Of the more than 2,000 recorded flea species, the most commonly found in the U.S. is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). These fleas are attracted to homes with domestic pets. Cat fleas infest a variety of animals and are not only found on cats.
Cat fleas, like all fleas, undergo three stages of development before emerging as adults: egg, larva and pupa. First, female cat fleas lay their eggs on their hosts’ bodies or on the ground. Eggs then drop to the ground and hatch into larvae within one to 12 days. They remain larvae for one to two weeks, at which point they become pupae. The pupal stage typically spans between four and 18 days. The sticky outer surface of cat flea pupae attracts dirt, creating a camouflaged exterior. After completing the pupal stage, cat flea adults emerge.
Upon hatching, young adult cat fleas immediately begin searching for hosts, whose blood they consume in order to survive and reproduce. They also lay eggs on the host. Female cat fleas lay between four and eight eggs after each blood meal, thus beginning the cycle anew.
Cat flea eggs are oval-shaped and white in color. They are extremely small, measuring only 0.5 mm in length. They have dry, smooth surfaces which enable them to slip to the floor. Cat flea eggs are almost impossible to see against rough surfaces such as carpet and bedding.
Warm, moist environments are most amenable to cat flea development. In dry, cold environments, eggs can die before hatching, and both the larval and pupal stages may take up to one year to complete.
Bites Can Transmit Disease
While their bites cause little damage in small numbers, cat fleas can transmit murine typhus to humans. Cat fleas are also intermediate hosts of dog tapeworm. Some hosts develop allergic reactions to flea bites, resulting in flea allergy dermatitis. If the infestation is severe and the host is particularly small, the animal may become anemic.
Consult a veterinarian for recommendations on pet products. There is a variety of flea medications available for purchase for your pet. Some medications are designed to kill adult fleas, while others target flea and egg larvae. Some are topically applied, while others are administered orally through pill or liquid form. If your pet has difficulty swallowing medication, a liquid or topical formula may prove most effective. Liquid treatments can easily be incorporated into a pet’s water dish.
Electronic flea collars emit powerful ultrasonic pulses advertised to stop fleas from biting and breeding on a cat or dog. These pulses are inaudible to pets. However, ultrasonic collars have shown to be ineffective, as fleas have not been proven to be sensitive to ultrasonic sound waves.
In order to control a cat flea infestation, the host animal, home and yard must all be treated. Floors should be cleaned, and fabrics should be washed. Areas indoors can also be treated with spray insecticides. Several other products may also be selected for outside use.
The use of chemicals is best left to trained professionals, so contact your local pest control professional to discuss treatment options.