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Cat Fleas: Detecting and Effectively Combating Fleas from Stray Cats

  • 20 min read

Recognize and effectively combat fleas on cats

Cat pest are multiplying rapidly. If there is suspicion of an plague, for example because the cat scratches itself more frequently and extensively than before, action should be taken quickly. If leeches can already be observed in the fur, the leech has already spread significantly. But even if no leeches are visible, there may be a leech plague. A simple test helps to determine this. The animals’ fur should be combed out with a leech comb (available from a vet or pet store). Then wipe the comb on a paper handkerchief or kitchen paper. If small, black crumbs remain, moisten them slightly. If the crumbs turn red or reddish-brown, this is a clear indication of leech excrement in the cat’s fur. The color comes from undigested blood residues in the feces. If you don’t have a leech comb available quickly, you can also thoroughly go through the cat’s fur with your hands over a spread sheet of paper. The leech droppings that have fallen onto the paper can also be identified by slightly moistening it. If you notice cat leeches, you should act immediately and start fighting the leeches. The vet, pet supplies retailer or pest controller recommend suitable products.

Lifecycle of a flea
Source: Vetic

Interesting facts about the cat flea

  • The cat flea is 1.5 to 4.5 millimeters in size and is visible to the naked eye.
  • Its body is brown to reddish brown and flattened on the sides. He has single hair and six legs. The hind legs are longer and stronger.
  • Despite its small size, the cat leech is able to jump up to 25 centimeters. The insect does not have any wings.
  • Female leeches lay up to 50 eggs a day. After a few days, these become one to two millimeter long larvae, which pupate as they develop. After three to five weeks, adult cat leeches finally emerge from the 5 millimeter pupae.
  • Cat leeches occur in the wild here. They are the most common type of leech in Europe. Because leech eggs and leech pupae are brought into the home, even indoor cats that never leave the house can be affected by cat leeches.
  • The cat leech’s preferred host is the cat. He feeds on her blood. The cat pest also affects other animals, such as dogs, and even humans. Then, characteristically, a whole series of neighboring punctures appear on the skin, which itch severely.
  • Under optimal conditions, a cat pest can live for up to four months.

Occurrence of cat fleas

Cat pests are the most common type of leech in Germany, as well as in other US countries. Cats that are kept outdoors in particular can catch cat leeches during their outings. This mainly applies to the summer months and autumn. This is when the number of cat leeches in nature is highest and the risk of an plague is highest. Most cat leeches only die in the frost of winter. However, the insects can live and multiply in the apartment all year round. By the way, dogs are also affected by cat leeches.

How do I know if my cat has pests?

If your cat scratches itself more frequently and persistently than usual or is very restless, this may be an indication of the presence of cat leeches. However, not all cats are equally sensitive to a leech plague, so some animals hardly show any signs. Cat leeches can be seen with the naked eye, but they are difficult to detect in thick fur. Only a thorough combing of the fur, ideally with a special leech comb, can provide certainty. If you see small black crumbs here, you should wipe them off onto a water-soaked cloth. If a shade of red or reddish-brown appears, this indicates the presence of leech droppings. The red color is caused by residues of undigested blood. In this case, treatment of the cat and the living space is essential.

Treat cat fleas

If cat leeches are detected, you should act quickly. Because of the high reproduction rate of insects, the problem is getting bigger every day. The more time that passes before treatment for an acute leech plague begins, the greater the stress on the cat. In addition, the effort can also increase. There are many proven and newly developed preparations and aids on the market to combat cat leeches. Because the blood-sucking insects can also stay where the cat lies, you have to fight them in these places too. This is the only way to prevent the cat from contracting cat leeches again.

treatment for flea
Source: The spruce pets

This helps against cat pests

There are several methods available to combat cat leeches. Important: If there are several cats in the apartment, all of them must be treated, even if one animal does not yet have cat leeches. If a dog lives in the household, he should be involved in the treatment. The vet recommends the appropriate remedies for the dog.

