Skip to main content

How to tell if your cat has fleas

If a cat scratches itself, does it have fleas? Maybe! Luckily, you know your cat best, so when your feline friend has fleas, chances are you’ll notice some unusual behavior. Depending on the infestation’s severity, your cat may show different symptoms with varying intensities. One guaranteed fact is that they’ll be uncomfortable, though. Let us help you discern signs of cat flea infestation to make them feel better.

Your cat is scratching nonstop

orange cat rubbing against bookshelf to scratch itself
Tucker Good/Unsplash

Cats will scratch their fur from time to time. All pets do. However, if your fur baby is aggressively scratching even when they seem to have no reason to, i.e., they haven’t been exposed to new food or pollen, pay attention. They may be suffering from an allergic reaction to flea bites, which causes itchiness and irritation.

Related Videos

Your cat has red bumps on their skin

Consequently, you may see red bumps or scaly spots on their skin. The bumps may also look crusty or ooze if your pet has a particularly bad reaction to the insect. Fleas are usually found on a pet’s neck or back. Since pets can’t reach behind them, this is where insects lay eggs and thrive. Also, check your pet’s belly, lower back, and legs for red bumps.

Your cat’s fur has flea dirt or small black insects

Besides the telltale red bumps, you might actually see teeny black dots in your cat’s fur. These dirt-like particles are actually flea feces, and they’re visible if your cat has light fur or if they’re on your cat’s skin. Additionally, you might see the fleas themselves. Coloring wise, fleas are usually black or a reddish-brown, with prominent legs and an oval body.

Another sign to look for is flea larvae. They resemble tiny white-brown worms feeding on those pepper-like spots in your cat’s fur.

Your cat has a tapeworm

Fleas can carry a tapeworm and other parasites. If your cat’s feces is showing rice-like pellets, take note. These are tapeworm larvae and are one of many signs that your cat has fleas. These white worms may also appear to have a pink tint.

Your cat is grooming themselves obsessively

white cat on carpet licking paw
Izabelle Acheson/Unsplash

Cats groom themselves naturally for maintenance, but when they’re battling a flea infestation, this grooming is amplified tenfold. They may be trying to get at the fleas they can reach, but the fleas may be jumping off the cat and onto the floor, then jumping back on the cat to wreak more havoc.

Another sign your cat is grooming more than usual is finding extra hairballs around the home. Lastly, your cat may have balding patches where they’re trying to get rid of fleas.

Your cat is extra grumpy or irritated

cat hissing
Vyacheslav Dumchev/Getty Images

Understandably, your cat will be grumpy when they’re fighting these pesky pests. Your cat may lose interest in playing and turn from their usual cheerful self to a moody alter ego. On the extreme side, they may growl and move erratically. Not to worry — this is all a reaction to annoying fleas, and once you help them find relief, they will relax.

Think about it: If you had nonstop itching that you couldn’t get rid of, wouldn’t you be a little irritated, too? Perhaps this agitated behavior is one of the key signs of a flea infestation, so it’s helpful to know what your cat’s normal behavior is like.

Your cat is avoiding carpeted areas or rugs

When your cat has fleas, they’ll avoid certain areas where they know those little critters may be hiding. This includes their bed, carpets, rugs, and other surfaces with fabric. Vacuuming and disinfecting high traffic areas regularly is a good idea to ward off fleas. Keep your cat’s bedding clean, and make sure your furniture is routinely sanitized.

The eggs can retreat deeply into your carpets and rugs, where they hatch and eat material until they’re ready to find an animal host.

Your cat has less energy than usual

Calico cat sleeping on couch
Nipitphon Na Chiangmai /EyeEm/Getty Images

For serious infestations, your cat might show signs of anemia. When large numbers of fleas draw blood from your cat, your pet will feel weaker and have less energy. Your energetic cat may suddenly become sluggish due to flea anemia. Their gums may look pale due to blood loss.

This is a scary thought for any pet owner, but most cats will not suffer such an extreme reaction. Note that senior cats, kittens, and sick cats are at most risk for flea anemia.

