A cat who scratches, chews her skin, or seems restless could mean that she has fleas. You can ease her itch (and protect yourself) by knowing how to spot and destroy fleas on your pet and in your house.

Do a Flea Check

Before you spend money on flea treatments, find out if these pests have settled on your cat:

  • Watch for any signs of movement in her fur. If you spot tiny bugs bouncing off her coat, it’s time to fight fleas.
  • Comb your cat with a fine-toothed metal flea comb from head to tail several times a day. This will skim off adult fleas and their eggs and ease her itching.
  • Then, dip the comb in a mixture of water and liquid dish detergent to kill the fleas.

How to Prevent Fleas

Your cat's warm, furry coat and nourishing blood supply are a flea's dream home. Protect your pet with a flea barrier to prevent these tiny pests from settling in. There are a few different types:

Products you put on your cat. Spot-on treatments are safer, more convenient, and more effective than traditional dusts, shampoos, and sprays. You can buy them from your vet or online. Ask your vet where on your cat to put the product, how much to apply, and how often to use it. If you’re not getting the treatment from your vet, read the product label first to make sure it's safe for cats. Some common active ingredients and brands include:

  • Fipronil (Frontline Plus)
  • Imidacloprid (Advantage)
  • Selamectin (Stronghold/Revolution)

A flea collar with flumethrin and imidacloprid (Seresto) can also work well.

Medicines your cat eats. The pill nitenpyram (Capstar) kills adult fleas on your cat within 30 minutes. It doesn’t have any lasting effects, though. Spinosad (Comfortis) is a fast-acting chewable that starts killing fleas before they lay eggs. It provides a full month of flea protection to help prevent future hatchings.

De-Flea Your Home

A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day. Those can roll right off your cat and onto your carpet, couch, or comforter. Give them the chance to hatch, and you'll have a full-blown flea infestation on your hands.

A thorough cleaning of your home can help you solve the problem:

Vacuum every day. Clean the carpets, cushioned furniture, and cracks and crevices in the floor to suck up any eggs before they can hatch. You'll also get rid of live fleas this way. Just don’t forget to throw away the vacuum’s bag or wash out its canister with warm, soapy water when you’re finished.

Wash at least once a week. Strip off any bedding, sofa covers, and other fabrics your pet has touched and throw them straight into the washing machine. Use hot water so no bugs will survive the wash cycle.

Treat Stubborn Fleas

Fleas that stubbornly stick around despite treatment may call for more serious measures.

  • Clear the decks. Take all pets and family members out of the house, and then coat carpets and other surfaces with a flea spray. Sprays that work the best have the ingredient methoprene or pyriproxyfen. If you’re worried about chemicals in the house, try a natural citrus spray. Keep pets, kids, and everyone else away until all surfaces have dried.
  • Make sure all your pets get flea treatment.
  • Call a flea expert. If fleas are still around, you might need an exterminator to address the problem.

Even in large numbers, fleas are tiny and pretty easy to kill. After a few weeks of thorough cleaning, they should stop bugging your cat -- and you.

WebMD Veterinary Reference

NEXT IN THE SERIES

From WebMD