Fleas can be a common problem for cats that go outside, and once your pet has brought them in, it can be very hard work to get rid of them again. The most common variety of flea found on cats (and also on dogs) is actually known as the 'cat flea' (Ctenocephalides felis) although it is not the only variety, and, depending on the local wildlife passing through your garden, your cat may also pick up hedgehog and rabbit fleas. If your cat stays indoors, the chances of getting fleas are reduced, but you should nevertheless check your cat's coat for signs of infestation from time to time.
An adult flea can survive on a cat for a number of months, and within a couple of days of finding a 'host', a mature female flea will lay up to 50 eggs per day. These will drop off with the flea dirt (flea excrement made up of undigested cat blood), which will provide food for the flea larvae until they hatch. You will not be exempt from cat fleas simply because you are very house proud, and regularly dust and vacuum clean everywhere. Warm, cosy fitted carpets are a particular haven for the flea larvae, and they will breed prolifically in them, especially round the edges - and once they have got a grip you will need to treat them very thoroughly to get rid of the offenders. Both pedigree and non-pedigree cats can be susceptible to fleas - just because your cat has an impressive ancestry does not mean that it is exempt from fleas! And it is even possible that you may introduce a problem yourself if you have been in contact with a cat that has got fleas, and one or more have attached themselves to you.
If you have a dark coloured cat, or one with longer hair, you may not realise at first that they have picked up fleas, as the first visible sign is usually the black flea dirt, which will be buried at the base of the hair - it is usually more obvious on light coloured cats. However, if your cat is affected, you will probably notice that either you or they are beginning to scratch - in humans, flea bites tend to appear around the ankles first. It's always worth checking your cat regularly for the appearance of these unwanted pests, which you can do by using a fine-toothed metal flea comb, and combing your cat's coat over a piece of white paper. If you happen to spot a flea, you will be lucky if you can catch it, but if you are successful, make sure you crush it thoroughly between your thumbnails.
Fleas live on cat blood, and in young or small cats this can cause serious anaemia if untreated, and, in the most extreme cases, even to death. Some cats are allergic to flea bites, and excessive scratching can lead to forms of skin disease in itself. And apart from the discomfort that fleas can cause to both animals and humans, the cat flea also carries tapeworm larvae, which your cat might accidentally ingest whilst they are grooming themselves, and which will inevitably lead to intestinal disorders.
However, there is a very wide range of reliable flea treatments available for cats nowadays, although none of them can be guaranteed to be 100% effective. It is far better to take preventative measures before any fleas get a grip, and so if your cat goes out, regular treatment will help to reduce the risk. But even if you happen to spot evidence of fleas on your cat, you should still be able to get rid of them, although it may take a little longer. Be wary of using a flea collar, though, as the success rate is very erratic, and more importantly, these collars often do not have safety elastic or an escape catch, and your cat could therefore get caught up with it and choke. At one time, flea treatment consisted of a spray or powder, both of which the cat could lick off (possibly making itself sick into the bargain), but modern treatments are a lot easier to administer and are more accurate in their effectiveness.
Whichever flea treatment you choose, and it often a good idea to take advice from your Vet initially even if you later buy to treatment online, it must be one that is formulated specifically for cats. Treatment for fleas on dogs usually contains a chemical called Permethrin, which is poisonous for cats, and can often be fatal. Don't be tempted into thinking that the same treatment will do for both dogs and cats so long as you give a cat a smaller dose - make sure you read the label carefully if you buy your flea treatment from anywhere other than your Vet. And do keep the packaging and enclosed leaflet, so that if by any chance your cat has an adverse reaction, you will be able to show your Vet exactly what was in the product - in the event of this happening you should contact your Vet immediately as toxins can get a very fast grip on the immune system of a cat.
If you do discover that your cat has fleas, as well as treating your pet as quickly as possible, you will also need to wash all cat bedding at the highest temperature possible, and treat all soft furnishings and carpets. Your Vet will be able to advise on an effective treatment for this too. You will need to be very careful if you have an indoor aquarium, as flea treatment is generally poisonous to fish, and you should be careful to avoid spraying any treatment in the vicinity of your aquarium.
As well as dealing with cat fleas in the interest of your cat's health, you will also need to be particularly vigilant in checking their coat for any signs of flea dirt if you are going to show them as the show Duty Vet will reject them if there is even the slightest evidence, and you will not be allowed to enter the show hall.