Cat fleas measure from 1mm to 3mm. That’s smaller than a grain of rice. They are quite flat too, which makes them hard to detect. In fact, they’re easy to overlook because they look like bits of dirt.
However, once you’ve encountered a flea, you’ll never mistake it for anything else again.
As you can see from the close-up, cat fleas have 3 pairs of legs. Their hind legs are super-sized, which allow them to jump as high as 18 cm (7 inches) and leap up to 32 cm (1 foot) horizontally. (And boy, can they move fast and jump multiple times, making them impossible to catch.)
Fleas have legs with spines that slant backwards. These help them to move quickly and cling to surfaces and also makes them harder to remove.
The first time I saw a cat flea I thought the cat had picked up some specks of dust. That’s how small they are. Until the speck moved. And the specks can move very fast too, crawling in between the strands of fur on a cat, or on the grooming brush.
And I still wasn’t sure what it was because I didn’t have a microscope on me, and I wear glasses. Until it jumped straight in the air and landed on my arm.
[I don’t know if you’ve ever watched one of those martial arts films in which they catch flies with chopsticks? Well, I don’t think those warriors had anything in terms of speed compared to a cat breeder out to get fleas.]
There’s a chance that you may not see the fleas because they have a clever habit of hiding in the fur. However, they do tend to cluster in areas like the groin and bum area of a cat. And if your cat suddenly develops a scratching habit, chances are it has fleas.
There’s another way to tell if your cat has fleas by checking the fur on the grooming brush. If there are little black specks on the fur, drop them onto a piece of damp paper. The specks will turn red because they are flea faeces containing digested blood.
And finally, if your legs start itching (especially above the sock line) and there are little spots on your legs, then, yep – fleas.
What can you do if you spot a flea? Well, unless you’re planning on starting a flea circus, it might be a good idea to get rid of them.
Fleas can be drowned in a bowl of water. Or if you’re not squeamish, crush them between your fingernails. I can assure you that there’s nothing more satisfying then crushing fleas after a bad day in the office.
However, such manual intervention won’t be enough to get rid of the fleas on the cat and in the house. More to follow.