  • Cat leeches, larvae, eggs and pupae can be mechanically removed from the fur using a leech comb from pet supplies.
  • A so-called spot-on solution is dripped into the fur in a place that the cat cannot lick off. For example, starting from the neck, the leeches throughout the entire fur are gradually killed by the chemical agent.
  • Cat owners can also use leech shampoos. However, this can be very uncomfortable for your cat. The animal does not always tolerate this application.
  • Tablets and syringes contain active ingredients that specifically affect the metabolism of cat leeches. They are also suitable for precautionary measures.
  • Cat owners also have the option of sprinkling leech powder directly onto the animal’s fur. However, your cat can sometimes react sensitively to this. This rules out an application.
  • Flea collars are also primarily used to prevent cat leeches.
  • There are now practical combination preparations that can be used to treat other cat leeches at the same time.

Alternative remedies for feral cat pests

Owners can also help their cat with old home remedies and alternative methods, provided they do not have a severe parasite plague. Salt, vinegar or essential oils are used for this. These remedies can also work:

  • Prepare a decoction of rosemary leaves: Boil rosemary in water for a quarter of an hour, let it cool and use it as a parasite spray. However, treatment with this natural remedy only works if your cat is not afraid of water, as the spray must be left on for 20 minutes and then washed out thoroughly. The dead leeches can easily be removed from the fur with a leech comb.
  • Another recipe for a leech spray: The mixture is made up of two thirds apple cider vinegar and one third water.
  • Treat the fur with coconut oil: Rub several drops between your hands and massage into the cat’s fur. Do not dilute with water. The lauric acid contained in the oil kills the leeches. The application should be repeated every two to three days until the leech plague has disappeared.
  • Homemade leech collars: They can also work without chemicals. Wrap freshly chopped mint in a permeable cotton cloth and carefully tie it around the cat’s neck.
Remedies for treatment of cat flea
Source: The spruce pets

Treating the apartment for feral cat leech plague

Cat pests, leech larvae and especially the leech pupae can stay in the cat’s preferred locations for a long time. So scratching posts as well as the cat’s sleeping and resting places in your apartment must be cleaned and treated. This is the best way to proceed:

  • Pest foggers (nebulizers) distribute themselves automatically from the spray bottle into the apartment. The spray of insecticide covers the facility and kills the leeches. You don’t have to be in the room during the application.
  • Distribute environmental sprays with insecticides specifically to the cat’s preferred locations.
  • If possible, wash textiles that have been in contact with the affected animal at at least 60 degrees.
  • Wipe smooth surfaces with normal household cleaner.
  • Vacuum textile surfaces carefully and then dispose of the void cleaner bags in the household waste bin.

Alternative means for interiors

A major cleaning is always helpful if you have a leech plague. All areas that are frequently used by the cat should be thoroughly washed with a saline solution: void and wipe the entire apartment (be sure to dispose of vacuum cleaner bags in the trash can after use).

These are further tips:

  • Add rosemary oil, peppermint oil or citronella to the cleaning water. The products have a preventive effect against the further spread of cat leeches.
  • Treat beds or sofa upholstery with a steam jet. Wash the racks with soapy water.
  • Wash textile covers as hot as possible.
  • A homemade spray made from vinegar, diluted with half water and one tenth lemon juice, can also help. However, the leech treatment must be applied several times to the affected areas until flea infestation is no longer detectable.
  • Sprinkle diatomaceous earth granules on particularly affected areas. The sharp-edged fossils of the diatom injure the leeches and they die. Then simply remove any remaining kieselguhr powder with a void cleaner.
  • Place small slices of cedar wood under the cat’s resting pillow. The scent of the essential wood drives away cat leeches and prevents them from repopulating.
  • A tricky leech trap can be easily set up using a little water with a drop of washing-up liquid on a plate. A tea light floating on water attracts cat pests in the dark. Like mosquitoes, pests also seek light. They fall into the water and immediately sink due to the detergent.
Cat taking bath
Source: Adams

