The cat flea is a small sucking insect of the order Siphonaptera. Adults range from 1–2 mm long and are usually a reddish-brown colour, although this can vary. The cat flea, and all other fleas, are compressed laterally, resulting in an extremely thin insect that can be quite hard to find in an animal's coat.
The cat flea's primary host is the domestic cat, but the cat flea is also the primary flea infesting dogs in most of the world. The cat flea can also maintain its life cycle on other carnivores and on omnivores.
Humans can be bitten, though a long-term population of cat fleas cannot be sustained and infest people. However, if the female flea is allowed to feed for twelve consecutive hours on a human, it can lay viable eggs.
Flea populations are evenly distributed, with about 50% eggs, 35% larvae, 10% pupae, and 5% adults.
The female flea lays her eggs on the host. The eggs, once dry, have evolved to filter out of the haircoat of the animal, and into the resting and sheltering area of the animal.
The eggs hatch into larvae, which are negatively phototaxic, meaning that they hide from light in the substrate. Flea larvae feed on a variety of organic substances, but most importantly subsist on dried blood that is filtered out of the haircoat of the host after it is deposited there as adult flea fecal material. Thus the adult population on the animal feeds the larval population in the animal's environment.
Flea larvae metamorphose through 4 stages before spinning a cocoon and entering the pupal stage. The pupal stage varies greatly in length; the pre-emergent flea does not normally emerge as a young adult flea until the presence of a potential host is perceived by warmth or vibration.
Effects on the hosts
Small animals with large infestations can lose enough bodily fluid to fleas feeding that dehydration may result. Cat fleas also may be responsible for disease transmission through humans, and have been suspected as transmission agents of plague.
Cat fleas can transmit other parasites and infections to dogs and cats and also to humans. The most prominent of these are Bartonella, murine typhus, and apedermatitis. The tapeworm Dipylidium caninum can be transmitted when an immature flea is swallowed by pets or humans. In addition, cat fleas have been found to carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the etiologic agent of Lyme disease, but their ability to transmit the disease is unclear.
Since more than three-quarters of a flea's life is spent somewhere other than on the host animal, it is not adequate to treat only the host; it is important also to treat the host's environment. Thorough vacuuming, washing linens in hot water, and treating all hosts in the immediate environment (the entire household, for example) are essential and if possible on a regular basis.
- Pulicosis (Flea bites)
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- Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1991 May;44(5):469-74
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ctenocephalides felis.|
- Integrated Flea Control from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County
- cat flea on the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures Web site
- About Ctenocephalides felis (cat flea): taxonomy, life cycle, transmitted diseases, eradication at MetaPathogen
- Dog flea treatments
- Finding and Eliminating Fleas on Your Cat from the BBC
- Safe Use of Flea and Tick Products in Pets