Causes of Flea Infestation
Cats become infested with fleas when they live in an area that is conducive to the insect’s life cycle and when appropriate flea preventative measures are not taken. Fleas thrive in warm, wet climates. An average temperature in the range of 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for these blood-suckers. From a flea’s perspective, the hotter and damper, the better. Cats living in hot, humid climates tend to develop more severe complications from flea bites than those living in cold, dry climates. Cats can pick up fleas from the environment or by coming into contact with other animals that have a flea burden. Cats living at high elevations won’t become infested with fleas, because these parasites don’t live above 5,000 feet.
Fleas spend most of their adult lives on their host, where they cut open the skin and feed on its blood. Adult fleas mate shortly after a blood meal, and females lay eggs a few days later. One female flea can produce 2000 eggs during her short 3-to-4-month life. The eggs fall off the host soon after they are laid and incubate wherever they land – in rugs, carpets, beds, furniture and lawns. The eggs hatch into larvae in about 10 days. Flea larvae spin a cocoon and enter a pupal stage, which can last days to months. This is a resting phase, during which the pupae hibernate and do not eat. Once the temperature and humidity are right (warm and humid), the pupae emerge from their cocoons as immature adults. They have 1 to 2 weeks to find a host to feed on, or else they will die. Adult fleas can live for 3 to 4 months on a cat, but they can’t survive in the environment for more than a few days. Only about 1% of the total cat flea population, at any given time and in any given area, is comprised of adults. Most fleas are free in the environment in egg, larval or pupal forms.
Preventing Flea Infestation
Fortunately, there are many things that cat owners can do to keep fleas under control. Some of the most effective ways to manage fleas are to groom a cat regularly, keep its living environment clean and use veterinarian-recommended flea preventatives. Regular in-home grooming gives owners an opportunity to inspect their cats’ skin and coat for fleas and other external parasites. If open wounds or suspicious “salt-and-pepper” particles are present, whether or not adult fleas are actually seen, a trip to the veterinarian is worthwhile. The “salt” particles are flea eggs; the “pepper” particles are flea feces. An integrated flea management program is essential to keep fleas under control in hot, warm climates.
Cat fleas can and do infest people, which means that they have zoonotic potential. Fleas have an unparalleled ability to jump great distances and heights. Adults will jump onto any passing potential host and begin biting and feeding as quickly as they can. A single adult flea typically feeds for at least 8 hours a day, ingesting about 15 microliters of blood during that time. Fleas need a blood meal before they are able to reproduce.