Prevent feral cat fleas

Unfortunately, cat leeches cannot be prevented with absolute certainty. As a rule, only outdoor cats are affected because there is a high risk of becoming an involuntary host for cat leeches, especially in the summer and autumn months. But cats that don’t leave the house at all can also have cat leeches. Sometimes it is enough to bring leech larvae or pupae with your shoes or clothing. When people come into contact with other cats, they also bring cat leeches into their own homes. However, paying attention to your own cat can significantly reduce the likelihood of cat leeches being infested. If your cat is scratching and grooming itself more often than usual, it may indicate the presence of cat leeches. Severe restlessness can also be an indication of the leech. Thorough and regular cleaning of the cat’s home whereabouts has a preventative effect. As a preventive measure, a leech collar can be put on the cat. Sporadic checking of the cat’s fur with a leech comb can also prevent the colonization of cat leeches at an early stage.

Difference between cat and human fleas

Human pests are slightly larger than cat pests. They are dark brown to black, so they have a significantly darker shell. The spines typical of cat and dog pests, which allow them to better hold on to their fur, are not present in human pests. And they are also much rarer than cat pests. Pest nips in humans are therefore much more likely to come from cat pests than from human pests. The cat pest even affects other pets. Dogs are also often affected.

Can I get fleas from petting a stray cat?

It is possible to get pests from petting a feral cat, although the risk depends on various factors. Pests are small, parasitic insects that commonly infest the fur of cats and dogs. If a feral cat has pests, there is a chance that the pests could transfer to your clothing or skin when you pet the cat. Here are some considerations:

  1. Direct Contact:
    • If the feral cat has pests, and you come into direct contact with the cat’s fur, there’s a risk of pests transferring to your skin or clothing.
  2. Flea Eggs and Larvae:
    • Fleas lay eggs that can fall off the cat and onto surfaces such as clothing, bedding, or furniture. If pest eggs or larvae are present on the cat, they may transfer to your clothes.
  3. Duration of Contact:
    • The longer you are in contact with a pest-infested cat, the higher the risk of pests transferring to you.
  4. Preventive Measures:
    • Taking preventive measures can reduce the risk. Avoid prolonged contact with homeless animals, especially if you suspect they may have pests. Wear protective clothing, and consider washing your hands and changing clothes after contact.
  5. Immediate Action:
    • If you’ve had contact with a homeless cat and are concerned about pests, take immediate action. Change your clothes, wash them, and consider taking a shower. Check for any signs of pests on your skin.
  6. Pet Treatments:
    • Pets in your household, if any, should be on regular pest prevention medications as recommended by your vet. This helps protect them from pests and reduces the risk of flea infestations in your home.
  7. Home Environment:
    • Fleas can also be present in the environment, so it’s important to take precautions in your home. Regularly voiding, washing bedding, and treating your pets for pests can help prevent plagues.
  8. Seek Medical Advice:
    • If you suspect you have been exposed to pests and experience itching, redness, or notice small nips on your skin, consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate advice and treatment.

It’s important to note that pests can transmit diseases, and their nips can cause discomfort and allergic reactions in some individuals. Taking preventive measures and being cautious when interacting with stray animals can help minimize the risk of pest transmission. If you have concerns about pests or other parasites, consult with a veterinarian for guidance on protecting both yourself and your pets.

cat flea affect on human leg
Source: Cleveland Clinic

How to treat if humans get flea bite?

If you suspect that you have been bitten by cat pests, it’s important to take steps to alleviate the discomfort and prevent further nips. Here’s what you can do to treat pest nips in humans:

