10 Signs Your Cat Has Fleas

Don't know why your cat is scratching? Here are specific things that cat owners should look for to keep kitty flea-free.

By Rebecca Sweat

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Tabby cat
When your cat is biting himself, you should check to see if he has fleas.
Fleas! Disgusting! Good thing your cats don’t have fleas, or do they? How can you tell? If you regularly spend time with your cats, you’ll be able to figure it out pretty quickly. You will know what’s normal behavior for them and what their coat and fur usually look like. But if they become infested with fleas, there will be both physical signs and behavioral changes that will alert you that something is wrong.

Find out how indoor cats get fleas >>

Exactly what’s going on, you may not know for sure. But if you notice any more than a few of the following signs, you can be pretty sure fleas are the root cause of your cat’s problems:

See how to fight cat fleas safely >>

  1. Intense and frantic scratching or biting of their coat. Flea bites can cause a cat’s skin and fur to feel very itchy. Your cat may suddenly start scratching his body with his paws or chewing his skin, in an attempt to get some relief from the itchy feeling.

  2. Excessive grooming. Fleas can turn cats into nonstop groomers, especially around the hind legs and base of the tail. A cat may lick repeatedly to try to eliminate the itchy sensation.

  3. Hair loss. Your cat may groom himself to the point that you start to see bald patches, especially on the back of the legs, neck and around the base of the tail.

  4. Avoidance of certain parts of your home. If some of your rooms have hardwood or tile flooring and others are carpeted, it’s the latter that’s going to harbor most of the fleas. Your cat may typically prefer the carpeted rooms, but if he’s been bitten by a lot of fleas in those rooms, he might quit going to those places.

  5. Agitation, edginess and restlessness. Your cat may suddenly behave like a wildcat. He might start growling a lot, shaking his head, hysterically rubbing his head and body on the floor or darting from one end of the room to the other. He’s doing these things because the fleas are literally driving him crazy.

  6. Red skin lesions or scablike bumps. Some cats are so sensitive to flea saliva when they are bitten that their skin becomes red and inflamed. These lesions are extremely itchy. If the cat chews on them, they can start to ooze. 

  7. Muscle loss, pale gums and lethargy. These signs 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 bites his skin so deeply that he bleeds excessively. Flea anemia is most often seen in kittens, seniors or sick cats.

  8. Tiny pepperlike specks on your cat’s fur. Known as "flea dirt,” these dark brown specks are actually the feces of the flea. 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.

  9. Red spots in your cat’s bedding fabric. This is flea dirt that fell off your cat’s fur and onto the bedding, and then turned red when the cat’s warm body rubbed against it.

  10. Pinhead-sized black or reddish-brown insects crawling on your cat’s fur. These are the fleas themselves. If your cat is heavily infested, there’s a good chance you’ll see them. Part your cat’s fur in several places to see the skin. Fleas gravitate to the neck, lower back, hind legs and tail. But even if you don’t see any, don’t assume there are no fleas in your home. Fleas go through four stages in their life cycle — egg, larva, pupa and adult. Even if there are no fleas on your cat’s body, there could still be fleas in the three developmental lifestages 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, he might not be.
Read on for more ways to treat fleas >>
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Reader Comments

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

12/10/2013 11:44:19 PM


Kitty    Gardendale, AL

10/31/2013 1:08:28 PM

Good article. My cat recently had a red bump on the top of her head above her eye. We take her walking near our driveway on a leash, and we felt something must have bitten her. The red spot cleared, but she started scratching her ear areas and neck, and chewing at her feet. Her Vet changed her diet, thinking she may be allergic to some food. Now, she continues to scratch. Can a flea or bite cause this, even though she appears to have no fleas? If so, what can we do? This happened right after she had been to the vet with diarrhea so we did not take her back. The vet called me and decided it could be food related, since we had been to the vet the day before. My cat is a house cat and we do not give her flea vac. Help. I am considering taking her back. Any suggestions.

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

9/9/2013 8:33:09 AM

Luna -- Yes, you can get flea bites if your cat has fleas. They will look like small raised welts on your skin and will itch. Ask your vet about the best flea control for your cat and home. Good luck!

luna    International

9/7/2013 3:35:01 AM

What about if you cat is a cuddle bug and sleeps with you during the night if a cat has fleas can they bite you as well like when your sleeping with them and if so what does it look like!???

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