So, there you have it. While we’ve reviewed what to look for and signs that your cat has fleas, it’s equally important to know how to get rid of fleas for good. Knowing the signs is a solid starting point, but prepare yourself for any situation by researching ways to get rid of fleas from your pet and home.

Editors' Recommendations

Are urinary tract infections in cats possible? What cat parents should know about this condition
What to know about prevention and treatment of UTIs in cats
Gray cat in a cat bed

UTIs are a common and pesky condition in humans. It’s short for urinary tract infection. A UTI is an infection of a part of the urinary system, like the bladder, kidneys, or urethra, as the name implies. UTIs can involve painful burning sensations when peeing. They affect about 10 out of 25 women and 3 out of 25 men at least once, according to the Urology Care Foundation.

Cat parents may wonder: What is the rate of urinary tract infections in cats? Unfortunately, it’s not zero. Cats can get UTIs. The good news is that cat health experts don’t commonly see the issue when treating felines. However, it’s still good to think about the urinary tract when approaching your cat’s health.

Read more
Bengal cats: What to know about these quirky descendants of Asian leopards
Bengal cat breed facts that may surprise you
A Bengal cat lies on a white floor and bathes their forelimb

With their striking rosette coats and low-maintenance grooming needs, Bengal cats are already one of the most desired breeds in the world. Once known as Safari cats, the breed went through a name change in the 1970s to reflect its fascinating heritage. But what is living like a Bengal cat actually like? Are they as feisty as their Asian leopard ancestors?
We'll explore the Bengal cat's personality in depth, covering everything from a brief look into their history, the most common Bengal personality traits, and any breed-specific requirements that may hinder your quest to adopt one of these lovely cats.

Bengal cat history
While some cat breeds, such as the Egyptian Mau, can trace their lineage as far back as 10,000 B.C.E., the Bengal cat is a relative newcomer on the scene. The Bengal cat was first bred deliberately in California in the 1980s, after cat breeder Jean Mill crossed a domestic shorthair (a black tomcat) with an Asian leopard cat. Asian leopard cats, a breed of dainty wildcats hailing from Southeast Asia, are also known as Felis bengalensis -- hence the aforementioned name change from Safari cat to "Bengal cat," -- a nod to this hybrid breed's wild ancestor.
However, there may be another reason for the switch that led to the newly dubbed Bengal cat. When the breed's name was changed in 1974, the man responsible was named William "Bill" Engler -- B. Engler. Some believe he drew inspiration from his own name.

Read more
Can cats suffer from mental health conditions the way dogs can?
What you need to know about your cat's mental health
A blue-eyed white cat sprawls out on top of a rug with a forlorn expression

As it turns out, man's best friend has quite a lot in common with humans. Just like us, dogs can suffer from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year." With such staggering numbers, it's easy to understand why the self-help industry is booming. But what about cats? Are our feline family members similarly affected by mental health issues?
While dogs are typically more expressive regarding their moods, cats can be more difficult to read. A dog suffering from depression may refuse to play with his favorite toy, but what behaviors can you expect from your feline friend? Do cats suffer from depression and anxiety the way some dogs do? We'll take a deep dive into the world of cat mental health, so we can answer the question once and for all.

Can cats have mental illnesses?
In her 2014 book "Animal Madness," Dr. Laurel Braitman writes, "There is not a branch of veterinary science, ethology (the science of animal behavior), neuroscience, or wildlife ecology dedicated to investigating whether animals can be mentally ill." While we can't read our cat's mind, we can use their typical behavior to gauge sudden personality changes that might ring a few alarm bells.
Two commonly diagnosed mental issues in cats are obsessive-compulsive disorder -- often abbreviated as OCD -- and cat anxiety. In cases of OCD, you may notice your cat excessively grooming the same location on her body, which can lead to redness, swelling, skin irritation, and even hair loss. However, excessive grooming is also a symptom of anxiety, though anxiety is often accompanied by additional concerning behaviors, such as decreased appetite, incessant yowling, and even drooling.
Details are scant regarding exactly how many cats suffer from mental health issues, but the fact remains that your frisky feline can be affected by OCD, anxiety, or depression. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that cats can even have autism.

Read more