Even when this tiny insect has ranked a “least concern” (LC) position in IUCN’s conservation status, the cat flea (scientific name: Ctenocephalides felis) remains a “necessary concern” wreaking menace for its host as well as the contacts in vicinity including fellow hosts and pet owners. Most commonly found in the United States, Cat Fleas are extremely common wingless, sanguivorous parasitic insects infesting dogs, cats, rats and some other wild rodents. Here is an overview of the insect, its’ life cycle and most importantly the mode of transmission to cats.
The adult cat flea is a small dark brown to black insect and an obligatory hematophage evolved naturally to adhere and slip into a cat’s dense furs.
It has a pair of strong hind legs adapted to prompt jumping, mouthparts necessarily designed to pierce the skin and suck blood.
The laterally compressed thin structure of its body provides it vital camouflage even in the middle of delicate white cat fur.
Life Cycle and Transmission into Cats
To date around 1500 species of fleas exist. All fleas go through the classical life cycle of complete metamorphosis through stages of egg, larva, pupa and imago or the adult flea.
Cat is the principal host only an adult cat flea can infest. An adult female is required to have a fresh blood meal to lay eggs or to acquire reproductivity.
The adult gravid female lays around 300-400 eggs at one instant. These tiny eggs lying beneath the host’s fur fall off onto indoor pet bedding, carpets and cracks into the floor if it is a pet. While, stray hosts tend to spread it to pets and other wild animals nearby.
The eggs hatch and larvae emerge out which prefer dark and humid locations. The later develop into the pupal stage which provides protection to the developing adult unless external vibratory stimulus, surge in host body temperature and carbon dioxide stimulate the pupal case to rupture.
After emerging from the pupal case, the adult flea hops rapidly into any host passing by and feeds on its blood within the next day or two to reproduce and continue the vicious life cycle all over again.
How to recognize that your cat is flea infested?
Obvious visible evidences of fleas or flea dirt on sparsely hairy portions of skin.
Excessive scratching of skin.
Nibbling/biting of skin and loss of fur on respective areas.
Irritability or fussiness.
Occasionally, flea bites(red, swollen, itchy, non painful lesions)
Diseases transmitted by Cat fleas
1. Affecting Humans
Mode of transmission being the course of taking a blood meal or via flea faces, flea borne diseases are:
Flea borne typhus or murine typhus
Bartonellosis or Cat scratch disease
Secondary bacterial infection
2. Affecting pets
Flea bites are the definitive mode of transmission in the majority of infected.
Rickettsia felis or the flea tapeworm.
Dipetalonema reconditum, a parasitic worm.
Acanthocheilonemal reconditum, a microfilarial disease.