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My Indoor Cat Doesn’t Have Fleas, Right? What Do I Need To Know?

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Ctenocephalides felis (cat flea) are the most common ectoparasite in North America. He is not exclusive to cats despite his name, but he certainly loves cats. People never believe me when I diagnose their indoor only cat with flea allergy, but it is a very common issue.

Only one stage (adult) of the flea life cycle is seen on animals and they only stay on the animal long enough to get a blood meal and lay eggs. The other three: eggs, larvae and pupae are an environmental infestation.

Eggs are deposited on animals and fall off into the environment within a few hours. Larvae cannot develop in direct sunlight, but prefer indoors or in shady areas where animals rest. They can develop indoors in protected spots, like along baseboards or under furniture. Larvae develop into pupae at rates dependent on temperature and humidity.

Pupae develop into adults 8-13 days later, but if no environmental stimulus precipitates development, the adults can rest in the cocoon for up to a year. Mechanical pressure (passing animals or people), increased carbon dioxide (animals or people breathing) or an increase in temperature can stimulate emergence. Adults emerge ready to bite.

Cat fleas can survive for days at temperatures slightly above freezing, so in fairly temperate climates, fleas are a problem all the time.

No resistance has been demonstrated scientifically to veterinary flea control products, but some experts have said that flea populations, especially in my area (the Southeast) are becoming strong and that the older products are becoming less effective.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Just because you do not SEE adult fleas does not mean that your cat does not have them. Fleas can ride into your home on other pets and even you. If there are squirrels in your yard, your yard has fleas.
  • Anecdotally clients are reporting that the older products do not seem to be as effective as they once were, but I am not hearing issues with the newer products…yet. The newer veterinary products are your best hope.
  • Environmental management is absolutely required to gain control of the fleas. Treatment of the premises with a product designed to prevent egg hatching and larval maturation is instrumental in gaining control. It is not usually possible to stop fleas at the pupal stage, but regular vacuuming can stimulate pupae to emerge to adults where they can be killed by adulticide products.  Treat your environment too.
  • Fleas like protected areas, like under furniture and along baseboards. Just because you do not have carpet, does not mean that you do not have fleas.
  • Treat all pets that are anywhere near your home. You can’t treat the squirrels, but you can treat your outdoor dog who can serve as a source of fleas for your indoor cat. If you have a stray cat that comes in only to eat and goes back out or sleeps in your garage or porch, treat him too.

Fleas have evolved to be a well-adapted nuisance. You have to follow all the steps in order to “get the jump” on them. As the days get shorter and we head into winter, the fleas are really going to want to finish their life cycle and get the next generation safely into pupal stage. Do not slack up on any of your control measures. For more info, look me up on Facebook, Twitter or Google+!

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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