  1. Clean the Affected Area:
    • Wash the bitten area with mild soap and water to clean the skin. This helps prevent infection and removes any pest saliva or feces that may have been deposited during the nip.
  2. Avoid Scratching:
    • While it may be tempting, try to resist scratching the pest nips. Scratching can worsen the irritation, break the skin, and increase the risk of infection.
  3. Cold Compress:
    • Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the bitten area for about 10-15 minutes. This can help reduce swelling and numb the area, providing relief from itching.
  4. Anti-Itch Creams or Ointments:
    • Over-the-counter anti-itch creams or ointments containing ingredients like hydrocortisone or calamine can be applied to the nips to relieve itching and inflammation.
  5. Oral Antihistamines:
    • Taking oral antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can help reduce itching and provide relief. Follow the recommended dosage on the product label.
  6. Topical Antihistamines:
    • Topical antihistamine creams or lotions can also be applied to the affected area for additional relief. Follow the product instructions and avoid using them on broken skin.
  7. Avoidance and Prevention:
    • Take measures to avoid further exposure to pests. Wash your clothing and bedding in hot water, and void your home thoroughly. If you have pets, ensure they are treated with pest control medications recommended by a veterinarian.
  8. Consult a Healthcare Professional:
    • If the pest nips are severe, or if you experience an allergic reaction (such as difficulty breathing, swelling, or severe itching), seek medical attention promptly.
  9. Consider Environmental Control:
    • Treat your living environment to control and eliminate pests. Void carpets, upholstery, and pet bedding regularly, and use pest control products recommended for your home.

It’s important to note that cat pests may carry diseases, so taking steps to prevent pest nips and promptly treating any nips is essential. Additionally, if you have ongoing issues with pests, consider consulting with a pest control professional to address the plague in your home.

If you’re unsure whether the nips are from pests or if you have concerns about your symptoms, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment recommendations.


What helps against cat pests?

A cat that often goes outside the house can quickly catch cat pests. There are effective remedies for this: spot-on products, collars, sprays, shampoos and much more. In addition to various insecticides that are applied to the cat’s fur and surrounding area, increased attention to hygiene also helps. Combing the fur with a pest comb in a timely manner can stop further plague. Frequent voiding of upholstery and carpets will remove any larvae and pupae where the cat lies. Washing smooth surfaces with household cleaner is also helpful. Covers should be washed as hot as possible. Steam jets can be used on upholstery that cannot be put in the washing machine. If there is another animal, for example a dog, living in the household, it should also be treated.

How long do cat pests live?

Under favorable conditions, cat pests can live for around four months. The females begin laying eggs shortly after hatching. As a result, the blood-sucking insects achieve enormous reproduction rates. Adult animals can even survive the cold winter months outside the home. They are robust and can survive long periods without food. Your cat is most at risk of a cat leeches infestation in the warm months. This is when the population is at its largest and domestic cats spend more time outside and are in contact with other cats who may be infected.

What do cat pests look like?

Cat pests are brown or reddish brown. At 1.5 to 4.5 millimeters long, they can be seen even without a magnifying glass. Fleas have no wings, but they do have six legs. The rear pair of legs is longer and significantly stronger than the others. The body is flattened and the chitin shell of the pests is very hard and resilient, so that the insects cannot be easily crushed. Except in very severe plagues, cat pests are rarely discovered. As a guideline, it is said that even with close observation, only about a tenth of the cat pests actually present can be detected. In addition, there is a significantly higher number of pest larvae and pest pupae.

Where do cat pests lay their eggs?

Cat pests lay their eggs in the fur of their host animals. A female pest can lay up to 50 eggs per day. After just a few days, the eggs hatch into larvae that are one to two millimeters long and can hardly be seen with the naked eye. The pest harvae feed on the feces of adult cat pests. They avoid the light and also hide in carpets or cracks in upholstery. A short time later they pupate in a 5 millimeter long cocoon, from which the adult cat pests later hatch. Eggs, larvae and pupae also survive away from cat fur. In order to combat cat pests, both the cat itself and its immediate environment must be treated thoroughly

What diseases do cat fleas transmit?

