, in cats who ingest it.
An alternative to Boric acid is to DIY a plant-based flea spray with ingredients you might already own. A blend of 4 parts white vinegar, 2 parts fresh lemon juice, 1/2 part water, and a 1/4 part witch hazel is a potent nontoxic solution for killing fleas.
The pupa stage, or when the fleas spin a cocoon and go “dormant” is one of the hardest stages of fleas to kill. They often stay in these cocoons for about seven days before hatching.
Hiring a professional exterminator is often your best bet to instantly kill fleas in the larvae stage. There are more and exterminators who use non-toxic, pet-safe, and eco-friendly substances to kill fleas and other buggy pests. They’re just a quick internet search away!
Non-toxic solutions for killing fleas outdoors
Did you know you can also take a non-toxic approach to kill fleas outside? These two pet-safe solutions are powerful flea killers.
Diatomaceous earth, also called DE, is a dusty powder-like substance that comes from fossilized diatomes, or microscopic bits of algae. It quickly and effectively kills fleas without harming plants, animals, or your pets. It can be applied in your yard and garden. And food-grade DE can be scattered throughout your house. Specifically on floors, pet beds, carpeting, around cracks and crevices, and under hard-to-reach areas.
Let sit for 24 to 48 hours before carefully sweeping it up without creating a dust cloud. Diatomaceous earth is harmful when inhaled. Also, don’t use a vacuum as the fine particles will wreck your filter and get into the vacuum motor.
It’s recommended that you reapply diatomaceous earth once a week for at least 4 weeks for maximum effectiveness.
Nematodes are the flea assassins of the insect world. These bugs actively hunt down adult fleas as well as flea larvae and pupae. These soil-dwelling predators also chow down on grubs and aphids. Consider nematodes the defenders of your garden and your cat’s own flea bodyguard because along with decimating the flea population they don’t harm your pets, plants, or you!
Key takeaways on how indoor cats get fleas
Having an indoor cat doesn’t mean they can’t get fleas. As we explored in this article on all things fleas, these pesky bloodsuckers are no stranger to sneaking into your home and hopping onto your companion cat for a bite to eat.
Whether it’s through tiny cracks, or by hitching a ride on your clothing, pet dog, or rodent visitors, there are many different ways fleas can infest your home and your indoor cat.
That said, there are many treatments, preventative measures, and actions you can take if the fleas do come calling. Veterinarian-recommended topical and oral flea medications, plant-based flea repellents, and routine yard work outside and cleaning inside your home are all ways you can fight back against any potential flea infestation.
Bye-bye bugs, and hello healthy, happy cats and home!