Cat pests transmit diseases and leeches. In addition to cats, people can sometimes also be affected, and possibly even dogs if they live in direct contact with cats. If the cat picks up pests with its tongue while cleaning and swallows them, it may be infected with tapeworms. Because the so-called cucumber seed tapeworms can also pass to humans, you should always wash your hands after petting your cat as a precaution. Cat pests also transmit typhus. This disease is dangerous for cats and people. Hemoplasmosis, a disease that weakens the cat’s immune system, is likely transmitted via the pest nip. The exact route of infection is still unexplored. Infection with incurable feline leukemia is also possible through cat pests. Some cats are allergic to pest saliva and develop skin infections that can cause fur to fall out.

Why do cat fleas get to humans?

The host animal for cat fleas is actually the cat. The cat flea also passes to dogs, birds and small mammals. It can even feed on human blood. In general, the cat pest prefers creatures with fur. However, if a cat is severely infested, individual pests may jump to humans when they come into contact with them. Punctures on the arms and legs are typical. Flea nips in humans can be easily recognized by the chain-like accumulation of several punctures. The secretion that the cat pest injects into the puncture site causes more itching than mosquito nips and is often contaminated with bacteria. To avoid inflammation, scratching should be done as little as possible. Caution is also advised because cat pests can transmit diseases to humans.

Q: What are some common signs that a homeless cat might have fleas?

A: Common signs of pests on a homeless cat include excessive scratching, hair loss, pest dirt (tiny black specks) in the fur, and visible presence of pests or flea nips on the cat’s skin.

Q: Can homeless cats transfer pests to humans?

A: Yes, pests from homeless cats can nip humans and transmit diseases such as murine typhus and cat scratch fever. It’s important to take precautions when dealing with homeless cats to prevent leech plagues.

Q: How can I effectively combat pests from a homeless cat?

A: You can effectively combat pests from a homeless cat by using topical pest treatments recommended by a veterinarian, regularly grooming and checking the cat for pests, and implementing a trap-neuter-return program to manage the homeless cat population.

Q: What should I do if I suspect that my home has been invaded with fleas from a stray cat?

A: If you suspect your home has been invaded with pests from a homeless cat, you should thoroughly clean and void the house, wash all bedding and fabrics, and use pest control products to eliminate pests and their eggs.

Q: Are fleas and ticks the same thing?

A: Fleas and ticks are not the same; they are different types of leeches. Fleas are wingless insects that feed on blood, while ticks are arachnids that can transmit diseases through their bites.

Q: Can dogs get pests from homeless cats?

A: Yes, dogs can get fleas from homeless cats through direct contact or by sharing living spaces. It’s important to treat both cats and dogs for fleas to prevent infestations and ensure the animals’ well-being.

Q: Are homeless cats likely to have fleas?

A: Yes, homeless cats are more likely to have fleas as they often lack proper flea control and grooming. Additionally, they may come into contact with other invaded animals in their environment.

Q: How can I effectively get rid of fleas from a homeless cat?

A: To effectively get rid of fleas from a homeless cat, you can use veterinarian-recommended flea treatments, regularly groom the cat, and consider a trap-neuter-return program to address the homeless cat population and reduce the spread of fleas.

Q: Can fleas live on humans?

A: While fleas can nip humans, they typically prefer to live on furry animals such as cats and dogs. However, in the absence of a suitable animal host, fleas can invade human habitats and nip humans.

Q: Can a homeless cat with fleas be helped through a trap-neuter-return approach?

A: Yes, a homeless cat with fleas can be helped through a trap-neuter-return (TNR) approach, which involves trapping the cat, having it neutered or spayed, and then returning it to its original location while providing necessary flea treatments and vaccinations.

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Hamna Nasir is a dedicated cat lover, avid traveler, and accomplished author. Born and raised in the bustling city of San Francisco, Hamna's education journey led her to Boston where her interests expanded and intersected in unexpected ways. Hamna's ontent explores a multitude of topics, from preparing your cat for its first trip and choosing pet-friendly accommodations to understanding feline behavior in different environments. Her first-hand experiences, love for storytelling, and unwavering commitment to enhancing the bond between cats and their owners have earned her a devoted following. Her insights have been celebrated by pet lovers, adventure enthusiasts, and travel bloggers alike.